Is tradition still relevant in The City?

Ward of cheap

Tradition is a big part of the City of London - its structure, its governance, its architecture, and in plenty of the annual rituals and ceremonies. The question is, are they still relevant or is it just pomp and circumstance?

Recently I wrote about how innovation is an integral part of The City of London, but alongside that forward-thinking outlook, tradition also plays a fundamental role in the strength and resilience of the business community.

This is represented in hundreds of ways - its structure, its governance, its architecture, and in plenty of the annual rituals and ceremonies. The question is, are they still relevant or is it just pomp and circumstance?

The Queen and The City

February this year marked an exciting moment for the UK. It was the official start of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, which will hopefully soon see us participating in lots of celebrations over the summer. Her Majesty’s role is rooted in tradition. The same can be said of her relationship with The City of London - consider an occasion like the Ceremony of the Pearl Sword, for example.

This type of ceremonial event is the sort of thing that comes to mind when we think of tradition (although many are less ornate), and especially when we think of monarchy. In many ways, it seems a bit unnecessary after 400 years. The respect between The City and the monarch is not in question. However, such events continue to attract crowds and carry a sense of reverence - why?

Stability in a time of flux

From a philosophical perspective, I think tradition grounds us and gives us a point of reference. At the moment, with the world in such flux, wherever you look societally, commercially, politically, we are all searching for a sense of stability. A lot of people are, given that flux, casting about for purpose, meaning, roots, a foundation, something to hold onto. In some ways tradition gives us that. That’s not to say that it should be taken and retained forever more; it’s an evolving thing - like having a plan that adapts as you move forward.

Tradition can also be a very good reminder of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. As we go along our paths and get distracted by the daily minutiae or concerned by the annual ebb and flow of the economy, it can be helpful to be reminded of the path that we’re on. It can be reassuring and motivating to know that there is value in things having stood the test of time over many economic and social cycles. To know that while change is important and necessary, sometimes things are done a particular way for a good reason. It can be something to refer to, drawing strength and understanding from it.

I suppose in a sense, tradition is a little like turning to a parent. We all go through a period where we think our parents know nothing at all, and then at some point decide they might have something useful to contribute after all. I am reminded of the quote:

“When I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb. After a while when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he'd learned in three years.”

More than self-service

The sense of purpose that tradition can engender is also something I feel strongly about. It’s fundamental to our flourishing as individuals that we seek to serve something beyond ourselves. If we’re just self-serving we become very small people emotionally and relationally. We have a need to serve something bigger than ourselves and, in a sense, tradition can give us the tram tracks on which to do that. Last week we had the City Common Council elections, and now see all the new Common Councillors step into that long line of tradition, which in turn has influenced local governance across the country.

In the context of the Queen’s Jubilee, I think that this sense of service is particularly prevalent. When people think about Her Majesty, her image is inextricably linked to her service to the country, Commonwealth and her people. She’s a magnificent sovereign because she’s served unfailingly and within that traditional (as opposed to old fashioned) construct.

With that in mind, ​​The City itself is here to serve the nation and individuals across it. While it may be associated with the Square Mile, its importance for the UK as a whole is immense. I have referred to The City as being a battery pack for the UK, and I think that role only gets greater over time.

In one sense, The City serves the people who work within it - helping them to thrive in their careers, have happy, healthy, prosperous lives and well-earned retirements, but it’s more than that. The City isn’t and shouldn’t be self-serving. At the end of the day, while there might be lots of B2B work that happens, there are individuals at the end of the service chain, and that’s ultimately what it’s all about. The traditions that we have are there to help ensure that service is delivered.

So, while the Pearl Sword, the coronation robes, the dragon on the City’s coat of arms, and many more ceremonies and traditions besides often seem like pure pageantry, I think they give us much more than that as well. If we look at the purpose behind the traditions we can ascertain if, how and to what extent they are relevant today, understanding the values that they are signposting and guiding us to represent within our own community and on the world stage.