Why “Ceremony” is Important, Even at Work

The Olympics.  Same-sex marriage debates.  The recent death of my mother.  These things have little to nothing in common on the surface, but they all involve Ceremony.  It seems pretty clear to me that human beings crave ceremony, and I’m not an expert on why that is, but I have some thoughts about why we should pay attention to it.

I heard a lot of noise that people thought the Winter 2014 Olympics opening ceremonies were boring, a waste of resources, a waste of time.  But I know many were, perhaps more quietly, delighted and inspired.  The opening ceremonies exist for good reasons:  To inspire the competitors by elevating the importance of the event and engaging the support of fans and patrons.  To accomplish this, the ceremonies need to have a ‘wow’ factor, be out of the ordinary, and engage our emotions.

The same goes for weddings or marriage ceremonies.  They don’t have to be religious.  They don’t have to be traditional or representative of historical definitions of marriage.  And, at least in my view and that of most of my friends and colleagues, they don’t have to be between a man and a woman.  They mark the beginning of a commitment, and the creation of a mutually supportive social unit.  A family.  The ceremony serves the purpose of elevating the importance of the event, and gaining the involvement and support of the couple’s friends and extended family.  And, like the Olympics, the ceremony makes the event memorable by being out of the ordinary (beautiful, emotional, personal, aspirational) and engaging the hearts and minds of the attendees.

And ceremony is just as important when a loved one passes.  I’m the only child of a (mostly) single parent.  My mother raised me alone for most of my life.  When she passed in October, it changed me and it changed my life.  She didn’t want any fuss made about her passing, but I knew I (and others who loved her) needed something to mark her passing.  To make it real, and beautiful, and important.  We opted for a Celebration of Life instead of a funeral or memorial service, and over good food and wine we shared pictures, and stories, and the music she loved.  Then we scattered her ashes in a peaceful outdoor spot that reminded us of her, so we’ll always have a place we can physically feel near her if we need to.  It was the best thing we could have done — all of it.   New bonds were formed, and the memory of my mother was elevated in a way that positively affected everyone involved.

So why shouldn’t ceremony be important in the workplace too?  Since most of us spend a third of our lives in said ‘workplace’, of one sort or another, how should we think about ceremony in that setting?  Should we think about it at all?  I believe we should.  Ceremony, when done right, can connect us to a common purpose in ways nothing else can.  All too often the traditional workplace ceremonies (awards, company meetings, etc.) lack the beauty, fun and emotion that engage hearts and minds.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for organizations with great examples of using Ceremony to inspire, engage, and align the people who make them successful.  If you know of any, or if you have examples to share, please share them!

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