Review of The Ritual Effect by Michael Norton – standing at a ceremony | Company books

TThe adjective “ritual”, from Latin to French, means linked to religious rites. (A rite, according to the OED, is “a prescribed act or observance in a religious or other solemn ceremony.”) From its inception, however, the word “ritual” could be used pejoratively to refer to meaningless things. of authentic spiritual content. In his Ecclesiastical History (1570), for example, the martyrologist John Foxe complained about two epistles wrongly attributed (so he maintained) to the third-century Pope Zephyrinus: they contained “no kind of doctrine” but only “certain ritual decrees in any respect.” goal”. Today, we can speak disparagingly of the “ritual genuflection” of certain writers in the face of fashionable standards, to accuse them of a sort of moral and intellectual cosplay.

Perhaps then, we are long overdue for a defense of the value of ritual, in all its splendor of style rather than substance? That’s what Harvard business professor Michael Norton aims to offer in his book, an amiable and quite entertaining essay in the genre of airport-friendly smart thinking. Although he emphasizes the power of long-standing social rituals such as marriage or funerals, Norton is primarily interested in the other type of ritual: “idiosyncratic behaviors that can emerge spontaneously.” From Rafael Nadal’s endless routine of bouncing the ball and pulling the jersey before every serve, to a romantic couple giving each other ladybug-themed gifts, the message is that rituals can not only optimize performance sports, but also enrich our lives in general, cementing relationships, encouraging focus on the present moment and – perhaps most importantly for the target audience – inspiring its employees to be more productive.

Selecting nuggets of psychological and social science research to support his argument, Norton also describes his own research on the subject, which consists of a mix of large-scale surveys (on the type of personal rituals people perform when (they groom themselves, exercise or retire). sleep) and laboratory tests, in which people learn rituals and then are asked to collaborate on tasks. It turns out that imposing arbitrary rituals alone (clapping, singing, whatever) helps a group of strangers form a team.

In this story, it is precisely the emptiness of rituals that makes them valuable as “emotional catalysts,” when they are not actually exercises in magical thinking, like rain ceremonies. (Other animals may also be prone to magical thinking: pigeons have been observed to repeat an absurd action that was once rewarded with food in the hope that it will work again.) But when a ritual is not isn’t it a ritual? Norton discusses family “rituals” such as choosing a specific food or playing Johnny Mathis records at Christmas, but it seems more natural to talk about them as invented traditions. (This preserves the author’s point that we can come to value these traditions very deeply through what he calls the “Ikea effect”: if you build it, you love it more.)

I was delighted to learn that concert pianist Sviatoslav Richter always carried a pink plastic lobster with him backstage before a performance, but was it really a ritual or just superstition? Meanwhile, if I do something habitually but without any particular drama – for example drinking two cups of coffee before writing a book review – that’s not a ritual either. As Norton notes, the “essence” of a ritual is how it is performed, not what is done. A summary of these arguments could perhaps be that the idea of ​​”ritual” itself is a spectrum, at one end of which is simple habit, at the other end ceremony.

Sadly, rituals also have a dark side, and not just when they are explicitly satanic. The most disturbing discovery of this book is the inverse of ritual as social glue: it turns out that groups brought together with later-generation rituals in a research setting automatically view others who have learned different rituals as an excluded group, less worthy of respect. . In this light, Earth’s long history of religious wars seems less like a series of battles over actual doctrine than a simple clash between us and them. Even so, the general idea of ​​the book perhaps offers reason for optimism: in a disenchanted world, attention to tiny rituals can free up some space for everyday magic.

ignore previous newsletter promotion

The ritual effect: The Transformative Power of Our Everyday Actions by Michael Norton is published by Penguin Life (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer, buy a copy at Delivery charges may apply.

Bir yanıt yazın

E-posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir