We took a break. But before being dismissed our leaders asked each of us to write down our favorite food. Mine was Belgian chocolate. We handed in our
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slips of paper and left. Upon the return, there was a plate of our favorite food at each place. Belgian chocolate for me. I never forgot that and now look for any chance I have to make a guest exclaim “WOW.”
Initiation is one important role of ritual. Rituals also bond a group together and imbue the enterprise with traditions and values. They prepare combat pilots to slip into a !ghter cockpit knowing they may not return:
For me, there can be no !ghter pilots without !ghter pilot rituals. The end result of these rituals is a culture that allows individuals to risk their lives and revel in it (Broughton, 1988, p. 131).
Some rituals become ceremonial occasions to recognize momentous accomplishments. When Captain Lance Sijan received his posthumous Medal of Honor, the president of the United States attended:
In the large room, men in impressive uniforms and costly vested suits and women [in uniforms] and cheerful spring pastels stood motionless and silent in their contemplation of the words. The stark text of the citation contained a wealth of evocative imagery, some of it savage, some tender to the point of heartbreak. President Ford left the rostrum: a group of senior of!cers drew up beside him to hand forward the glass-covered walnut case containing the medal. There was a certain liturgical quality to this passing of a sancti!ed object among a circle of anointed leaders (McConnell, 2004, p. 217).
At the other end of the scale are many light-hearted rituals, but even these have a more serious side:
On a Friday night at a base of!cers’ club, four Marine A-6 Intruder pilots joined a packed crowd of Air Force of!cers. One of the Marine aviators put his cap on the bar while !shing for some money to pay for his drink. The bartender rang a foot-tall bell and yelled “Hat on the bar!” This infraction automatically means the guilty party buys a round of drinks. Surveying the size of the crowd, the Marine . . . refused to pay. An Air Force colonel approached him and asked him if he really intended to “out the tradition. When the Marine responded in the af!rmative, the colonel called the base security and ordered the A-6
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[aircraft] on the ramp impounded. The Marine left and called his superior to report the colonel’s action. Shortly thereafter, he returned and asked sheepishly, “What’s everyone having?” (R. Mola, cited in Reed, 2001, p. 6).
Rituals also delineate key relationships. One of the most important relationships in a !ghter squadron is that between a pilot and crew chief.
A pre”ight ritual transfers ownership between someone who cares for an aircraft on the ground and the one who will take it aloft. The ground ritual has several phases. A !rst salute reinforces rank and signi!es respect between mechanic and pilot. A handshake takes the formal greeting to a new level, cementing the personal bond between the two. A second salute after the pilot has checked the aircraft indicates the aircraft’s airworthiness. It is now of!cially under the pilot’s command. Finally, a thumbs-up is a personal gesture wishing the pilot a good “ight. Interwoven, the many rituals of combat “ying bond the participants and bind them to the service’s traditions and values (R. Mola, cited in Reed, 2001, p. 5).
Ceremony Historically, cultures have relied on ritual and ceremony to create order, clarity, and predictability—particularly around mysterious and random issues or dilemmas. The distinction between ritual and ceremony is elusive. As a rule of thumb, rituals are more frequent, everyday routines imbued with special meaning. Ceremonies are more episodic, grander, and more elaborate. Ceremonies often weave several rituals in concert and are convened at times of transition or on special occasions. Rain dances, harvest celebrations, the darkest days of winter, the new beginnings and hope of spring bring people together to remember the past and to renew faith, hope, and spirit. Annual business meetings invoke supernatural assistance in explaining dips in the stock price or in building newmarket share. Annual conventions renew old ties and revive deep, collective commitments. “Convention centers are the basilicas of secular religion” (Fulghum, 1995, p. 96).
Both ritual and ceremony are illustrated in an account from Japan:
It has been the same every night since the death in 1964 of Yasujiro Tsutsumi, the legendary patriarch of the huge Seibu real-estate and transportation group. Two employees stand an overnight vigil at his tomb . . . On New Year’s, the weather is often bitter, but at dawn the vigil expands to include !ve or six
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hundred top executives—directors, vice presidents, presidents—arrayed by company and rank, the most senior in front. A limousine delivers Yasujiro’s third son, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, the head of the family business and Japan’s richest man. A great brass bell booms out six times as Yoshiaki approaches his father’s tomb. He claps his hands twice, bows deeply, and says, “Happy New Year, Father, Happy New Year.” Then he turns to deliver a brief-but-stern sermon to the assembled congregation. The basic themes change little from year to year: last year was tough, this year will be even tougher, and you’ll be washing dishes in one of the hotels if your performance is bad. Finally, he toasts his father with warm sake and departs (Downer, 1994).
Ceremonies serve four major roles: they socialize, stabilize, reassure, and convey messages to external constituencies. Consider the example of Mary Kay Cosmetics. Several thousand people gather at the company’s annual seminars to hear (now posthumous) personal messages from Mary Kay, to applaud the achievements of star salespeople, to hear success stories, and to celebrate. The ceremony brings new members into the fold and helps maintain faith, hope, and optimism in the Mary Kay family. It is a distinctive pageant and makes the Mary Kay culture accessible to outsiders, particularly consumers. Failure recedes and obstacles disappear in the “you can do it” spirit of the company symbol, the bumblebee—a creature that, according to mythical aerodynamics experts, should not be able to “y. Unaware of its limitations, it “ies anyway.
Some events, like retirement dinners and welcoming events for new employees, are clearly ceremonial. Other ceremonies happen at moments of triumph or transition. When Phil Condit took over the reins of Boeing in 1996, he invited senior managers to his home for dinner. Afterward, the group gathered around a giant !re pit to tell stories about Boeing. Condit asked them to toss negative stories into the “ames. It was an emblematic way to banish the dark side of the company’s past (Deal and Key, 1998).
Condit resigned his chairman position at Boeing, under pressure, in 2003 but returned as part of the crowd to witness the ceremonial rollout of an aircraft his team had begun work on a decade earlier—the 787 Dreamliner. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, “With some 15,000 people gathered Sunday inside the world’s largest building—Boeing’s Everett factory—and tens of thousands more watching the event live around the world—Boeing opened the hangar doors to reveal the 787 Dreamliner, the !rst commercial passenger plane that will have a mostly composite airframe rather than aluminum . . . Those 15,000 employees, past and current executives, airline customers and others crowded around
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the new jet for an up-close look” (“Thousands Welcome the Long-Awaited 787 Dream- liner,” 2007).
Condit mingled with employees to give and receive congratulations. Tom Brokaw served as master of ceremonies. Rock music roused the crowd. The event gave VIPs and politicians an opportunity to bask in the glory of a momentous accomplishment. As those who had launched every plane from the 707 through the 747 rubbed elbows and swapped tales, the roots of the past fused with the joy of the present and the promise of tomorrow’s next leap forward.
Ceremonies do not have to be as lavish as Boeing’s launch of the Dreamliner. Every organization has its moments of achievement and atonement. Expressive events provide order and meaning and bind an organization or a society together.
Ceremony is equally evident in other arenas. In the United States, political conventions select candidates, even though in recent decades the winner is usually determined well in advance. After the conventions come several months in which competing candidates trade clichés. The same pageantry unfolds each election year. Rhetoric and spontaneous demon- strations are staged in advance. Campaigning is repetitious and super!cial, reporters play up the skirmish of the day, and voting often seems disconnected from the main drama. The denouement is often just what everyone expected, but occasionally the drama takes an unexpected turn, as in 2016 when Donald Trump won even though he was expected to lose.
Even so, the process of electing a president is still a momentous ceremony. It entails a sense of social involvement. It is an outlet for expression of discontent and enthusiasm. It stages live drama for citizens to witness and debate and gives millions of people a sense of participating in an exciting adventure. It lets candidates reassure the public that there are answers to important questions and solutions to vexing problems. It draws attention to common social ties and to the importance of America’s peaceful transfer of power (Edelman, 1977).
When properly conducted and attuned to valued myths, both ritual and ceremony !re the imagination and deepen faith; otherwise, they become cold, empty forms that people resent and avoid. They can release creativity and transform meanings, but they can also cement the status quo and block adaptation and learning. In some organizations, whining and complaining evolve as rituals of choice. Negative symbols perpetuate evil, just as positive symbols reinforce goodness. Symbols cut both ways.