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Rituals and Revolution


In May 1968, France was almost in a revolutionary state. Starting in the Latin Quarter within the famous Sorbonne, students started rioting. And their motto was a surprising one: “Il est interdit d’interdire” or “It is forbidden to forbid.”

Why such a revolution and such a motto?

The French youth apparently wanted to have a so-called free society in which there was no room for order or rituals. Their vision never gained much traction. French society remains full of rituals as does the rest of the world. World-wide, hundreds of millions of people watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middledton. When we look at it more closely we realize that rituals are the spine of our of our lives as individuals and as a society.Indeed, we can understand why the 1968 revolutionaries wanted to get rid of them.

Let’s start with daily rituals, going to bed, brushing teeth, getting to the office, celebrating birthdays…., these are universal rituals so embedded in us that we don’t even realize how present they are.

In business life and in organizations, there are rituals. For instance: when you get a new employee on board, make a performance evaluation, organize a brain storming session or prepare you strategic plan….

Our Japanese friends are responsible not only for the famous tea ritual but also for the five minutes exercise each morning. HP executives used to have coffee and donuts every morning with their employees. When for various reasons they stopped doing it, the company almost collapsed.

Now if we look at the Bible, the book of Leviticus deals almost uniquely with rituals. The ancient ceremony of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, with the High Priest getting dressed, washing his hands, sacrificing the bull is a unique ritual. Sure, this ritual is not practiced today but it was so important that two thousand of years after it was last performed a description of the ritual is still read on the Day of Atonement.

So, let’s enjoy rituals properly implemented and let’s remember why they are here and why the 1968 revolutionaries wanted to see them disappear.

You can read more on the subject of rituals in <a href=””>Leadership in the Bible: A Practical Guide for Today, </a>a forthcoming book I co-authored with David Arnow.

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