People who are losing the capacity to feel awe and reverence are in danger of losing a great deal more. As a society we have lost much when it comes to reverence over the last several decades, especially over the past year. When it comes to reverence we simply cannot afford to lose much more.
Now, a couple of important clarifiers – it is a mistake to think that awe and reverence belong to a religion. This is simply not the case. I have experienced similar awe and reverence in a Shinto shrine, a mighty cathedral, a Buddhist temple and an old wooden chapel. I have experienced reverence on a mountainside in the Scottish Highlands, hearing the angelic singing of my wife, reading the words of poets and philosophers, and on many occasions when I have simply forced myself to sit still.
Why discuss reverence? Because, in our fast-forward world, we have forgotten what it means in our individual lives and in society as a whole. Because reverence fosters authentic humility, kindness, community and genuine leadership. And because without reverence, communities begin to fall apart. The Greeks before Plato actually saw reverence as one of the bulwarks of their society.
Author Jeff Woodward stated, “Without reverence, people do not know how to respect each other or how to respect themselves. Without reverence an army cannot tell the difference between what it is and a gang of bandits. Without reverence, we cannot explain why we should treat the natural world with respect. Without reverence a house is not a home, a boss is not a leader, an instructor is not a teacher.”
Reverence gives meaning to much of what we do every day. Without reverence, rituals are empty. Reverence is the difference between eating food and dining with friends, between staying at a kennel and living in a home.
It is absolutely true that people who are losing the capacity to feel reverence and awe are in danger of losing a great deal more. Reverence is most obvious when it is missing, and it is missing most often in people who are, or who think they are exceptional above all others.
Unfortunately we live in a world that actually celebrates the irreverent – as any perusal of a tabloid magazine, television program or the internet will attest. An irreverent soul is arrogant and shameless, orbiting in the center of his or her own universe, so consumed with drawing attention to themselves that they seek out the lowest forms of behavior to shock society, disrespect others, and flaunt what they’ve got and believe others cannot have.
Reverence can be found all around us – in paintings and photography, music and songs, sunrises and sunsets, holy words and humble wisdom. Reverence is often where insight and inspiration begin.
Take time to explore reverence, find awe in it, experience gratitude with it, and become more because of it. Reverence is a powerful principle and vital virtue for our time.
For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.
This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.
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