Memories of Awe Episode 26

Liz wanted to spend the day’s interview exploring the motivations for awe. As she reviewed her previous interviews, she was intrigued by the backgrounds of those Professor McKown had told her about. They seemed so different. She wondered if moral beauty was just a random trait or one that could be developed.

LJ: When we began these interviews, you said you didn’t want to talk about yourself. Later you told me, you were an enabler. I wonder if you have developed some sense of what motivates the moral beauty that has contributed to your memories of awe.

KMcK:  I’ve thought about that a lot. To me, that may be the essential question in what it takes to sustain our nation as a civilized society.

Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to your question, but I do have some observations that may be useful.

LJ: I’d love to hear them.

KMcK:  There are some whose moral beauty is just who they are. They have a genuine goodness of heart. It seems as if they develop that trait at an early age. It may come from their parents’ teaching. It could be influenced by their faith. Conscience could play a part. I’m no psychologist so I can’t be more specific about how that trait might have emerged but it’s there.

LJ: I understand. Have you seen many of your students with what you call a genuine goodness of heart?

KMcK:  Not as many as I would like, and they are becoming less frequent today. Just think of how few prominent people would fit that description.

LJ: I agree, there are few. What about others? What contributes to their motivation?

KMcK:  I use a term crucible moment to describe events that shape a person. These moments are often traumatic, and how the person handles them is what develops their development of moral beauty. For some, they may fall into despair and live a life of grievance. For others, they may use the moment to lift their own lives. I am proud to say that I have played a positive role in helping through these crucible moments.

LJ: I can attest to that from my own brother. I don’t know where I would be if you hadn’t helped him through that crucible moment. Is there another type of motivation?

KMcK:  There is, and it’s the most common one. Typically it begins when someone extends to you a kindness that is unexpected and awe forming. Their kindness inspires you to perform an act of kindness for others. That’s called paying it forward. What results is a virtuous cycle of ever expanding acts of kindness. This may sound naïve to many, but I can tell you that this approach builds self-worth. There is nothing more awe inspiring than when you see someone emerge from self-pity to self-worth.

LJ: You started the day by saying you only had thoughts but not answers, but you have given me so much to think about. You are right in that our civilization depends on a population of goodness.

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“Goodness comes from inside of you. It is your energy and make up. When given away, it leads to greatness.” – Anonymous

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