Memories of Awe Episode 4

Liz wanted to change the interview routine today. Professor McKown had frequently used the term awe to describe the stories he told. She wasn’t sure of how he thought about awe, so that was to be her focus today.

LJCould you describe what awe means to you?

KMcK:  Let me reverse that and ask you when you have had an awe inspiring experience?

LJ:  (After thinking for a few minutes) When my family traveled to the Grand Canyon, I was in awe of what I saw. At the beginning of one of our basketball games, the national anthem was played by one of our alumni on his violin. That was incredible. On my last day of high school everyone’s favorite teacher said she was retiring. Everyone in the class responded in one voice: Oh no!! You know this really gives me a better sense of what awe is. Now can you tell me what awe means to you?

KMcK:  I think you have answered your own question. It’s when you are so inspired that you forget about yourself and are enthralled with wonder. That’s my very unscientific definition.

LJAre there different forms of awe?

KMcK:  Dacher Keltner in his book called Awe identifies eight different types. You actually described three of them: nature, music, and collective effervescence. The other ones are design, spiritual/religion, epiphanies, and moral beauty.

LJI understand seven of those, but what is moral beauty?

KMcK:  That’s the source of awe that most inspires me. It’s when I see acts of kindness, courage, and resilience. It’s the transformation I see in those I teach from when I first meet them to who they become. I’m in awe of those who make tough choices but do the right thing.

LJWhy would you say you are most inspired by moral beauty?

KMcK:  Think about the world I live in. Every day I interact with dozens of students in my office. Most of those interactions become pivotal moments in their young lives. I am witness to everyday awe. Few people have the opportunity I have to see moral beauty unfolding in front of them. And I see that over a life span as I keep up with their lives. My first graduates are now in their mid-70s.

LJWow!! You have really given me a good grounding in what awe is. I have more questions I’d like to ask about awe, but I’d like to hear more of your memories of awe.

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“Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” – Albert Einstein

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