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My view: Reverence vital virtue in 'fast-forward' world

I have experienced reverence on a mountainside in the Scottish highlands, looking at a beautiful lake, hearing the angelic singing of my wife, Matheson writes.
I have experienced reverence on a mountainside in the Scottish highlands, looking at a beautiful lake, hearing the angelic singing of my wife, Matheson writes.
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It has been said that 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 and we simply cannot afford to lose much more.

Now a couple of important clarifiers as we begin our journey to awe and reverence. 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. Not only is reverence not necessarily tied to a single religion, it is not absolutely tied to any religion. Reverence has more to do with a dynamic power and a feeling of gratitude-inspiring awe.

I have experienced reverence on a mountainside in the Scottish highlands, looking at a beautiful lake, hearing the angelic singing of my wife, reading the words of poets, prophets and philosophers and on many occasions when I have simply forced myself to sit still and block out the noisy world around me.

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. We each must find the seeds of reverence, which may be hidden deep within us and nurture and help them grow. In our technology driven society, reverence has fallen beneath the horizons of our intellectual vision.” We must remember that reverence gives meaning to much of what we do every day.

Without reverence, rituals are empty. Reverence is the difference between feeding time and family meal time, the difference between eating food and dining with friends, between staying at a kennel and living in a home. Without the principle of reverence and slowing down to feel awe, respect, gratitude and power, people simply exist as they continue the meaningless chase of the rat-race of life.

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. It is also true that 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 or television program will attest. An irreverent soul is arrogant and shameless, unable to feel awe in the face of things higher or greater than self. The irreverent soul, orbiting in the center of his or her own universe, is so consumed with themselves and how they can draw 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.

So how do we find and cultivate the virtue of reverence in our daily lives? Paintings and photography, music and songs, sunrises and sunsets, holy words and humble wisdom may widen the sphere of majesties from which people can feel a sense of awe. Once reverence is awakened, everything becomes much more rich, more vibrant, more and more alive. Reverence is often where insight and inspiration begin.

Now an application of reverence. Reverence is a vital principle of leadership because it promotes mutual respect between leader and follower. Leaders generally find that respect based on reverence is far more effective and reliable than motivation by fear.

Leaders cannot retain the respect of their followers without showing due respect and reverence to them in return. The philosopher Juvenal said, “The greatest awe and reverence are due the young and the old and connects the generations and societies past, present and future.” Remember that reverence in leadership calls for respect only when respect is really the right attitude. You see to pay respect to a tyrant would not be reverent at all; it would actually be weak and cowardly. The most reverent response to a tyrant is to ensure he is overthrown. John Locke observed, “He that will have his son have respect for him and his orders must have great awe and reverence for his son.”

Reverence lies behind civility and all of the graces that make life not only bearable but wonderful. So when was the last time you felt reverence and awe? Was it the birth of a child, standing on a mountain top, watching your grandchildren, reading some beautiful poetry, observing a piece of art, going on a walk, looking at a photograph or listening to powerful music? Have you found reverence in leading, in following and in just being?

Have you experienced recently something that left you in awe, in that inarticulate state where words simply could not do justice to what you saw, heard, thought or felt? You can find and experience the power of reverence every day for it is all around us, in meaningful rituals, in powerful moments, in simple pleasures.

Take time to explore reverence, find awe in it, experience gratitude with it and become more because of it. Remember reverence is a powerful principle and vital virtue for our time.

Boyd Matheson is a political and business strategist. He served as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and has consulted executives and organizations around the world on branding, messaging, leadership and what it takes to create sustainable movements.