By Vanessa Calagna & Pam Willsey
1. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.
With the winter holiday season in full swing, and the various decorations, celebrations and revelry abound, we’ve been thinking a lot about the word awe lately. Awe seems to be an underutilized word in the zeitgeist of our times.
A common synonym for awe is reverence, indicating a deep respect for someone. A common antonym for awe is disrespect or indifference. Sadly, we have noticed a remarkably high level of disrespect and intolerance in our current ethos.
As mental health professionals and life coaches, the concept of awe was woven throughout our academic pursuits and our training, and it has greatly informed all of our work including the individual and group sessions that we have with our clients. Our definition of awe always includes both reverence and empathy.
Finding the Awe
In our field, people share their most intimate thoughts and life stories with us, and it is with awe that we listen to them to help them to process their limiting beliefs and intolerant feelings.
You may be thinking that we mainly hear stories that are wonderful and touching thus, awe producing. The truth, however, is much messier. Clients often share their challenging thoughts, behaviors, and a learned helplessness with us.
Listening to our clients with curiosity and respect for their experiences, while often quite different from our own, is of course part of our job, but we often wish that it was second nature for everyone and not just for those in helping professions. It is from a place of awe that we truly connect with others.
Connective vs. Divisive
Clients often express frustrations including, “How can I be friends with someone who believes…?” Or, “She could never understand this because she grew up so differently than I did.” More recently, we have been hearing from clients that “I can’t say anything about x, y, or z because I’m not dealing with the same issues or don’t have the same skin color, gender identity, or…” and the list goes on.
Many scholars and journalists have addressed this quandary, often as a matter of free speech and general discourse, but we would like to offer that it is also, equally important as it relates to how we connect with ourselves and others. When we disagree with someone or find their views too different from our own, do we recoil and shame the person or do we lean in closer with inquiry and awe? Awe is often the bridge to real connection. In any given moment or conversation, we have a choice. We can focus on our differences or our shared humanity.
This holiday season, we will be letting our awe be our guide, not just in our work but in our lives.
If you know a teen or college aged girl who could use some guidance navigating her world, let’s connect to see what a game-changer coaching can be!
As originally seen on Psychology Today.