"We’ve all had the experience in one form or another: I stopped in for a coffee at my local establishment. “I’ll have a medium dark roast please,” I said to the barista. “Awesome!” she replied cheerily as she rang up the order. At the time, I wondered whether her response was perhaps just a bit over the top."
The excerpt just quoted is from a Wall Street Journal book review. The book in question is Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.
Dacher Keltner, who is a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, is the author of the book. He is also the director of the "Greater Good Science Center," which promises "Science-Based Insights For A Meaningful Life."
Andrew Stark, who reviewed Keltner's book for The Journal, is at least a little bit skeptical of Keltner's discovery and celebration of "awe" as an "everyday wonder." Stark seems to suggest that Keltner is a little bit like that barista at Stark's local coffee shop, and is, truly, a "bit over the top." Stark, in fact, more or less indicates that Keltner is perhaps trying to find "awe" where there is nothing out of the ordinary at all:
If doing the wave at a baseball game or witnessing one’s husband move large objects is an awesome experience, then awe is not a response to vast mystery. And if awe is indeed a response to vast mystery, then many of the stories people tell Mr. Keltner, however much they might have provoked a certain chemical reaction in the brain, are not tales of awe.
There is not much "there" there, in other words. At least, that seems to be one of Stark's messages.
Well, I take Stark's point. Fair enough. And Stark does say that various combinations of the "good, the true, and the beautiful" do, and often should, evoke feelings of "awe."
What Keltner is saying in his book, though, is also worth acknowledging. Because what he says is that simply being alive, and truly perceiving the wonder of that, is what evokes, quite properly, that feeling of "awe" that ought to be our constant companion as we live, and breathe, and move. Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, would agree with that, as you can see from this "Daily Dig," quoting Heschel's thoughts on "awe."
Isn't it, perhaps, a profound insight that the "everyday" experiences of life are what we should truly understand as "awesome"? I'm prepared to believe it, based not on what I have read in The Wall Street Journal, but on what I have encountered in my personal experience.
When you think about it (and decide not to take life for granted), don't you agree?
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