by Kathie England

Witnesses to Moral Beauty

Last month’s post introduced the concept of Awe as defined by Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center, host of the podcast The Science of Happiness, and author of Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.

This month focuses on Moral Beauty, the first of the eight wonders of Awe described by Keltner. Moral Beauty creates Awe when we can witness the kindness, courage, and overcoming of others.

This month I share three examples of Awe.

Example #1 – Courage and Overcoming      

My first example comes from the book The Best Strangers in the World by Ari Shapiro, host of NPR’s All Things Considered. (I finished reading this book the day before I got to see Shapiro interviewed by Thomas Lauderdale, founder of Pink Martini, at Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon on April 2.)

Shapiro tells the story of meeting Qasim Shesho, the commander of under-sourced Yazidi fighters who held off ISIS in the sacred mountains of Shengal in Iraq. Against all odds they saved the Sharfadin temple, one of the holiest sites in the Yazidi religion. Shesho recounted how they numbered only eighteen peshmerga when the siege on Sharfadin began. They had so little food that four men would share one round of flatbread each day. After four months of fighting, Kurdish troops drove out ISIS. Shapiro asked Shesho about his feelings when he realized the siege was over. His response – “We didn’t celebrate, we just cried.”

Example #2 – Courage, Kindness, and Overcoming

My second example is Barbara Attridge, the co-founder of Dress for Success Oregon. Barb and her friend Karen Fishel shared the vision of creating Dress for Success Oregon after reading about Nancy Lublin, a second-year law student who had received a $5000 inheritance from her great-grandfather and decided to turn this gift into one that would keep on giving. Lublin founded Dress for Success in 1997.

Barb and Karen followed Nancy Lublin’s vision to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and development tools to help women thrive in work and life. I first met Barb in the fall of 2001 when Dress for Success Oregon (DFSO) was still in its infancy! I watched as Barb and Karen worked tirelessly with kindness and courage to create the organization it is today. (I had the privilege of volunteering at DFSO from 2002 through 2017.)

Dress for Success Worldwide now has 143 affiliates in 23 countries. Learn more about Dress for Success Oregon.

Example #3 – Courage and Overcoming      

The third example reflects the courage of Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives who helped lead the protest to demand gun safety legislation after a school shooting killed six people on April 23, 2023. Republicans stripped them of committee assignments and filed resolutions declaring they had engaged in disorderly conduct. Jones and Pearson were expelled from the House.

Gun violence is the NUMBER ONE cause of death for children and teens in the United States.

Who truly demonstrates disorderly conduct? Those who support gun safety legislation or those who block all consideration of gun safety legislation that could reduce guns as the number one cause of death for children and teens in the United States?

Meeting in an airport last week Justin Jones and Joan Baez sang “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round’.” When interviewed by Stephen Colbert on April 12, Baez reflected on the irony that 60 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, D.C. it is still essential to keep singing these same songs of the civil rights movement! We have NOT yet in this country embraced the words of the Declaration of Independence that we are all created equal.

What might be possible if we embraced the power of Moral Beauty? What if we not only bore witness to its power and also became exemplars of Moral Beauty by demonstrating our own capacity for Moral Beauty?

These are all possibilities to help us discover Who We Can Be in 2023 and beyond!