Leslie Miller and Chris Mueller, the directors of the La Cañada Girl Scouts’ summer camp, asked me to assist with the backpack portion of camp. This year’s theme is titled “Going Buggy.” Although I’ve got a million things to do, I would never refuse a request from ladies of such esteem.
I was to give lessons on navigation, tracking, knots and history, and to act as a resource person. Yesterday when I arrived at camp I witnessed a serendipitous teaching moment. Mueller was giving the girls a life lesson relative to some misbehavior. Sometimes in life you get what you need. She spoke of the Girl Scout Law. Accepting this creed would transform the girls into honorable young women. Scouting builds character and reverence is foundational to scouting.
My high school history teacher, Brother Charles, taught me the importance of reverence. He was an imposing man possessing a duality of temperaments similar to those of Saint Francis and Genghis Kahn. He often beat the bejesus out of us, attempting to instill civility in a rather insolent bunch. The Irish Christian Brothers believed that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. We learned to respect authority, society, each other and ourselves. He would say, “You either learn reverence from history or you learn it from me — the hard way.”
Most of us choose the hard way.
We never give reverence our full attention, but only glance at it from the corner of an eye. Its reality looms as a transparent vapor that lets us off the hook for failing to do something about it. The cornerstone of all virtue, reverence seems to atrophy from the human condition. My sensibilities are not hypersensitive to the rambunctious behavior of children. Working on the docks in Hell’s Kitchen and nine years in the Marines cured me of that.
Reverence is an ancient virtue that barely survives and often exists in half-forgotten forms of civility. Reverence is the capacity to appreciate, acknowledge and respect something higher than us. It is the greatest of all virtues because it is the only virtue that guarantees all of the rest. It keeps us humble and in sync with the ebb and flow of life as it tempers our egos and assures us that we never forget where we came from. The Buddha assures us that, “Reverence gives life, beauty, happiness and strength to those who embrace it.”
According to mythology, whenever early human beings gathered, they would hurt each other because they did not have the knowledge of how to form a society. Thus, they would scatter and perish. In order to preserve society, Zeus sent Hermes to bring reverence to humanity.
Reverence is not something that you turn on or off, depending on the situation. You either have it, or you don’t. You either are, or you aren’t. Without reverence, we have little commitment to society, resulting in aloofness and a lack of awe as we seldom give a higher authority a second glance. Without reverence, we do not know how to respect each other and ourselves. Without reverence, we wouldn’t even know how to learn reverence.
In Plato’s “Republic,” the community is implored to instill reverence into the soul of youth. Plato asserts that, “There can be no nobler training than that,” and as a result of learning reverence, “Youth will dwell in a land of health … and receive the good in everything.”
Living in La Cañada affords us the best teachers and schools. We hold high expectations for our children, hoping for A’s in school and goals on the soccer field. The sole pursuit of extrinsic goals leaves one empty. Without cultivating knowledge of the heart, we’ll ask ourselves, “Is that all there is?” If our answer is yes, we have failed to realize the rapture of life. If our answer is no, we’re growing and there’s hope. And that’s where we want to be.
is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at
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