When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.
Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Have We Lost Our Sense of Awe?
Yes, we are still talking about the need to not-know, if we are going to put Lao Tzu’s teachings into practice. The question for today: “Have I lost my sense of awe?”
Little children have it. That sense of awe. Of wonder. They know that they don’t know. That is why they are constantly asking questions. Sadly, by the time they become older children, that sense of awe and wonder is something they have “grown out of”. I put that in quotes because I don’t think it is just a matter of growing up. I think it is largely the fault of the adults in their life, not nurturing that sense of awe and wonder. After all, it wasn’t nurtured in us, when we were growing up, either. And, we have lost it.
I say that, having raised two, now adult, children; and fully admitting, I didn’t do all that great a job nurturing it in them.
How do we nurture it in ourselves, and in the little ones in our care? How I wish I had understood this twenty some odd years ago. It begins with not answering all their questions by appealing to authority. We do tend to do this appealing to authority thing. When they ask why they should do such and such. We respond with, because I said so. There is some parental authority. As they get older, we may appeal to the law. Or, tradition or custom. But, it is always some authority. And, when it comes to philosophical questions, many appeal to religion, yet another authority.
Here, I would humbly suggest we seriously stop, and take a step back. Is it always important to know the answers to the questions they ask? Why not admit we don’t know, instead of presuming we do? Why not guide them to find the answers to their questions inside themselves, instead of outside.
Let me give you fair warning, though. You are in serious danger of raising children capable of free and critical thinking. They will end up being able to be independent thinkers and doers.
This is how the wise approach this nurturing of awe and wonder. It is teaching without teaching. No, it doesn’t lead to confusion. Just the opposite, actually. And, people will learn how to trust themselves.