by Gary Dyck
“When you are in the presence of something vast and indescribable, you feel smaller, and so does your negative chatter.” – Dr. Ethan Kross
The rarely felt emotion of awe in our daily lives is so valuable that I’m doing a three-part series on it. Awe makes us feel small and that is good. Yes, Mennonite humility and smallness has its value. Research shows that people who regularly experience awe develop a healthy humble view of their place in the world and are more generous. It could be one of the reasons why Mennonite regions of Canada are among the highest in charitable giving. Their worship of a benevolent God has provided them a caring perspective for those around them. For example, there is no way, that a museum the scale of the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) could be established without the sustained generosity of numerous people these past fifty years.
As David Robson, writes in his January 6th BBC article (Awe: The ‘little earthquake’ that could free your mind): When we feel wonder at something truly incredible and grand, “we perceive ourselves as smaller and less significant in relation to the rest of the world”, says Shiota [researcher at Arizona State University]. One consequence of this is greater altruism. “When I am less focused on myself, on my own goals and needs and the thoughts in my head, I have more bandwidth to notice you and what you may be experiencing.”
One study that David Robson mentions consisted of people watching a segment of an inspiring nature film and another group just watching a neutral short film. The groups then participated in a game where they are challenged to hoard their tickets or help others by giving them away. The feelings of awe produced a significant change in the generosity of the first group, increasing the number of tickets that the participants shared. “Through subsequent statistical analyses, the researchers were able to show that this came through the changes to the sense of self. The smaller the participants felt, the more generous they were.”
Museums like MHV, provide numerous opportunities for feeling awe. It is important to feel small sometimes; that our lives are just one brick in a grand house that is being beautifully built over centuries. There is much more going on in our personal history than just what is happening to us this one year. There is a hole that our community needs us to fill with the brick in our hand.
There was a time when the world’s greatest edifices took more than one lifetime to build. St. Peter’s Basilica took 144 years, the Great Wall took over 2000 years to complete. These people did not get to see the final product of their labour, but they knew they were contributing to something significant. MHV was established in 1964 and we still have a lot of work to do. In 2022 thanks to your generousity we are finally completing a couple projects to enhance and increase the use of our pond area. Let’s remember our place in this world. It is amazing what we have endured and survived in the past as a people. Again and again, we see the tenacity of the human spirit creating a beautiful existence with what is around them. Next week I will write about how to daily practice the emotion of awe.
MHV’s Galleries and Village Books and Gifts are open Tuesday to Saturday , 9am – 5pm. Our award-winning ‘Mennonites at War’ exhibit is also available online. Keep checking our website for upcoming events, including our popular author nights.
Winter Carnival, February 19, 9am – 5pm. Save the date for our annual Winter Carnival! Admission is free and there will be plenty of fun activities for all ages. Volunteers have begun work on the skating rink and much more.