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Molnar: Reverence

01/06/12 5:55PM By Martha Molnar
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(Host) Commentator Martha Molnar reflects on the mostly forgotten virtues of humility and respect, which continue to be part of everyday life in Vermont.

(Molnar) With so many books and so little time, I almost never read a book twice. But I am rereading "Reverence" by Paul Woodruff because it changed the way I behave.

Reverence, the author says, is awe for things greater than us, for things we don't fully comprehend, like life, death, nature, the human mind. Reverence leads to respect - which goes beyond mere politeness. It's a kind of humility, and a desire for justice, and these hold together the fabric of family, community, and society. But the opposite of reverence is not irreverence, since protesting bad leadership, for example, serves a positive purpose.

When I consider the world around me, I am forced to conclude that reverence is mostly a forgotten virtue. But when I consider Vermont, I see it thriving, quietly.

It shows in people's behavior, for example. It's easy to act respectful toward those we deem superior or important. We've all observed arrogant people behave slavishly toward the powerful. But here, the truck driver and retired CEO, the vegetable farmer and college professor all treat each other as equals. People are not judged by their covers. This may be because Vermonters don't fit into covers, no matter how roomy or oddly-shaped. So people are judged by who they are, not by how they spend their working hours.

Reverence often declares itself through silence. And in this, Vermonters truly excel. Conversations are punctuated by silences, sometimes uncomfortably long ones for someone like me, who's used to rapid-fire exchanges. But I've learned that the silences mean that someone's actually thinking about what I said before replying!

Vermont's landscape and climate also conspire to maintain humility. We live each day in its physical beauty, dwarfed by the mountains and valleys and open sky, helpless before its clouds of insects, ice storms and floods. Despite the latest gadgets and advanced communication devices, we are often forced to depend on our neighbors and respect their knowledge, which is based not on advanced degrees but on common sense and experience. We're unlikely to look down on those upon whom we depend.

Now lest I be labeled an irritating Polyanna, let me add that there are certain statewide habits that I find both baffling and irritating. For example, I don't understand why so many people drive so far below the speed limit on perfectly dry roads. I can't see why they don't pull over to let the rest of us move at what we consider a normal speed. And finally - in my limited experience - it often seems that the respect and lack of arrogance that permeates encounters between individuals all too often turns to raised voices when a group of citizens meet to discuss anything at all having to do with a budget.

I sincerely hope that money won't eventually corrupt our tiny enclave of civil community.

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