It’s given me pause to reflect on why people continue to passionately practice it for decades. Here in the Cook Islands, virtues posters, cards and strategies have been used for decades in our schools. Dan and I were originally invited to bring The Virtues Project here by Eleitino Paddy Walker, Jolene Bosanquet, Jane Lamb, and others associated with the Pacific Women’s Association more than 20 years ago.
The individuals who formed Virtues Project Cook Islands still have as much enthusiasm now as then, and this pattern is found throughout the world.
Why? Perhaps it’s because The Virtues Project makes the sacred accessible in everyday life. People of all beliefs experience simple ways to connect to their spirituality, to do their soul work, even to become deepened in their own faith.
Virtues are the silver thread of unity running through all Sacred Texts and indigenous oral traditions. They are the very meaning and purpose of our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 names the virtues that are the “fruits of the spirit,” from love to self-control. Buddhist Writings have entire chapters on “virtues of work”, “virtues of life”.
The Baha’i Faith says, “We are here to acquire the virtues of the Kingdom”. Think of any traditional myth and you will find virtues such as strength, sacrifice and courage at its heart.
Five Virtues Strategies the framework for the meaning of our lives from birth to death:
1. Speaking the Language of Virtues: Language has the power to hurt or to heal. Virtues shape character. Recently on the beach, I saw my grandchildren ignoring and rejecting a little girl. They shouted, “Go away. Go home.” I called them to me and said, “We don’t treat people like that. She’s lonely. You need to be kind.” My 7-year-old granddaughter immediately called her to back, and they played and laughed together. Now they’re good friends. Anytime we acknowledge a person of any age for a virtue, we are holding up a mirror of their true self. “Thank you for your reliability to show up on time.”
2. Recognising Teachable Moments is an attitude of lifelong learning, seeing our tests are opportunities to grow in virtues. With children, it means not shaming them with negative labels but naming a virtue to practice. “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth, he correcteth, even as the father the son in whom he takes delight.” (Proverbs 3:11 – 12)
3. Set clear boundaries based on Justice: Whether choosing our yeses wisely, protecting our time and our health, or disciplining our children, boundaries are a way to keep ourselves and our children safe. When authority is used not to rubbish or shame a child but to serve his character, it is one of the best ways to show love.
4. Honoring the Spirit means to have a regular routine of reverence, whether a silent, reflective walk on the beach, or a sacred time each day to read inspiring words, pray, and meditate. For me this also includes randomly choosing a virtues card, to help me focus on a virtue each day. Today it was reliability, which meant completing my column.
5. Offering spiritual companioning is to walk beside someone, helping them to hear their own voice, by asking clarifying questions. Never ask “Why?” which puts people on the defensive, but “What?” When my brother John was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he seemed numb until the day I found him in tears. I thought, “Finally, he’s getting to his grief.” But I knew better than to ask, “Why are you crying?” or say, “It’s really hard.” I asked a companioning question, “What are those tears?” To my surprise, John said, “It’s so beautiful!” “What’s so beautiful?” I asked. “I’ve been reading sacred texts about the next world all morning, and I can hardly wait to get there.”
My heart is full of gratitude for the knowledge of virtues, as it is truly the key to a joyful, meaningful life. As the president of the Solomon Islands once said, “The Virtues Project uncovers the virtues buried in the Bible.”