Virtues in Paradise
Linda Kavelin-Popov is co-founder of The Virtues Project and best-selling author of ‘The family virtues guide’, ‘A pace of grace’, ‘Graceful endings’ and other books on virtues. In this regular column, she explores virtues in the Cook Islands context. You can find out more about her work at www.virtuesproject.com or www.gracefulendings.net.
ere in Paradise, too often we have to bury our young people and others who are “gone too soon.” Just after, my husband Dan and I landed in Rarotonga from the U.S., we saw a pastor from Aitutaki who was taking a three week workshop. I asked him, “What topic is so important that it merits three weeks?!” “Our youth,” he said gravely – many of whose lives are shortened or destroyed by alcohol, drugs, or crime. He mentioned sadly that a young man had just died as a result of his injuries in an alcohol-related motor bike crash.
There are families, teachers and counselors applying The Virtues Project worldwide. Particularly in indigenous communities with high suicide rates, they find that virtues strategies help children to live longer and live better. These include:
• Speaking the Language of Virtues to mirror the strengths in children and youth, showing them their own inner gifts as well as to correct them.
• Recognizing Teachable Moments: seeing troubling behaviors not as a chance to call them names, labeling them as “lazy” or “bad”, but as an opportunity to call them to a virtue they need to practice.
• Mentoring bullies to tap into their compassion in order to become true leaders.
• Having Clear Boundaries at home, school, and work based on Restorative Justice where amends are made, and self-esteem is sustained.
• Honoring the Spirit with music, dance, prayer, reflection and spiritual programs that are inspiring and meaningful to their daily lives.
• Companioning young people -- listening to their troubles, and tapping into their wisdom, thereby making them partners in combatting the challenges youth face.
Virtues Project Facilitators are working in prisons, including Rarotonga, helping young people who have taken a wrong turn in the road to redeem and reclaim their lives by choosing to bring their virtues to life. I will never forget a 12 year old girl I met at a Youth Detention Centre in the U.S. She had killed someone as her gang initiation. After a one hour session introducing the young inmates to virtues, she said, “Can I give you a hug? I knew I needed a new lifestyle when I get out of here, but I had no idea what it was. Now I know! The virtues! They’re who I really am, like you said, right?” I have seen the same response in prisoners who are much older and confined for life sentences. When we realize that we can live a soulful life whenever we choose, it brings hope to the hopeless.
A 14 year old who was required to attend a five day workshop Dan and I gave in Yap, confessed to me during the celebration feast that week, that he was a bully. He was a big fellow, and placed his huge “paws” on my shoulders as he spoke earnestly. “Linda, I want to be a man of virtue!” I acknowledged his purposefulness and then asked him, “So, do you have control over others, the power to make them do what you want?” “Yes,” he answered sheepishly. “Well, do you know that means you are a natural leader?” His big brown eyes lit up. “If you wrap that power around service, I promise you will be a leader in this community one day.” He began to jump up and down with excitement and the whole building, which was on stilts, began to shake. People looked around as if there were an earthquake, and there was one -- in his soul.
I attended a service at a local Seventh Day Adventist church, and was in awe of the young woman in her teens leading a group discussion for the mamas. Her passion and faith shone on her lovely face. She was eloquent in articulating Bible teachings about prayer and seeking guidance. I left feeling deep hope for our young people, for here was an example of a life of purpose that would last all her days.
Have you ever looked out over the waves of the sea, or gazed up at a night sky filled with countless stars, and wondered, “Why am I here?”
One can feel so small, it is hard to believe that each of us is a special being created by God for this time and this place – each of us unique, each with our own song to sing as we pass through this world.
Were you one of those kids who never wanted to miss anything? Who didn’t want to go to sleep if the family was doing anything remotely interesting? I was. And now in my elderhood, I haven’t changed. I don’t want to miss a single spiritual assignment the Creator has ordained for me. I don’t want to overlook even one Teachable Moment.
I recently heard a well-respected elder say, rather sadly: “I have lived a long time. I’m about to retire, yet I still don’t know what my purpose is.”
It is not uncommon to wonder about this or to feel lost if we haven’t discerned our purpose at any given season. When Alice was lost in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” We are told in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”.
I remember my Sunday School teacher saying that when she was a child the age I was then – about six years old – she wrote a letter to a spiritual leader of our faith. She wrote, “Beloved Master, why are we here? Love, Ruhiyyih” Soon, she received a letter from him. It said, “Beloved Ruhiyyih, we are here to acquire the virtues of the Kingdom. Love, Abdu’l Baha”
It seems to me that the ability to stay deeply present to our own lives and to recognise whatever task or virtue we are called to in a given day or season, depends on detaching from the distractions that can trip us up or keep us literally out of our minds.
The Holy Bible speaks of two major traps which can keep us from our purpose: being double-minded and being double-hearted. We must trust in God’s guidance and watch out for the dangers of doubt: “...one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind... he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways,” James 1 6-8.
Another dangerous distraction is to leave the holy ground of truthfulness and to speak, as the saying goes, out of both sides of our mouth. “They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak,” Psalm 12:2.
We need to have faith that we can be guided to know our purpose, as long as we stay scrupulously honest. Discerning our purpose at each season of life begins with simply asking, “and it shall be given,” Mathew 7:7.
Once we have a sense of our calling, the key to accomplishing it is to focus our whole mind and heart on it:
“So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point, wonderful will be the fruits thereof…Thus is it necessary to focus one's thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force.” (Selected Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 111).
Buddhism teaches the power of “single-pointed concentration”. I recently heard a message in meditation which has been very helpful: “Don’t judge what is big or what is small in what you do.” Perhaps one small act of kindness to an intimate or a stranger is more luminous in God’s eyes than completing what appears to us to be a very big job.
Steps to living a truly purposeful life are:
1. Pray and reflect on what your purpose is at this time in your life with faith that the answers will be given to you.
2. Avoid the traps of double-minded doubt and double-hearted deception.
3. Don’t scatter your energies in too many directions. Stay focused and single-minded.
4. Do one thing at a time, whole-heartedly and mindfully.
5. Be aware of the virtues in the way you think, speak, and act.
Yes, this is a tall order. Yet, it holds the keys to the Kingdom.
When I was in primary school, the first ever IQ tests were given. There was a lot of buzz about this new way of measuring a child’s “intelligence quotient”.
Our wedding anniversary is this week, so love is on my mind. Love is easy to fall into, harder to sustain. Seasoned love is edged with inevitable disappointments and annoyances. Yet faithfulness is good as gold.
There is one virtue for which people are crying out, especially around election time. It is bound up in hope and leads to trust – the virtue of integrity.
One of the first joys I had when floating at Ootu Beach on Aitutaki was watching beautiful island children playing after their sailing club lessons.