Saving our youth using virtues
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.
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The Cook Islands News Team