Christian monk Tolbert McCarrol said: ‘Virtue is the muscle tone in the daily and hourly training of a spiritual warrior.”
In the Cook Islands and indeed all of Maori culture the warrior is a leader, a protector, who conquers danger and guards the values of the community.
When we were just about to self-publish the guide in our garage office, a sudden storm arose and for three days our power went out, and a cold, snowy wind blew around our house.
We huddled in the dark around a wood burning stove and asked ourselves, “Now what?” The book was nearly finished, yet we had no marketing plan. And so we prayed and meditated. The answers that came were ‘Help Native people’ and ‘First Nations First’.
We had no idea how to go about it, and I was worried that it might feel disrespectful to have more papa’a (white) people telling them what to do, much less how to raise their own children. Yet, when the electricity came on, the phone rang.
A woman in a strong Canadian indigenous accent asked, “Are you the people doing the virtues?” “Yes,” I said. “Will you bring it to our people?” she asked.
Three weeks later, Dan and I were in a tiny seaplane flying into a remote Native community in Northern British Columbia, with a box of photocopied, three hole-punched pages and binders. When we finished that first virtues workshop, a woman said to me, ‘I never thought I’d say this to anyone, much less a white woman, but you and Dr. Dan have reawakened the spirit of our people. The virtues are who we really are’.
After that, the book, which contains 52 virtues and simple strategies for raising children of excellence, kindness and honesty, spread all over the world and publishers in New York grew interested. Penguin Books published it, with a real cover and binding, and more than 20 years later, it is still one of their active titles.
One of the most important questions the book asks is, ‘Who are our children, really?’
We know that Jesus loved little children. He said that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we had to be like a child. Our children are beings of great worth. Each one is born with a unique part to play in the Divine plan, a capacity to develop their own virtues and talents.
Virtues grow strong, just like the muscles of the body, by being exercised. To bring out the best in our children, we need to see them as capable of obedience, compassion, friendliness and helpfulness. When we call them shaming names, we are ignoring the fact that they are born in the image and likeness of God.
When our words are weighty we need to weigh our words. Calling them stupid, lazy, mean or shy damages their sensitive self-esteem while calling them to their virtues helps them to grow spiritually and morally. ‘Be kind to your sister’. ‘Be helpful by putting your toys away’. ‘Thank you for being thoughtful and bringing me my sunglasses.’ ‘It took courage to speak to your teacher asking her to help you’. ‘When Daddy asks you to do something, you need to be obedient.’
Virtues language used consistently along with clear boundaries and compassionate listening is the best way to be a mentor to children instead of a tormentor.
When children develop their virtues, they become caring, confident individuals.
They become the change we all wish to see in the world.