The room was packed with community leaders, ministers, priests, nuns, teachers, business owners, parents and a group of students sitting in the front. It was a profound experience for me and Dan and apparently for the Yapese as well.
One man came up to me and said, “Linda, you have broken a taboo of our people”
“Oh, no,” I said, “what did I do?” He said, “Grown men don’t cry in public!”
Then he laughed and hugged me. They talked about the invasion of their culture by outside forces of modernisation, and then brainstormed words to describe their navigator culture: Courage, strength, honour, unity – all virtues.
I remember saying, “No matter what is done to change your culture, they can never take these virtues away from you.”
One of the most meaningful moments for me came when they held a celebration feast after the workshop. The biggest boy came up to me, put his big hands on my shoulders and said earnestly, “Linda, I want to be a man of virtues!”
“That’s very purposeful, John,” I said, “That’s always your choice.”
“But,” he said, “I have to tell you, I’m one of the bullies you talked about.”
“So, do you have control over other kids?” He nodded.
“Do they follow what you do?” Again he nodded, looking on the verge of tears.
“I will tell you a secret,” I said. “If you take your power and wrap it around the virtue of service, someday you will be a leader in this community.”
“I will?” His eyes lit up and he started jumping up and down with joy, shaking the building on its stilts. People looked around wondering if there was an earthquake.
Every bully is wounded in some way. Often, they have been abused themselves, or felt abandoned. They feel fearful and unsafe, and often erupt in helpless rage. Most parents experience this at one time or another when children won’t obey. Bullies use violence to gain control over others. When they awaken to the understanding that they have all the virtues within them, a new path opens – one of hope, service, and purpose. I have often seen this transformation amongst prison inmates and parents looking for a better way.
When I asked teachers here what they do when they see bullying, one said, “I tell them ‘Stop bullying or I’ll bully you’.” We all laughed but I said, “So, basically, you’re teaching them that whoever is stronger gets to be the bully, not that bullying is wrong.”
We did a “virtues translation”. What virtues are we calling that bully to practice? Self-discipline, compassion, and peacefulness are some.
“How can you say or do that peacefully, even when you’re angry?” we would say. And then give them a chance to restore justice and make amends.
Power plus control leads to violence. Power plus compassion transforms bullies into leaders. Virtues are the life-skills we all need to build a new life, to have healthy relationships, to trust ourselves and to trust life itself. And some learn to trust God. Martin Luther King said, “Intelligence plus character. That is the goal of true education.”
We educate character by being examples of virtues, speaking the Language of Virtues, setting clear boundaries based on restorative justice, and treating every child with dignity, having high expectations of them to act on the best within them.
Virtues are the way they are “created in the image and likeness of God”. Character is destiny. We can all help to transform bullies into leaders, by showing students who they really are, and inspiring their natural idealism. They need people in their lives who hold a vision of what is possible. Be a vision keeper. Your positive thoughts, words and feelings are the best investment in their future.