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11 November 2022

The power of language

Saturday 15 April 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Opinion, Virtues in Paradise

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I’m so happy to be back in the Cook Islands and to resume this column after three and a half years away in Hawaii. Someone recently asked me, “What is a virtue anyway?” By Linda Kavelin-Popov.

People call me “the virtues mama,” associating me and Papa Dan as founders of The Virtues Project, which we brought to these islands more than two decades ago, invited by Paddy Walker, Jolene Bosanquet and others from PPSEAWA, Pan Pacific & South East Asia Women’s Association. So, what is a virtue anyway? Virtues are the content of our character, the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:12), the qualities of our soul, the ways we reflect the image and likeness of God into the world.

Virtues are our superpowers, the practice of which raises our lives to their true meaning. We are people of faith, hope and love, justice, integrity and honesty, here to discover our gifts and use them to be of service to the world. I once asked an audience, “So, what is a virtue anyway?” A six-year-old sitting beside her mother raised her hand and gave one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard. “Virtues are what’s good about us.”

The research we did in all the world’s sacred traditions, from Judaism to Hinduism, Buddhism to Christianity, Islam to the Baha’i Faith revealed a fascinating thing. Running through all the scriptures, like a silver thread of unity, are the virtues – at the heart of every religion. Each faith emphasises a particular virtue at the core of their scriptures: For Buddhism, it is compassion – “Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion” (The Buddha); the life and teachings of Jesus revolve around love – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16); Islam itself means surrender to the will of Allah; for Baha’is, the core virtue is unity – “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” (Baha’u’llah)

One doesn’t have to be religious to believe in virtues. Every person and culture cares about caring and values courage. The five strategies of The Virtues Project focus on how to bring out the good within us and within others, particularly our children. Strategy one is “Speaking the Language of Virtues”. This has to do with how we think, the lens with which we see others, and the language we use, including the way we think about ourselves.

The other day when swimming with some children, one of them saw me putting my sandy reef shoes in a plastic bag and asked, “Mama, why are you putting them away like that. You should wash them first.” I explained I didn’t want to get my feet sandy again, so she said, “I can do it for you,” as she took them and washed them off for me. “Thank you for being helpful,” I said. She paused and smiled, then said, “I am helpful. I help my mum and my aunties.”

That one word mirrored her goodness in that kind gesture. Every child needs to hear what’s good about them. Words can inspire or destroy. The power of speaking virtues, whether acknowledging, correcting, guiding or thanking is that it reminds us who we really are. So, rather than shaming words like stupid, useless, or mean, we need to use empowering words. “Be responsible now.

Time to clean your room.” “Use your peacefulness. Use your words when you’re angry.” This is not a Papa’a thing. Parents in over 130 countries are using the language of virtues, finding that it inspires children to be more helpful, kinder, and more respectful, to be the champions they were born to be.