This past October I had the chance to attend a Global Mentorship Retreat for the Virtues Project International Association in Calgary, Alberta. I was very excited to attend as I have been gradually growing my understanding of how to infuse the virtues into my personal and professional life for the past 10 years. The mentorship provided me with an unbelievable opportunity to connect with others from around the world who have been using The Virtues Project in so many different ways to address issues as diverse as the suicide epidemic in Japan to working through the trauma unleashed by the Truth and Reconciliation hearings here in Canada to Virtue Schools in Finland where children learn from a very early age that they are born in potential with all the virtues in them and they are encouraged to not forget that they possess these as they begin encountering the challenges the world is going to put before them.
I had the chance to sit and chat briefly with one of the founders of the project, Dr. Dan Popov during one of our breaks. I took this opportunity to share a bit about my work with gifted students as well as my interest in Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and how I was using the Virtues Project as a means of introducing students to the idea of understanding that they have the power to define their character through consciously cultivating the virtues that they value. After my very quick description of TPD, Dr. Popov wondered whether the theory could be reduced to two phases, a question that has had me pondering ever since. The first phase is the one where everything is right with the world and we go forth with confidence feeling that all things are as they should be. The second phase? When things are not right with the world and we are tasked with adjusting our worldview in order to restore “rightness”.
While reductionism often fails to capture the nuances and details that can give us comfort as we stumble through uncertainty, this simplification also resists the idea that once we get through this stage or this phase or to this level, things will be as they should be. A complex and changing world is going to continue to throw us curveballs. Pendulums will continue to swing. What we once took as gospel truth may be shown to have been incomplete as research uncovers new ideas and concepts. Add to this complexity the certainty that most of the people and organizations around us will be making “adjustments” as they work to integrate new things into their worldview. And so many individuals to varying degrees who do not fit neatly into existing “systems” to start with, may well be tasked with a constant search for and creation of sometimes fleeting moments of “rightness” with the world and with who they are in this world.
In his article “Keep Radiantly Well” David Jardine (2015), recently retired from his position in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, reflects in another way on this “rightness” when he asks how we can maintain the “beauty” in places made ugly by “panic, defeat, feat, retraction, entrenchment, reification and hostility.” In it he also reminded me of a quote by political theorist Hannah Arendt who spoke of how the world “must be constantly set right anew” and that we must “educate in such a way that setting right remains possible.” (1969) For those of us in the system this can feel like a monumental and fruitless task. But Jardine tells us not to retreat, but go into those places where beauty is being compromised and be of service. Dr. Dan Popov’s keynote address echoed this sentiment when he asked us all three questions: What use will I make of my gifts? Who will I serve? How will I serve them? The third question leads us back to the virtues because how we serve, be it with love, steadfastness, patience, integrity is what will truly make the difference and allow us to keep the beauty in sight as we work through the struggle.
In one of my favorite Christmas movies “While You Were Sleeping” there is a scene where the father speaks to one of his sons where he says something to the effect “Every once in a while you get one of those moments where everything is alright and everyone is okay,” and his son replies “This is not one of those moments.” They talk it out, their world shifts a little and the movie continues on through some bumps to the inevitable romcom happy ending. (I am a sucker for a happy ending!) But isn’t that what all great stories are about? We start with the status quo, something shifts, and suddenly the protagonists are required to adjust and somehow set things right again, even though nothing will never be the same. Those who are able to persevere through the trials over the course of a lifetime grow in resilience and character and at different times and in different ways find their moments of “rightness”.
For other perspectives on the ages and stages of of giftedness, follow the link below: