Linda Kavelin Popov is the (co-)author of the highly influential book The Family Virtues Guide, that was recommended to me by my dear friend Gita, when I was looking for a baby present for my brother and sister-in-law. The authors outline a revolutionary, informed, highly educated, and enlightened manner of talking to, raising, and educating children, in a way that uses positive language (the language of virtues) to strengthen a child’s self-esteem and understanding of the social environment without perpetuating negativity, shaming, resentment, sense of inadequacy, and other psychological mistreatments that often result in deeply repressed traumas and hang-ups.
The authors demonstrate that the language we use with and around children is the most powerful tool and influence in shaping a child’s world, and thus affecting its life and future relationships. They explain that:
“Language has great influence to empower or discourage. Self-esteem is built when shaming, blaming language is replaced by acknowledging each other for the virtues we see or calling each other to the virtues that are needed. If you fill a home a school, or a workplace with words such as lazy, stupid, and bad, that is the behavior which follows, but if you use words such as courage helpfulness, and flexibility, you are empowering those behaviors, whether in a child, an employee, or a friend. [...] Even labelling children positively can backfire and put too much pressure on them to perform. They grow up giving themselves away, living in the confines of a narrow, rigid role. (The Family Virtues Guide, 1997, p.19, 14).
Linda Kavelin Popov is a psychotherapist based on Salt Spring Island, BC. Her second book, A Pace of Grace (2004), is part-autobiography, part guide-book to a physically, emotionally, and spiritually sustainable life. She challenges her readers to evaluate their lives:
“Take an honest look at your life. Is your life overdone? Are you feeling sustained? How are you, really? You may need to stop the world and get off for a while by taking a retreat to find some solitude. Does your way of life reflect the values you really care about – friendship, learning, beauty, creativity, intimacy, or service? Does your life bring you joy?” (A Pace of Grace: The Virtues of a Sustainable Life, 2004, p.24)
What we all seem to have in common is that our lives are over-filled with obligations and distractions, to the point that we lose touch with ourselves, do not listen to our bodies when they clearly need our attention, wear ourselves out, and eventually become sick.
The author provides helpful check lists for understanding and reconnecting with our selves, understanding what we feel and how it manifests in our bodies and interactions with others.
She asks, “Take the time to reflect deeply on each question:”
WHAT STRESSES ME?
- When do I feel most stressed?
- What fatigues me?
- What conditions, activities, people, and relationships in my life drain me>
- What is my greatest fear?
- What am I worried about? What overwhelms me?
- What do I feel guilty about? What triggers guilt for me?
- What do I want to change about the way I spend my time and energy?
- What do I want less of in my life?
WHAT BLESSES ME?
- What makes me smile?
- What gives me joy?
- When do I feel the most peaceful?
- What activities do I find most satisfying?
- When do I feel most alive?
- What relationships and activities restore me and give me sustenance?
- Who do I enjoy?
- Who do I want to spend more time with?
- What do I want more of in my life?
On feelings and emotions:
“Sometime illness is a substitute for grief, a vehicle for expressing our inaudible emotional pain. Almost always, it is a cry for help. See me. Hear me. As physical health improves, the heart and soul become very vulnerable. Allowing our grief and respecting our tears is an essential part of the healing and purification process. When we own our feelings, and have a safe way to express them, our health can improve dramatically. [...] In fact, releasing tears alleviates depression, as long as you don’t remain in a state of grief for too long. [...] We can’t suppress one emotion without suppressing all emotion. As feelings awaken, we experience a fuller range of emotions – not only sadness, but also joy. (p.47, 48, 49)
“Claiming our feelings allows us to transform them into the virtues that reside within them. For example, when I claim my fear, I can open myself to the gift of trust. When I claim my anger, I recognize the gift of my sense of justice. When I claim my loneliness, I can receive the gift of friendship.” (p.50)
On negativity and positivity:
Just as the darkness is dispelled when we walk into a room and turn on the light, we can replace negative habits of thought and communication with positive ones. We begin thinking in light of the virtues of
- Acceptance – seeing each person as whole, noticing the virtues the person does have. Giving up the desire to control and change them and instead entering into a loving relationship with them as they are.
- Appreciation – feeling an expressing positive regard and gratitude doe one another’s nature and actions, both what we are and what we do.
- Assertiveness – asking for what we need in a respectful and peaceful way, setting clear boundaries and telling the truth as we see it, about what is just.
“It is said that we can replace any negative habit by a positive one with three weeks of continual practice.” (p.72)
“Language need not merely be a reaction to our experience – it can shape our experience. Words are generative. [...] As we change the way we think and speak about ourselves, we automatically become more gracious to others. If you catch yourself using shaming or negative self-talk, stop and replace it with a virtue or a positive intent.” (p.84)
“Negativity is ego-syntonic. It fits our negative self-image, received in childhood from the negative labels and attitudes we received from our parents and teachers. Many of us have internalized the early criticism that was dished out in large doses – sometimes with the best of intentions – meant to improve our character. Think about the words you heard about yourself when you were a child. I have asked this question of people all over the world and have heard the same litany of “stupid,” “lazy,” “good for nothing,” “useless.” [...] As children, we are utterly dependent on the adults in our world to describe us to ourselves. The vocabulary of shame becomes the script for our sense of ourselves, and we spend our lives either acting it out or resisting it and desperately, compulsively trying to prove it wrong.” (p.90)
“I have come to understand that we cannot deny or eliminate the inner judge, but we can befriend it. We can listen when a shameful thought comes up, ask “What do you need?,” translate it into a virtue and offer it the comfort of our willingness to change for the better. This melts the inner abuse to which we have been subjecting ourselves for so long.” (p.91)
“Do not accept shame from others.” (p.92)
- Begin each day by reflecting on at least three things for which you are thankful.
- Ask yourself what will make this an enjoyable day. Decide how to structure your day.
- Before you go to bed, note three things for which you were grateful today.
- Speak words of appreciation and encouragement. Use the language of virtues to acknowledge the kindness or helpfulness or courage of a child, a friend, an employee, a coworker, or yourself. (p.119-120)
Sometimes forgiving someone first requires that they stop their behavior and restore justice. [...] You may find that regardless of what you do, your relationship continually revolves around the abuse-cycle: verbal, physical, or emotional abuse, followed by apologies and promises to change. If you continue to forgive this pattern, you are not helping anyone. It is time to establish justice. Decide what you can do to stop the abuse. Remember to watch what people do, not what they say. (p.104)
“Balance forgiveness and justice. It serves no one to allow the cycle of abuse to continue.” (p.108)
On setting boundaries:
“Assertiveness is an attitude expressing truthfulness and justice. It allows us to clear draining activities from our lives, and to detach from people who are our energy vampires.” (p.175)
“If you feel caught, helpless, or overwhelmed by an energy-draining relationship, you may not realize it, but you have ample choices about how to respond. We can’t and may not wish to divorce ourselves from close friends or family who drain us, but we can set boundaries about how and when we spend time with them. [...] Being assertive helps us avoid both aggression and passivity. It doesn’t mean being selfish and pushy. It is having the self-confidence to tell the truth about what is just, to say what we think and ask for what we need. The key to effectively practising assertiveness is to balance it with tact.” (p.177)
“Discover you natural boundaries and lead your life accordingly. Reduce the time you spend with people and activities that drain you. Choose what sustains you.” (p.185)
Very happy people:
- Expect to enjoy the day
- Spend energy on fixing, not complaining
- Spend at least ten minutes each day doing what they thoroughly enjoy
- Do kind acts for others
- Go on adventures
- Find the gift in every experience
“A huge step in planning a sustainable life is to make the decision to be happy – a commitment that what you do for a living will be life-giving to you. If you feel trapped in a job that doesn’t use your gifts, ask yourself what livelihood would allow you to fully use yourself. Pay attention to your inner voice. What work would truly engage you? Spirituality is grounded in the meaning of life, and you spirit will be content only if you are doing what you find meaningful.” (p.286)
“Abraham Maslow, the father of humanistic psychology, coined the term “self-actualization.” He said, “Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skins… They are devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them, which fate has called them to.” (p.288)
“I was amazed to discover that when I followed the rule of putting my first passion first in my workday – before even checking e-mails – the rest of the day flowed effortlessly I had already accomplished what was most important and could then relax with the pile of “little things” in my basket or on my goal list that didn’t hold the same passion for me. It created a sense of quiet contentment and joy, a sense of “enough” early in the day.” (p.298)
“For some of us, any enforced pause in our busyness brings the harsh discovery that we are lonely. Either we have failed to invest sufficient time and attention to attract a close relationship or we may have allowed the relationship we have to become lifeless, distant, and wearying. These times of personal or collective insecurity help us to realize that we want to give more to our relationships, but what shall we give? We are not used to sitting still long enough to make meaningful contact. In the midst of our habitual rushing through the overwhelming chores of the day, the idea of stopping to look deep into the eyes of someone we love may seem absurdly awkward.” (p.244)
“Our capacity to be fully present to each other in the moment in the single most powerful way to sustain love and to show that we cherish one another. It is the greatest gift we have to give anyone. When we are present, we engage in each other’s lives, take each other seriously, and meet one another with full, focused attention, with discernment and understanding.” (p.245)
“Love is not an emotion. It’s a choice, an attitude, and a practice.” (p.245)
“Don’t try to control love. Let it in. Invest in friendship. It is essential to your spiritual and physical wellness.” (p.279)
“Compassion is understanding and caring when someone is hurt or troubled, or has made a mistake. It is caring about others even if we don’t know them. It is wanting to help, even if all we can do is listen and say kind words. We are a friend when someone needs a friend. It is important to show compassion to others and also to ourselves.” (p.249)
“When you live in a state of joy, compassion, and love, you attract others who are also living at that level of awareness and virtue. Our own state of being determines the people and quality of relationships we attract at any given time in our lives. This is true whether we are seeking a new relationship or seeking to transform the one we are in.” (p.264)
On time and intuition:
“Time is our most precious non-renewable resource. Life is too short to spend it heedlessly, in ways that fail to fulfill us and bring us joy.” (p.314)
“Discernment involves trusting our own intuition, and our wisdom to reveal the truth, rather than manufacturing the truth based on logic alone or what we or others think we should do.” (p.321)