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When I was around eight or nine years old, my dad would give me a new book to read each week. Before I got to play with other kids, I had to finish the book and summarize it for him. While I always loved to play, I found the content of those books very fascinating, and they stimulated my interest in many different topics — including spiritual virtues.
These virtues helped me face many challenges growing up as a young girl in a country where my religion and my loved ones were persecuted. Understanding the concept of service helped me fix my thoughts upon that “rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men,” and not dwell in the injustice I saw around me. I also learned the importance of self-care and self-development. Knowledge about spiritual virtues helped me help clean my heart and my thoughts and helped me clear my path.
Now, whenever I learn something new, I like to analyze it to understand its practicality. I have to grasp the why behind anything I do. Conceptualization helps me turn imprecise notions into working definitions that I can apply to daily life.
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This idea is at the heart of my video series, “The Virtues Basket.” Growing up, many of us have internalized erroneous beliefs, or we might have had the right beliefs but never learned how to practice them. We learn what not to do — but often don’t learn what to do instead. Our education system has not yet prioritized spiritual self-development as an essential aspect of progress in the society, and many don’t have access to information that can help them develop a clear perception of their place in the world.
According to the Baha’i Writings, there are three types of education: “material, human, and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the progress and development of the body, through gaining its sustenance, its material comfort and ease. This education is common to animals and man. Human education signifies civilization and progress — that is to say, government, administration, charitable works, trades, arts, and handicrafts, sciences…” Meanwhile, spiritual education “is that of the Kingdom of God.”
Children can grasp the power of virtues from a young age, and it is essential to help them adopt attributes that can empower them to live in unity with others and be active agents of progress in the world. Even as adults, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the importance of human virtues and refine them over time to face challenges the right way.
Although, like anyone, I struggle in my journey of learning how to practice these virtues, this striving for excellence helps us grow into our true potential. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote: “The purpose for which mortal men have, from utter nothingness, stepped into the realm of being, is that they may work for the betterment of the world and live together in concord and harmony.”
Stan Toler, an author and Christian pastor, wrote that our “attitude determines [our] thoughts, and [our] thoughts become [our] words. And those words are powerful tools that will shape [our lives].” Making positive choices has a ripple effect and will transform our lives, Toler notes. We become galvanized, we create opportunities, we “gain resources”, and we “build momentum.”
Our attitudes can develop through learning the definitions of each virtue: through conceptualizing and learning how each one can be put into practice.
While many of us grew up simply being told what not to do, “The Virtues Basket” teaches us what to do instead. We can live a balanced and empowered life when learning how to combine kindness with assertiveness. We can combine justice with cooperation, honesty, and compassion, so we don’t end up mistaking justice with revenge. Not only can we cultivate the right habits, but we can also protect ourselves from negative behaviors like complaining, gossiping, bullying, or criticizing.
I’m trying to continue to add to the virtues basket my dad gifted me as a child — a bag of skills that has helped me face life’s challenges. I hope they will be useful to you, too.
Videos from the “Virtues Basket” series will be published on BahaiTeachings.org over the next few weeks, touching on kindness, justice, honesty, and unity.