I believe the holidays should make us think and help us teach what is important, regardless of which holiday you celebrate. Virtue=Moral Excellence, Goodness, Righteousness.
But I particularly like the word “Goodness”. And not as the opposite of the Bad which Santa may catch you being. I’ll write on Santa another year.
There is a much different connotation to Goodness than to morality which seems rather religious in a forceful way.
I believe in goodness is respect for all creatures, kindness to others, being gentle to the earth, and generally wanting to be our best selves. Those are the things I want to teach my child and those are also what I strive to help with as a Parent Coach and educator. I feel it is my duty to help people become their best selves-whatever goodness that looks like to them.
I was raised in a family where we didn’t particularly strive to better ourselves. We were who we were and we were fine. We didn’t strive to care for the earth. We didn’t strive to be particularly kind, though we weren’t unkind. We didn’t strive to learn new things as a family. We didn’t strive to help the needy. We didn’t strive to fix our shortcomings or heal our interpersonal foibles or save the Earth. We didn’t strive to commune with or hear the messages of nature or of any God.
I had wonderful and loving parents who cared for me well and loved me deeply but I was longing for all of those things and I set about on a long and relentless mission to find my own sense of virtue and goodness and I thought that meant choosing the one right religion for me. But as it turns out, Virtue isn’t particularly religious and maybe not even always all that spiritual. Plenty of atheists know and do what is right. It is inherent in the human heart (though sometimes hidden by neglect or abuse). Some thoughts on ways to teach virtue from various traditions:
Something from Judaism: Its a Mitzvah! A Mitzvah is a blessed action/ a good deed. My favorites are Lifelong Education, Tzedakah box (giving to charity daily or weekly!), Treating all books with respect, caring for animals, visiting the elderly or sick, sharing food with those less fortunate. Oh Hanukah celebrating miracles, light, gratefulness, perseverance and rebuilding. Mmm, so Good. Happy Hanukkah!
Something from Paganism: Reverence for the planet. For the living animals and humans and trees! Specifically the Oak (Mistletoe) and apple trees (the ritual of Wassailing, to bring fertility) On Solstice/Yule? We Rest. On the shortest day of the year with the longest dark, people rest and then light candles and fires and meditate on light to re-welcome the sun. In some places like Nova Scotia, Solstice is also Children’s day, where you pay attention to and revere the children. The other pagan of Wassailing a this time of year is house Wassailing which started the newer tradition of caroling. Going to someone’s doorstep and singing? Such Goodness.
From Buddhism: The 8-fold Path- Mindful Steps to Happiness always come up in parenting and family for me. Some of my favorites for teaching are Right/Skillful Speech (refraining from idle chatter, gossip, mean stuff!) and Right Livelihood (are we able to explain to our children how our work benefits the world and is kind work?). How can we be goodness in every moment by living rightly? Skillfull Meditation is another one. Slow down and pay attention. To our children. And teach them how to slow down, notice, meditate, concentrate.
Something from Christianity: The teachings of Christ to not judge others, to instead judge yourself and love others as you would yourself. To forgive yourself and others. No matter the sin, we are good underneath. Many branches of Christianity do a terrible job of these, but I ignore them and look at the original message. And on Christmas, regardless of whether Christ was actually born on that day, I believe should be a time to celebrate, follow and model such teachings.
Combined, these are the things I look forward to focusing on during the holiday season as opposed to a focus on gifts. My daughter little to get most of it now but I am doing my best to get into the swing of it. The first year I began focusing my holiday thoughts on virtues was the first year that I had been able to give small amounts to two charities of my own business budget: An Orphanage in South America and Women with HIV/AIDS in Seattle (BABES). That was also the first year I became involved in a volunteer position at Human Milk for Human Babies Facebook.
I am trying imperfectly to set down and do personal inquiry into my many unChrist-like judgements about other people this season (the way they do the holidays, the way they consume, the way they parent. My mind can go to a really judgmental place and I don’t want to be there) and instead, just live inside the spirit of goodness. Take some moments to teach my child to sit and breathe and enjoy. Take a walk in the cold crisp air and be grateful for trees and stars.
What do you think? Is goodness, virtue or rightness subjective? Or is it concrete? Is it kindness or justice? What is goodness to you, in regard to your own spirituality?