Baha’is see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment, such as can be found in the children’s classes happening all around the world.
Celebrating 30 Years of The Virtues Project: An Interview with Linda Kavelin-Popov
The Virtues Project is a global grassroots program that aims to help us uncover our unique virtues, qualities, and attributes. The program has had a positive impact on thousands of children, families and individuals around the world and this year marks its 30th birthday! This Baha’i-inspired initiative was created by a family: Linda Kavelin-Popov, her husband Dr. Dan Popov, and her brother John Kavelin. Linda graciously agreed to tell us about The Virtues Project, how it came about and how it has evolved over the years.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about what ‘The Virtues Project’ actually is?
The Virtues Project is an initiative started 30 years ago by my brother John Kavelin, a Walt Disney Imagineer, my husband Dr. Dan Popov, a paediatric clinical psychologist and scholar of the world’s sacred texts, and myself, a psychotherapist, to help people of all ages awaken the virtues of their souls. The heart of the project is the ‘“Five Strategies” which are the frame of reference or as we like to call it, “frame of reverence” for a life of joy, service, love and purpose.
Baha’i Blog: What was the main idea behind the initiative, and why did you decide to do it?
We wanted to do something to combat the rising suicide and violence among youth, which we believe comes from a failure of hope and a sense of meaninglessness. Over brunch on Easter weekend of 1988 at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada we found ourselves saying, “Someone should do something about that.” We looked at each other and agreed, “Why don’t we?” So, John took a flying leap of faith, left Disney, and joined us. We spent what we called our “summer of discernment” at a little seaside cottage, praying for guidance, meditating and consulting. We pondered the causes of violence, and realized that at the very time teens were meant to discover their identity, dreams, and gifts – their season of idealism – many were lost and purposeless. What if kids could understand the purpose of their lives? Where does one look for the purpose of life? As Baha’is we knew we would find the answer in the Sacred Texts of the world’s religions. The Baha’i Teachings tell us we are here to acquire virtues and to help humanity carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. In all the holy books as well as the oral traditions of indigenous peoples, virtues are like a silver thread of unity. They are described as the meaning of life, the fruits of the spirit, the way we reflect the image of God. They’re what we came here for. We strongly sensed we needed to make this sacred knowledge accessible in everyday life for the wider world, and this was confirmed by guidance from the Universal House of Justice.
Two months after self-publishing The Virtues Guide out of our garage, it was in over 20 countries by word of mouth alone. Later it went up for auction in New York, and was purchased by Penguin Books. I was invited to many talk shows, including Oprah, and we later had our own Canadian television show on Virtues. It was an idea whose time had come and took on a life of its own.
Baha’i Blog: How far has ‘The Virtues Project’ spread, and what’s the global reaction been like?
The Virtues Project is in over 120 countries, and many NGOs have formed, from the Netherlands to Japan to New Zealand, to organize workshops and facilitator programs. In 1994 the Project was honored by the United Nations during the International Year of the Family as “a model program for families of all cultures.” Indigenous communities say, “You have reawakened the spirit of our people. This is who we really are.” The Boys and Girls Clubs of America adopted the project. The prime minister of the Solomon Islands, a Christian minister, once told us that he accepted the job because of the virtues card of Service he received during a workshop with us. People say, “It’s like coming home.”
Baha’i Blog: What are your plans for the future of ‘The Virtues Project’? Any cool things you’ve been working on?
Dan and I have retired to a South Pacific Island as Baha’i pioneers, and the Project is carried on by the Virtues Project International Association out of North America and facilitators in many countries. It now has a presence on social media, and there are apps for all our Virtues Cards, including a new set Dan and I just created called Sunset Meditations: Reflections on the Virtues Within. Last year I published my first novel, an adventure/romance/crime story, which has virtues woven throughout, called A Scent of Sage, about a First Nations woman and a Medicine Man. People tell me it’s a page turner. I also have a weekly newspaper column, “Virtues in Paradise”.
Baha’i Blog: Do you have any advice to others who want to, or are working on, similar projects which are inspired by the Baha’i Faith, but are aimed at the wider community?
Yes! Pray, meditate, plan and act. Don’t try to impress anyone. Be real. Trust that as you act you will be guided. Have the humility and perseverance to follow where you are led. As Quaker theologian, Frederick Buechner says, “Your calling is where your deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” Discern a service you’re passionate about. That’s key.
Baha’i Blog: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Honestly, I think what has nurtured this Project for thirty years has been our willingness to keep receiving the teachable moments, to keep returning to faith in the clarity of Divine guidance, to be willing to be led by our souls rather than driven by our egos. Whenever I tried to take control, I found out it wasn’t about that, even if my intentions were to “do it right” – i.e. my way. We learned to trust the process, to trust in God’s abiding will.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much Linda, for taking the time to do this interview with us, and congratulations to you and all those involved on the 30th anniversary of providing so many around the world with such an amazing program!
Find out more about ‘The Virtues Project’, its programs, facilitators and materials at www.virtuesproject.com. All materials for the program, including books, virtues cards and other materials can be purchased in the Virtues Shop.
Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.