Virtues, Strengths, and Values

July 4th, 2014 | Posted by Barbara Belknap in Gather the Women

By Barbara Belknap

Note: In my past blogs, I have felt that I needed to write about circles, women’s circles, circling circles – you get the idea. As a result, I have spent way too much time thinking about the blog as opposed to actually writing it. On June 26, I was in Heather Plett’s “Openhearted Writing Circle” and today I thought, “What would Heather say?” I know it would be: Write what is in your heart. From now on, I’m going to write what moves me to write. I hope you will comment when moved to do so!
Barb Belknap

Virtues, Strengths, and Values

My husband Doug and I had an interesting conversation this morning that brought up a whole host of moral questions for me. We have been married almost 45 years and share the same core values, but that doesn’t mean we have morphed into mirrors of each other.

Yesterday morning, Doug met with John, Larry and Bob for breakfast at Donna’s Cafe. All four are retired from the Coast Guard so they have that in common. Larry and Bob are both marine pilots for the cruise ships that ply these waters every summer.

John lives in Washington now and is here visiting his kids and grandkids, but he and his first wife Cyndy lived here in the 1970s when we did, and our families became friends. John always made me uncomfortable when he belittled Cyndy’s Native American heritage. They had four children who all have Cyndy’s raven black hair and stunning cheekbones, and those kids grew up in that atmosphere until their parents divorced.

Cyndy’s divorce from John was one divorce I celebrated wholeheartedly, and I rejoiced when Cyndy remarried a man who adores and values her. They live in Kentucky now where Roy’s roots are, and where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in Alaska. When we visited them a few years ago, Cyndy joked to me that a customer at the Sam’s Club where she works called her “that white Chinese lady”. The day after I got back to Juneau, I mailed her a Walela CD to listen to on her long commute. Rita Coolidge, Priscilla Coolidge and Laura Satterfield now serenade my beautiful Ojibwa friend in the cocoon of her car. There was a catch in her voice when she called to thank me. Cyndy shared that her sister is now the first female Chief of her tribe in Minnesota. For the hundredth time, I asked her why on earth she didn’t move “back to the rez” as she called it. I knew full well the answer. Roy’s roots had won so Kentucky was home.

Circling back to this morning’s conversation at Donna’s Cafe, Doug told me that John started talking about Cyndy in racist terms just as he had in front of us over thirty years ago. What John does not know is that Larry is half Native American from a northeastern tribe. Doug and Bob knew that, but neither said anything. Larry said nothing.

Why not? I believe I would have said something. Why would I speak up when three men did not?

Nuking my coffee to warm it up a tad, I went into my office and started looking through the file folders of our Juneau Gather the Women events. Buried way in the back, I found the June 2004 file on “Signature Virtues and Strengths”. Clearing my desk, I set up my iPad with the keyboard for some serious (and faster) typing. I went online to Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website*, and I took the test again almost ten years ago to the day when I took in 2004. I was looking for Moral Outrage, but that isn’t on the Virtues/Strengths list.

Instead, Humor and Playfulness was my number one strength in 2004. Number 2 was Forgiveness and Mercy. Today, on July 3, 2014, my number one strength is Forgiveness and Mercy. My number 2 strength ten years later is Honesty and Authenticity. Humor and Playfulness come in at Number 6. After all these years, I still have the same core strengths. They have just rearranged themselves.

What is the moral of the story? We can only be responsible for ourselves, but we are all a piece of the whole and our collective virtues and strengths matter a great deal in this world.

* or Google Martin Seligman

← Back to All Posts