The Garden of Virtues
The Storm Prince starts down the road from The Lighthouse into a forest. After hours of walking, he emerges from the forest to find a diminutive, yet bustling village. In the center of the village he spots a circle, in the center of the circle are small stones, and in the center of the stones appear to be scrawled-on letters that he can not decipher. He notices that villagers are taking and leaving stones in the circle, and then carrying on with their day. The Storm Prince approaches the center of the village to get a better look, and comes across a man fixing a broken step.
"Excuse me, sir, what is that, there?" he asks the man, pointing to the middle of the village.
The man stands from his stooped position and replies, "Why, that's our Garden of Virtues."
The Storm Prince glances at the garden, then back to the man.
"Not a real garden, of course," the man says, sensing his confusion.
"If you don't use it for food or flowers, then what is its purpose?"
"Let me show you," the man gestures for The Prince to follow.
He puts down his tools and leads The Storm Prince to the circle. He bends down, relinquishing one stone, and replacing it with another that reads "Patience".
"Those steps there are working my last nerve," says the man, apparently alluding to the pebble in his hand.
The Storm Prince observes, with great curiosity, the villagers approaching the circle. One woman places a rock labeled "Generosity" and picks up "Perseverance", while a man trades "Flexibility" for "Bravery".
"Do you believe that anybody possesses every strength?" the man asks.
"Some more than others, maybe, but no, nobody has every strength," replies the Storm Prince.
"Of course not. There is no such thing as a perfect human. But for each and every positive trait, there will come a time where each and every person will need it."
"So how does it work, exactly?"
The man laughs, "The stone? It doesn't. At least not in the way you may be thinking."
The Storm Prince frowns, eyeing up a "Wisdom" rock.
"There is no magic in them. You will not suddenly become the word you hold in your hand. This garden's purpose is twofold: it reminds us that we are human, and therefore imperfect, but we can work on those imperfections, smoothing them out a bit. Sometimes with the help of others."
Two villagers make a direct exchange, foregoing the garden step.
He continues, "Secondly, it reminds us that we have something valuable that we can share with others. That is why we give to, as well as take from, the garden."
The man takes a knee, and removes another rock from the circle. He places it in the Storm Prince's hand. "We use these so that we don't forget, but ultimately virtues are up to us to practice."
The boy stares down at the stone and traces his thumb around the individual letters. It is small, yet he feels an immense weight to it.
"And what if I find that I don't need it?"
"Share it with someone who does."
And with that, the man puts his own stone in his pocket and continues with his work.
Materials: Several flat, light-colored rocks that fit in your palm, but are large enough to write on. Permanent markers.
This activity can be done independently, but is best accomplished with several people. If you don't have easily accessible flat stones, you can also use a note card.
Think about the positive character traits that you possess. You may already know what those are, but you can ask your friends and family what they think your strengths are. If you need help, try this list. Write down 2-3 of those virtues on different rocks.
Now think about the qualities that you struggle with. What do you often notice about yourself that you want t work on? How can you sum that up in a word? If you are working alone, write that down on the opposite side of your rock. If you are doing the activity with others, look at the strengths they have laid down and pick one that you would like to focus on. If you would like, you can also write a strength you gave on the flip side.
Carry the stone with you, preferably in your pocket, as opposed to a backpack or purse. Round, smooth stones serve an added purpose of "comfort rocks". Use yours as a reminder to use and share your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
How have you shared a strength with someone, lately? Were they somebody you already knew, or a stranger?
Have you accepted help from another person lately?
What trait do you possess that you are most proud of?
Which virtue do you most want to practice?
Take a challenge that you are currently facing in life and ask yourself how you can use your strength to solve this problem. Then think about the person who gave you the stone, or someone who exemplifies the trait you want to work on, and ask how they would deal with the situation. Create an actual plan, rather than a general approach, with individual steps and specific details. Use this as a blueprint for solving this problem.
The activity and reflection require a degree of self-awareness, which may be easier said than done. That's why I encourage asking friends and family when thinking about your strengths. I am a huge proponent of evaluations: from friends, coworkers, supervisors, clients. Perhaps counterintuitively, being stuck with ourselves 24/7 makes us blind to our own strengths, as well as shortcomings. When we talk to others, we begin to notice themes in what they say about us. This gives us clues regarding what we have to offer, and what we can improve upon.
We often view character traits as binary. I am patient/impatient. He is brave/cowardly. But we can also look at them as relative to our past selves. Therefore, "I am selfish." can, instead be, "I am more caring, now." As the man in the story points out, nobody is perfect, and we all have weaknesses. But the binary view implies that we fall into one of two camps regarding each virtue, when the truth is a bit more complicated than that. You may never be the epitome of the afforementioned strengths, but you can be aware of your flaws and work to be better, if only a bit at a time.
Illustration: Bogdan Bungardean
Music (Placeholder): Mike Vass - Quiet Voices
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