Rise above 2020 with a jolt of positivity from the app we all need right now
This story is part of Tech for a Better World, stories about the diverse teams creating products, apps and services to improve our lives and society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of students, workers and people in general across the world cooped up at home, stuck in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting and struggling to stay positive and keep themselves in a good mental state. And it looks like the current state of things is going to continue for several more months to come.
On this episode of Now What, we interviewed award-winning educator Dara Feldman, whose team has created an app called Virtues Cards that gives a boost to parents, educators, team leaders and anyone who is trying to stay strong during the pandemic. The app offers a daily dose of inspiration on the human qualities everyone can call on to persevere during tough times.
Virtues Cards is a free download on iPhone (rated 4.8) and Android (rated 5.0).
It comes with samples of five “decks” of cards (Resilience, Reflection, Education, Family and Character). Each deck has a simple, inspirational reading about the best qualities of being human. To unlock all of the cards in a deck costs $1 to $2, depending on the deck.
The practice of using the app can be as simple as “doing a virtues pick” once a week in a meeting or once a day at lunch, for example. You can open the deck you want in the app and shake your phone to get a random pick. These are like mini meditations or affirmations to inject the day with jolt of positivity.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virtues Cards app has been praised by Rainn Wilson — best known as the character Dwight Shrute on The Office, but also a humanitarian and co-founder of SoulPancake.
“Compassion, trustworthiness, reliability, unity, moderation, peacefulness, courtesy, helpfulness, service. All of these things are inherent in the people we love,” said Wilson in a SoulPancake video. “Just take a virtue a week like generosity and say, can I be more generous this week than I was last week. And then next week, can I be an inch more friendly than I was last week. You start noticing these qualities internally, in other people, and it can be a way to grow.”
The Virtues Cards are based on material from the Virtues Project, which spun up in the 1990s and has been honored by the United Nations, endorsed by the Dalai Lama and featured on Oprah.
Founded as an effort to prevent youth violence and suicide, the Virtues Project researched different cultures, philosophies, tribal wisdom and sacred traditions around the world to find common threads that all humans share. What they discovered was around 300 human virtues that we all have in common and that we all honor.
That launched the Virtues Project and the Family Virtues Guide — praised by Oprah as the user manual our kids didn’t come with — to help us see that we each have all of these qualities in potential and it’s up to us to develop them.
One of the most powerful ways this mindset affects kids is to help them move away from needing external validation from adults or people in authority constantly telling them “good job.” Instead, they understand the qualities they have within themselves, and that they have the power to unlock and hone them into capabilities.
Feldman and her husband Dave are now the stewards of the Virtues Project through their company, Virtues Matter, where Dara is the CEO (“Chief Enthusiasm Officer”) and Dave is the CEEO (“Chief Everything Else Officer”).
While Dara is an educator who was honored in 2005 as Disney’s Elementary Teacher of Year, she also has a long history in tech. In 1994, the school where she was teaching kindergarten got a Mac lab. During the training, when her computer came up with “press any key” on the screen, she raised her hand and asked, “Where’s the ‘any’ key?” But less than two years later, she became one of the instructional technology specialists for the entire school district.
In 1999, she was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator for her work using technology in early childhood education, and in 2000, Steve Jobs nominated her project for the ComputerWorld Smithsonian Award in Education and Academia. It won.
Around the same time, Dara’s school district excluded Apple from bidding on a key technology project she was involved with. So Dara emailed Jobs’ public email about it, not expecting an answer. Two days later, the Apple Education team showed up at her Maryland school district to meet with the tech leaders.
The virtues cards were originally a physical deck of cards, but the Virtues Matter team decided to take them digital and launched the app at the beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic hit and forced a lot of people to call on extra reserves of inner strength, creativity and other qualities to persevere during this global crisis.
The app is now a platform that has the possibility of launching new decks in the future, and the founders have plans to get going. People have responded with so much enthusiasm to the cards and the app that they’ve taken things in new directions.
One corporate customer helped develop the “Character Deck,” which is completely secular and relies on general quotes — with no quotes from sacred traditions — to make the cards universal for a business setting. The Virtues Matter team also partners with organizations to customize decks for their company culture and then distribute them to employees.
One organization, DECA (a high school program for emerging entrepreneurs), has launched a Community Awareness Challenge where students have created one-minute videos about how to put these virtues into action.
Something everyone can do to spread more positivity in the world is to join the app’s campaign to #SharetheLOVE on social media by calling out someone for one of their good qualities or something good they’ve done that shows one of their virtues. For example, I could go to the Gratitude card, hit the share button, click Twitter and then write a tweet mentioning my gratitude to @VirtuesDara for taking her time to do an interview with me, and then add the hashtag #SharetheLOVE.
Watch the full video to hear Dara Feldman talk about the five strategies that anyone can use to put the Virtues Cards to work.