[do action=”vfdictstart” title=”gentleness”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”kindly; amiable: a gentle manner.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”not severe, rough, or violent; mild..”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”moderate: gentle. “/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”polite; refined; respectable.”/] [do action=”vfdictend”/]
Kindly, amiable, mild mannered and respectable.
Gentleness is the virtue that restrains the passion of anger. In order to be truly gentle, one must be strong. Only strong people can be gentle, because gentleness restrains strength by love. Gentleness is not an option. It is a grave obligation.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Better to make penitents by gentleness than hypocrites by severity.” author=”Saint Francis de Sales”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength.” author=”St. Jerome”/]
Gentleness is a value and quality in one’s character. Being gentle has a long history in many, but not all cultures. Gentleness can be viewed as a refinement of character; in difficult times, a thoughtful approach can serve as a model for others; when one thinks only of oneself, and not also of others, then it is easy to hurt others unintentionally.
On Gentleness[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.” author=”Edwin H. Friedman”/]
Gentleness — Meekness
Number eight in the list of the fruits of the Spirit is meekness or gentleness. What is the quality of meekness or gentleness? Certainly in the biblical sense it is not weakness, nor is it self-debasing or a belittling of oneself. There are two stories about George Washington that have impressed us as illustrations of at least one aspect of biblical meekness or gentleness. The stories may be apocryphal, but they picture him as not only a gentleman but also a gentle man. On one occasion, he was fox hunting with a group of friends. One of the fields through which they were passing was bordered by a stone wall. As his horse jumped the wall it knocked off a stone. Washington immediately stopped, got down from his horse, and replaced the stone. One of his friends said, “You are too big a man to bother with that.” He replied gently, “No, I am just the right size.”
Another story tells of a corporal at Valley Forge who was directing three men as they tried to lift a log into place. It was too heavy, but the corporal commanded again and again, “All right, men, one, two, three, lift!” A man in an overcoat came by and said to the corporal, ‘Why don’t you help them?” The corporal pulled himself up to full height and replied, “Sir, I am a corporal.” Without a word the man stepped over and with his help the log went easily into place. The man was George Washington.
Gentleness includes true humility that does not consider itself too good or too exalted for humble tasks.
Myer Pearlman, quoting Donald Gee, gave another illustration we like. A guide was taking a group of visitors through a factory. One of the things he showed them was a giant steam hammer capable of flattening an automobile. Then the guide put down a walnut and had the hammer break the shell without hurting the meat of the nut. What an illustration of gentleness as power under perfect control. That is a perfect illustration of the relationship between strength and gentleness.
The Greek word for gentleness is “prautesis”. Early writers often described gentleness as meekness. The problem here is that the English language has changed since the days of King James and Shakespeare. The common dictionary definition of meekness as it is used today is “deficient in spirit and courage.” That is a far cry from the meaning of the Greek word. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary does give an older meaning for meekness as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.” That might not be too far from the meaning of gentleness, but the Greek is much more positive. The French versions are closer when they use douceur, which has the meaning of sweetness, mildness, gentleness, and good nature. Gentleness is never self-important but is considerate, courteous, and modest, yet willing to try when a job needs to be done. Sometimes gentleness is defined as restraint coupled with strength and courage.
Aristotle gave its classic definition as halfway between excessive anger and indifference. That is, he felt the gentle person could be angry at the right time and submissive at the right time. The classical Greek also used it of animals that were powerful, yet tamed and under control. The Greek lexicon includes the meanings of humility, courtesy, and considerateness. The Interpreter’s Bible says it is the opposite of hubris, the Greek word for haughty, boastful insolence.
Gentleness means to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable (that is, not quarrelsome), to be considerate, and to show true humble gentleness toward everyone. It includes the idea of springing to the help of those in need, yet keeping our own feelings under control.
Gentleness is never a false modesty, a self-depreciation, or a spineless refusal to stand for anything. Gentleness is never a cowardly retreat from reality, which substitutes a passive selfishness for real gentleness and avoids trouble in ways that allow even greater trouble to develop. Neither is it a false humility that refuses to recognize that we all have been given talents and abilities or that refuses to use them for good.
Jesus showed true gentleness both in the midst of conflict and in the midst of popularity. His healings and miracles often brought the crowds to a high pitch of enthusiasm. But He refused to let them make Him the kind of king they wanted. He reminded them of the passage in Isaiah 42:1–4, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”
Jesus knew who He was, but He was gentle and humble — quite a contrast to people of power today who too often think of themselves as above the requirements of virtue and justice.
By Richard L. Dunagin.
At their school carnival, our kids won four free goldfish (lucky us!), so out I went Saturday morning to find an aquarium. The first few I priced ranged from $40 to $70. Then I spotted it–right in the aisle: a discarded 10-gallon display tank, complete with gravel and filter–for a mere five bucks. Sold! Of course, it was nasty dirty, but the savings made the two hours of clean-up a breeze.
Those four new fish looked great in their new home, at least for the first day. But by Sunday one had died. Too bad, but three remained. Monday morning revealed a second casualty, and by Monday night a third goldfish had gone belly up. We called in an expert, a member of our church who has a 30-gallon tank. It didn’t take him long to discover the problem: I had washed the tank with soap, an absolute no-no. My uninformed efforts had destroyed the very lives I was trying to protect. Sometimes in our zeal to clean up our own lives or the lives of others, we unfortunately use “killer soaps”–condemnation, criticism, nagging, fits of temper. We think we’re doing right, but our harsh, self-righteous treatment is more than they can bear.
We need to remember to be gentle when we are trying to help others clean up their lives![do action=”vfquote” quote=”The way to overcome the angry person is with gentleness, the evil person with goodness, the miser with generosity and the liar with truth.” author=”Indian Proverb”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.” author=”Mohandas Gandhi”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So it is with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing him of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause is really a good one. ” author=”Abraham Lincoln”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Use a sweet tongue, courtesy, and gentleness, and thou mayest manage to guide an elephant by a hair.” author=”Sa’di”/]
Gentleness isn’t about being wishy-washy, indecisive, unassertive, or just plain wimpy. Instead, it’s a refusal to use power to harm anyone, an unwillingness to cut and slash at people, wounding them for vengeance, spite or control. Gentleness is a desire that no harm be done. There are gentle ways to be bold, non-violent ways to stand up for what is right, and non-manipulative ways to lead and to convince. But it is not human nature to be gentle. It goes beyond ‘instinct’, or ‘education’, or ‘society’s influence’. We are simply not gentle creatures. Men are often quick with the fists and the guns. Women have historically been more gentle, but that’s a relative matter; they have their own ways of being vicious and destructive. Today’s world gives rewards to hostility and going to a extreme. If we are to bear the fruit of gentleness, we need the ability to be gentle, especially when it’s hardest to be that way.
Gentleness is when you care enough to choose not to be harsh, rash, angry, or rough. Gentleness is when you know and use the best way to hold an egg or a butterfly. A gentle person knows better than to harm others, and so chooses to act in a way that does not. A gentle person does not seek to make other people angry. Gentleness may lose battles, but it helps win the overall struggles. A gentle response tends to create fewer enemies, and more friends.
More Thoughts on Gentleness
First, let us consider others interacting with us:
Do you prefer when someone talks to you calmly and gently, or when they yell at you or speak aggressively at you? People respond better to gentleness in speech.
Do you prefer when someone shakes your hand that they do so gently and firmly or as tight as they can squeeze? People respond better to gentleness in touch.
Do you prefer when someone handles your property with care and gentleness or just throws it around and slams it into things? People prefer that others treat their property gently.
Do you prefer when someone is waiting for you that they wait patiently or persistently try to hurry you up? People prefer others to wait patiently when they are trying to get something done.
Do you prefer when someone is walking near you that they stomp around applying excessive force or that they try to walk lightly? People prefer a courteous light walking.
Do you prefer when someone is helping you with a problem that they patiently work with you trying to understand your difficulties and help you with them, or that they insult you putting you down for your shortcomings? People prefer loving assistance.
Would you rather be around someone who is gentle or someone who is not?
Now let us consider our own actions with others and with things:
How do I treat my family? Am I patient with them or demanding all the time? Do I respect their wants and likes, or do I force my way on my family? Am I considerate of my family in my home? Do I avoid talking to myself so that I do not disturb members of my family?
How do I treat my co-workers? Am I patient with them or demanding all the time? Do I treat them with respect? Do I treat them with abruptness, like my time is much more valuable then theirs?
How do I treat other people in my community? Am I patient and gentle with others that I meet, whether in stores, in cars, in church parking lots, in restaurants, at school, at meetings, at sports events, etc.? Do I treat them with respect?
How do I treat property? Does it vary by whether it is my property or someone else’s? Do I treat property with care or just throw it around? Do I consider my property just on loan from God at the present moment?
Being gentle does not lessen men or women, rather it is a true characteristic of manhood and womanhood. Great men and women tend to be gentle.
Treating people with gentleness shows them that we value and respect them. Likewise treating things with gentleness, we show others that we want to take care of what with we have been entrusted and that we desire to leave it to others in good condition.
Gentleness is a way of life, showing our love in how we interact with people and things. Like any way of life, gentleness has to be practiced for us to become more gentle. If we want to become more gentle, we must take active steps, that is (1) choosing to be more gentle, (2) keeping this resolution in mind, (3) acting in gentleness, and (4) catching ourselves when we are not gentle so that we can be more aware of our gentleness or lack of gentleness in the future.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness.” author=”Han Suyin”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”It’s true that we live in a harsh world, but it’s also true that gentleness invades that harshness with its own kind of beauty. We see it in the way a mother cradles a newborn baby, in the eyes of a father roughhousing with a preschooler, in the silence of a setting sun, in the affectionate caress of a lifetime lover and friend, in the peace that settles during an anxious prayer, and in a thousand ways more. Yes, gentleness is invading our world today. The only question is whether or not you’ve joined the revolution.” author=”Mike and Amy Nappa”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music, and books, raising kids—all the places where the gravy soaks in and love shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.” author=”Garrison Keillor”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”In our rough and rugged individualism, we think of gentleness as weakness, being soft and virtually spineless. Not so! Gentleness includes such enviable qualities as having strength under control, being calm and peaceful when surrounded by a heated atmosphere, emitting a soothing effect on those who may be angry or otherwise beside themselves, and possessing tact and gracious courtesy that causes others to retain their self-esteem and dignity. Instead of losing, the gentle gain. Instead of being ripped off and taken advantage of, they come out ahead! ” author=”Charles Swindoll”/]
By John A. Hardon
There are certain virtues that are popular in certain times. No doubt because they conform with the spirit of those times. By now thousands of volumes have been written on the spirit of our times. And I suppose in the Western world at least, the features that characterize our age are aggressiveness, boldness, a strong, often, ruthless effort to conquer. Since the turn of our present century we have had two devastating world wars that accumulatively have cost more lives lost than in all the previous wars of human history. Surely then the virtue of gentleness scarcely typifies our age. And yet if we are going to be authentic followers of Virtue we must be gentle. So we ask ourselves first what is this virtue of gentleness.
Gentleness is the virtue that restrains the passion of anger. Over the centuries it has been variously described. Sometimes poetically, sometimes theologically. Where anger flares up, gentleness calms down. Where anger is a bursting flame, gentleness is a gentle rain. Where anger asserts itself and crushes, gentleness embraces and quiets and soothes yet as we hear these and similar descriptions of gentleness we are liable to make the mistake as I dare say so much of the modern world makes the mistake of identifying gentleness with weakness.
A gentle person is a meek person. So most people think that a gentle person is a weak person. It is just the opposite. In order to be truly gentle and that does not mean soft or sentimental, one must be strong. Only strong people can be gentle, because gentleness restrains strength by love. Whether its strength of body that could destroy physically or strength of will that could crush volitionally or strength of mind that could devastate intellectually. It’s only such people that can even begin to be gentle. And the reason of course is because they’ve got something to restrain.
But the motive power behind gentleness is always love. Love of the other for whose sake I restrain myself. There are then two qualities that belong to the meaning of gentleness and they are strength and love.
Gentleness or meekness which are synonymous are impossible in the absence of humility. Why? If we’ve ever asked ourselves why do we get irritated with people. Why do they bother us? Why all these inner and sometimes outer flares of passion isn’t because somehow though we may not even articulate the fact to ourselves that we, well, don’t like what the person is doing because we feel the person has no right to be doing this. At least in my presence or I wouldn’t do this. Who does she think she is talking that way to me? If we wish then to be gentle we must become humble. So much so that I do not hesitate to say that the best single barometer of humility which by its nature is quite hidden and not so easy to identify, the best single barometer of how humble we are is how gentle we are. Only humble people will be gentle. Because only they will honestly say to themselves why should I get angry with her, come to think of it I’ve just done the same. Or why should I be irritated? If I’m really honest I know there must be things that are irritating to him or her. So why should one irritant be irritated with another irritant?
If we are humble, if we look into our hearts, and not just at times, but constantly, what do we see there? If we look, you know we don’t see except what we’re looking for. If we look into our hearts we see vice, passion, weakness, ineptitude, crudeness, self-conceit. You name it and we’ve got it. All it takes is a good hard look but that takes humility. We are so prone to see the faults even the smallest of them, the littlest thing that is often called the “ speck in our brother’s eye”, and we don’t see the boulder in our own. And do you know why because maybe the boulder is so big in our own eyes we can’t even recognize the fact that the other person does have virtue, does have fine qualities. Remember this: we always see others through our own eyes. And our eyes are full of vice.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” author=”Leo Buscaglia”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Practice being gentle, respectful and loving toward all things. Remind yourself that your efforts do make a difference, even if you think they are miniscule in comparison to the magnitude of the problem.” author=”Wayne Dyer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Gentleness is the antidote for cruelty.” author=”Phaedrus”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”What would you have? Your gentleness shall force more than your force move us to gentleness.” author=”William Shakespeare”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The best and simplest cosmetic for women is constant gentleness and sympathy for the noblest interests of her fellow-creatures. This preserves and gives to her features an indelibly gay, fresh, and agreeable expression. If women would but realize that harshness makes them ugly, it would prove the best means of conversion.” author=”Berthold Auerbach”/]
Teaching Gentleness in a Violent World
In a world where violence and cruelty seem to be common and almost acceptable, many parents wonder what they can do to help their children to become kinder and gentler—to develop a sense of caring and compassion for others. Raising kids who care isn’t a solution to violence by itself, but it’s reasonable to worry that being exposed to a lot of violence—whether it’s on television or on the streets —could make your children hard and uncaring.
Parents, of course, can’t completely control all the things that affect their children’s lives. After all, children spend a lot of time out in the ‘real world,’ which can often be harsh, uncaring, or just plain unhappy. And children have their own personalities and characteristics that parents can’t change or control. But there are some things that a parent can do to encourage their children to become caring, fair, and responsible.
People sometimes think that children don’t really see the outside world—or other people—the way adults do, that they only view the world from their own eyes and in their own way. But is this true?
Researchers used to believe that a sense of real caring about others only came as people grow into adulthood. But now studies are finding that children can show signs of empathy and concern from a very early age. They react with concern when they see unhappiness, wanting to help or fix the problem.
And one study found that teenagers who were involved in helping others felt very positive about their lives and had high hopes for their own futures.
According to another study there are two kinds of parental role modeling that help teach children to be caring: kindness to others and kindness to the child.
In other words, our actions speak louder than words.
If you are consistently caring and compassionate, it’s more likely that your children will be, too. Children watch their parents, and other adults, for clues on how to behave.
Keep in mind that if you say one thing and do another, your children will pay a lot more attention to what you do. The old warning ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ simply does not work, particularly when it comes to teaching about caring.
Parents understandably worry that their effort at home could be undermined by outside influences such as their children’s friends, daily violence in their own neighborhoods, television shows and movies, or a culture that exalts ‘heroes’ who are selfish.
Here are a few things that you can do to help counteract these influences:
Give them books that promote compassionate behavior. Keep in mind, though, that kids—especially teenagers—don’t like characters who are ‘goody-two-shoes,’ so look for books about ordinary characters who perform acts of caring and concern.
A study at the National Institute of Mental Health found that children who tend to imitate behavior they see on television. For this reason, you may want to limit their viewing of violent programs and encourage them to watch shows that promote ideas about caring and helping.
Find out about the movies your children want to see. Are they excessively violent? Do they glamorize criminals or people who get ahead at the expense of others? Do they glorify violence to people or animals? You can’t shield your children from everything, but a little discussion can go a long way. Ask them to think about what they saw and to consider other approaches the characters might have taken.
Educate your children about famous altruists. Local museums can provide an inexpensive and enjoyable way to do this, as can television specials and books. Talk to them and find out who they admire, and why.
Another thing you can do is try to find organized ways for your children to get involved. Let them know about places in the community where they can volunteer, and encourage them to join. Many volunteer organizations and churches have special programs for young people and even for children.
What most inspires a child to grow up caring about others is the caring that the child receives. That nurturing is itself a perfect role model for children. Experts point out that when children feel they have a secure base at home, they’re more likely to venture out and pay attention to others. It’s when they feel deprived of love and nurturing that they focus too much on themselves and their own needs.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”With regard to manner, be careful to speak in a soft, tender, kind and loving way. Even when you have occasion to rebuke, be careful to do it with manifest kindness. The effect will be incalculably better.” author=”Hosea Ballou”/]
Have you ever heard the verse, “A bruised reed He will not break…” Can you picture the bruised reed? Fragile…easily shaken by the wind? Bent over, discolored, having been beaten and broken by some force? Maybe someone had charged their way through a cattail marsh and thrashed around a stick ahead of them, bashing the cattails to the side to clear their way, leaving a clearly marked trail of destruction in their wake. Sometimes it seems our world full of people like that.
The bruised reed represents people around us who are hurting, spiritually weak, or of little faith. They need to be treated with gentleness until their true need is exposed and they open up to ask for help. Maybe they are battling some physical illness. Maybe they are experiencing difficulties in their relationships with others. Maybe they are discouraged. Maybe they are grieving, angry, embarrassed, worried, longing, hoping, waiting—left empty—battered and bruised. Shouldn’t we approach each other with the utmost gentleness until we learn more about what’s at the heart of a person’s spirit?
People are at ease around a truly gentle person. If you would like to help people who are hurting and in need, you first need to practice gentleness. Bruised Reeds will sense your gentleness and will open the door to their spirit. At first that door may be open only a small crack, but with time and trust, they will usually open the door. In fact in today’s harsh society, bruised reeds usually flock to people known for their gentleness.
So how do we develop gentleness in our lives? It is not a natural characteristic. It is a gift from the Spirit. It must be sought. Then gentleness must be applied in our lives. How will gentleness manifest itself in our lives?
We will actively seek to make others feel at ease—being sensitive to their opinions and ideas.
We will show respect for the personal dignity of the other person. When we feel compelled to change a wrong opinion, we will do so with gentle persuasion and kindness rather than domination and intimidation.
We will avoid blunt speech and abrupt manner, being sensitive to how others react to our words. When it is necessary to provide correction, we will build it on a foundation of encouragement.
We won’t be threatened by opposition, but will gently wait for the opposition to be dissolved over time.
We will not belittle or degrade or gossip about a brother or sister who has stumbled and succumbed to vice, but will gently encourage them and patiently pray for their repentance.
We will be particularly gentle with our mates, our children, our families, and our friends—the ones we say we love.
We will be gentle in the way we care for ourselves and set expectations for ourselves.
It would serve us well to remember that in one way or another, we are all “Bruised Reeds”. That if for no other reason is why we should be gentle people—gentle men and gentle women, with good manners and respect for one another. We virtuous people should shine forth as lights in the world by emulating gentleness in word and deed.
A bruised reed we shall not break.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”It is only people who possess firmness who can possess true gentleness. In those who appear gentle, it is generally only weakness, which is readily converted into harshness.” author=”Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Gentleness is far more successful in all its enterprises than violence; indeed, violence generally frustrates its own purpose, while gentleness scarcely ever fails.” author=”John Locke”/]
Gentleness means recognizing that the world around us is fragile, especially other people. It is recognizing our own capacity to do harm and choosing instead to be tender, soft-spoken, soft-hearted, and careful. When we are gentle we touch the world in ways that protect and preserve it. Being gentle doesn’t mean being weak; gentleness can be firm, even powerful. To behave in a gentle manner requires that we stay centered in our own values and strength — that we are active rather than reactive. Coming from this center, a gentle word or touch can channel our energy into healing or making peace.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Our problems are not solved by physical force, by hatred, or by war. Our problems are solved by loving kindness, by gentleness, and by joy.” author=”Buddha”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” author=”Bible, Matthew 5:5″/]
The Story of the Sun and the Wind
The sun and the wind once had a dispute, which of the two was the most powerful.
The wind said, “Do you pretend to compare with me? Do not I tear up the tallest trees by the roots? Do not I level palaces and towers in the dust? Do not I raise the ocean into combustion, swell the billows of ships into the size of mountains, and send whole fleets, with all their crews, to a watery grave?”
“I grant,” replied the sun, “these are formidable powers; but they do not equal mine. I open the buds and the flowers, to make glad the heart of man. I cause the grass to grow. Every thing that you see through the whole world, that possesses either vegetable or animal life, owes its health and prosperity to me: were my life-giving influence withdrawn, they would all perish.
As the disputants were in the height of their argument, a traveler happened to pass along, with a large cloak wrapped about his shoulders. His path lay across a vast plain, where there was neither house nor tree that could shelter him from the inclemencies of the weather. The sun and the wind both agreed to settle their dispute by a trial on this traveler, which of them could first make him part with his cloak.
The wind began with a terrible puff, that tore away the traveler’s cloak from one of his arms, and was near carrying it a mile from him upon the plain. He, however, recovered his hold, and drew it closely round him. The heavens were now entirely darkened with clouds. The day was turned into night. The wind raved so, that, if the traveler had had a companion, instead of being alone, they could not have heard one another speak. He could scarcely keep his feet, or get forward one step; and he almost thought he must lie down upon the ground, to preserve himself from the violence of the storm. The wind, besides, called to his assistance the rain, the hail, and the thunder: I do not know whether that was quite fair. The traveler had a terrible time of it: but, for all the wind could do, he only hugged his cloak the closer about him.
It was now the sun’s turn to try. He burst out with his refulgent rays, and the clouds were scattered in a moment. Every thing was refreshed. The flowers seemed to smile; the beasts returned to their pasture; and the soft droppings from a few scattered bushes were inexpressibly agreeable. The drops glittered in the sunshine. As the sun, however, was determined to do his utmost, he made his beams hotter and hotter; till the traveler, who was at first exhilarated with his brightness, began to pant and sweat with the sultriness of the season. He loosed some of his buttons to relieve himself, and threw his cloak wide open. At last, however, he could bear it no longer; he cast it from him upon the ground; he sat down upon it, to try to cool himself; and the sun was decisively the victor in the strife.
“Learn from this,” said the sun to his blustering competitor, “that soft and gentle means will often accomplish what force and fury may in vain try to effect.”
How can we build gentleness in our lives?
So how do we develop gentleness in our lives? It is not a natural characteristic. It is a fruit of the Spirit—it is a gift. It must be asked for—sought. Then gentleness must be applied in our lives. How will this be manifested?
- We will actively seek to make others feel at ease—being sensitive to their opinions and ideas.
- We will show respect for the personal dignity of the other person. When we need to change a wrong opinion, we will do so with persuasion and kindness rather than domination and intimidation.
- We will avoid blunt speech and abrupt manner, being sensitive to how others react to our words. When it is necessary to provide correction, we will also include encouragement.
- We won’t be threatened by opposition, but will gently instruct, asking through prayer to have the opposition removed and patiently waiting.
- A gentle person will not belittle or degrade or gossip about another who may be in a weakened condition, but will grieve and pray for that person’s repentance.
- We need gentleness on our teams, in our classrooms, in our homes, at work, at church, and in every organization the we are a part of.
- We need gentleness with our teammates, our students, our children, our families, our co-workers, and our friends—the ones we say we love. Do we recognize and accept gentleness and kindness from those we say we love—or is it always viewed from our perspective and in accordance with our agenda?
- We need gentleness in the way we care for ourselves and set expectations for ourselves and others.
- We need gentleness in the way we treat our world.
- We need gentleness in the way we restore those who stumble.
Everyone wants to be near a gentle stream, a gentle person, a gentle pet. If I think of hard times I’ve been through, it is gentleness I have always wanted. Not people pleasing, sappy sweetness, but honest heartfelt gentleness – to be hugged, to have someone hold my hand, or to care about me even for a minute with caring gentleness. Gentleness is what the heart seeks.
What inspires this article is a chapter in Swami Chidvilasanada’s book Enthusiasm. — The chapter on The Marvelous Balance of Gentleness, to paraphrase:
What is the effect of this gentleness on others? When you are able to act with gentleness, your heart opens and your gentleness can remove fear in others. Gentleness encourages you to relax and trust. It promotes a sense of the innate goodness of the world. Gentleness in its true form, from the open heart, can enrich the atmosphere around you and can give everyone you come into contact with greater hope and faith in humanity.
When I think of someone cultivating gentleness, I think of a circus clown visiting a hospital for sick children. Gentleness. Isn’t that what a clown really does in a hospital? It’s not so much that he makes sick people laugh, which they do, but it’s also holding hands, listening and connecting with the spirit of the children. The gentle clown sees through the eyes to the soul. It’s the clown’s vulnerability and abandonment to childlike wonder that draws on the sweetness of mankind.
Clowns can be an instant reminder of that generosity of spirit we all share — our own vulnerability. As a result there is a balancing that takes place. There is no cognitive effort on the part of the patient. The clown is visual, present and instantaneous. To be vulnerable takes courage. It takes faith in yourself and in the goodness of the universe to walk through the streets of life open and exposed. However, when your heart is open, you may be vulnerable, but not weak. When love pours out of you in service, it protects you from your own negative destructive thoughts and that of others. I am not referring to physical protection. We all have to watch our backs, but we can be both gentle and “safe”.
Gentleness can be called a caring clown practice. Putting myself in a patient’s shoes (or bed as the case may be) the scenario might go something like this.
You are in ICU. You’re not in a lot of pain, but the drugs are making you quite dreamy. The world in and around your body is very slow, even still, there is a buzz in your head from the respirator. It is hard to keep your eyes open and you keep drifting off to sleep. There are little pangs of fear from questions of doubt and worry. “What will my children do? Who will pay the bills? Am I getting the right help? Will the pain come back?”
A clown walks into your room, she says, “Blink twice if you want me to stay?” You blink twice almost automatically. She is quiet and gentle. She has this cute little rabbit puppet. She is holding my hand. How warm she is. What a sweet little rabbit holding and patting my hand, I remember having a bunny like that. How sweet it is, now gentle it is to fall into sleep again.
Would the scenario have worked if a doctor came in? A nurse? A priest? A family member? The clown, not being a medical person or family member, doesn’t want or need anything from you. You get gentleness without judgement. We expect nothing in return. Clowns give unconditional gentleness, unconditional hugs, unconditional smiles. Somehow you trust the gentle clown.
This open heart gentleness is more than just moving or speaking gently. It comes from staying in the moment, and staying out of the reactive mind. (The “what if” mind set: What if that happens to me? What if I’m not funny?) The reactive mind sets fear in motion. The quiet mind allows love and grace to pour in. It is the softness and sensitivity of our open hearts that allows our inner wisdom to unfold and our true gentleness to radiate from our beings. Everyone who has ever sat by a dying person with an open heart and empty mind knows this stillness.
It is a rich sweet stillness, a gentle quietness that can comfort even the most worried soul.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”A man never so beautifully shows his own strength as when he respects a woman’s softness.” author=”Douglas William Jerrold”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A woman’s strength is most potent when robed in gentleness.” author=”Alphonse de Lamartine”/]
Virtuous Leaders Must Be Gentle
Call to mind the example of the “Good Shepard”. This is the perfect description of a virtuous leader. He is one who acts as a shepherd to those “sheep” in his gentle care. I know, people don’t like being compared to sheep, but it is a great analogy.
We coaches, teachers, administrators, managers, pastors, and parents need to be gentle shepherds. As gentle shepherds we have several roles in regards to our sheep. We lead, feed, nurture, comfort, correct and protect.
We should do all these things with profound gentleness.
The virtuous leader should comfort his sheep, binding up their wounds and applying the balm of compassion and love. People in general , kids in particular, in today’s society, suffer many injuries to their spirits, and we need compassionate gentle leaders who will bear their burdens with them, sympathize with their circumstances, exhibit patience towards them, and encourage them.
Likewise as the shepherd used the crook of his staff to pull a wandering sheep back into the fold, so the virtuous leader corrects and disciplines those in his care when they go astray. Without vengeance or an overbearing spirit, but with a “spirit of gentleness”, virtuous leaders must correct when sheep wander into the field of vice. We should gather our straying lambs in our arms and carry them close to our hearts back to the fold. More often than not, this should be done with “gentle promptings”, but sometimes the sheep need a stronger “tug”. Correction or discipline is never a pleasant experience for either party, but the virtuous leader who fails to gently correct is not exhibiting love for those in his care.
Can you lead a team, a classroom, a school, a business, a parish, an organization, a home where members are more gentle, gracious, and tolerant with each other? If you can, it would certainly be a welcome contrast to the harsh and unforgiving world we usually live in.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”You need to be prepared for firm decisions and action, without losing gentleness towards those who obstruct or abuse you. It’s as great a weakness to be angry with them as it is to abandon your plan of action and give up through fear.” author=”Marcus Aurelius”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among people.” author=”Lao Tzu”/]
10 Steps To Fostering Gentleness and Compassion in Yourself
Step One: Consider each of the following questions: Have you ever felt cared about unconditionally? Are you someone who has gone through life feeling unloved? Have you felt misunderstood and hurt by others? How do you treat yourself?
Is there a critic in your head that lectures you daily, going into humiliating detail about what you did not do well enough? Does it tell you that you are worthless, deserving of nothing? Does it rigidly define everything that you should and should not do? Does it ever call you names? This type of internal critic succeeds only in heightening self-doubt and shame. Take some time to reflect on and explore the questions above. Try writing your thoughts down on paper or in a journal. Note any patterns emerging.
When you are finished writing, reread what you have written. Are you surprised by the intensity of loathing or disregard that you have for yourself? The primary purpose of this exercise is to increase your awareness of how you are accustomed to being treated. The information you glean may feel painful, enlightening, or both at the same time. Either way the information is important for you to have.
Step Two: Set aside time to think about the concepts of gentleness and compassion. Everyone deserves gentleness and compassion. Consider treating yourself that way. What would it be like? What would it feel like? Would it feel uncomfortable and foreign to you? Could you enjoy it? Do you believe that you don’t deserve it? Investigate these concepts in your journal, or if you prefer try thinking out loud with someone you trust. Clear a space for you to just think about what it would be like. You needn’t reach any conclusions; you only need to consider all the angles.
Step Three: Because it is not possible to leap from self-hate to self-love in one fell swoop, you will need to find a compromise. With that in mind, learning to be nonjudgmental becomes the next logical step in this journey. Consider what it would feel like if you were to be nonjudgmental with yourself. What would it be like if you could not judge anything about yourself as good or bad? What if you had to accept all of your thoughts, feelings, and actions simply as legitimate and existing? Take some time to really think about this. Explore your thoughts by writing in your journal or talking with someone you trust.
Once you have examined the idea, try it. Take an entire day and just accept all of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Whenever you find yourself using words like stupid, dumb, bad, smart, etc., redirect yourself with: “this thought (feeling, action) exists.” Wait until the following day before reflecting on your experience.
Step Four: It is now one day later; think back to your experience yesterday. What was it like not to judge yourself? Was it difficult? How many judgments did you find yourself making? How did you tend to talk to yourself? Based on your experience yesterday, how long is your journey from self-loathing to self-love? Are you willing to make the trek? Are you willing to try? What do you have to lose?
Step Five: Now it is time to begin changing the way you talk to yourself. Deliberately incorporate words like, “gentle,” “compassion,” and “comfort” into your everyday language. Make it a point to use these words when you talk to others; most importantly use them when you talk to yourself. Throughout the course of each day, remind yourself to be gentle and then make a concerted effort to do so.
You must literally train yourself to think differently. Whether you feel hatred for yourself, general unworthiness, or deeply undeserving, changing the way you talk to yourself will begin to transform those feelings. Using written and verbal reminders and affirmations will help turn your harsh feelings into ones that are more kind. Reminding yourself to ‘be gentle’ will help you to stop being cruel to yourself. Affirming: “I am a good person,” can help lessen feelings of unworthiness. If you are someone who relieves emotional pain by hurting yourself (be it through cutting, purging, etc.) it is important that you work to reverse this thinking. Try using the affirmations: “I deserve to be comforted and supported in times of pain and sorrow,” and, “ I deserve to have peace and joy in my life.”
Step Six: Visualization is a powerful tool in any kind of metamorphosis. What do you think it will be like when you are kind to yourself on a regular basis? As vividly as you possibly can, imagine caring about yourself as much as you care about your friends. Picture what a day would look and feel like. What are your beliefs about peace and happiness? Do you believe that those things exist only for others and not for you? Do you feel undeserving of those things? When you feel happy do you also feel guilty? Take some time to scrutinize your feelings and beliefs about these questions. You may wish to devote a therapy session or two to exploring them. Use writing, artwork, or talking with a confidant to explore what it will mean when you have a positive relationship with yourself. Will you be free to experience joy? Will you experience a new kind of peace?
Step Seven: Treating yourself well is important, but it is also something that takes time to learn how to do, especially if you are used to treating yourself badly. No one goes from beating themselves up to embracing themselves in one quick, easy step. Again there must be a compromise. In this case stopping all destructive behaviors is the middle ground. Simply stop. Just like that. Stop. Do nothing.
Once you do this you may find that all of your urges intensify (e.g. to purge, restrict, exercise, cut etc.). If you feel like you have to sit on your hands to keep from doing something destructive, then by all means do it! Do whatever it takes to not act on any of your self-destructive urges. When your urges surface, adopt a fierce attitude and refuse to act on them. Keep reminding yourself to be gentle. Tell yourself that you have had enough pain in your life, and you do not need anymore. Lean on the people you trust. Talk to your therapist, family, and close friends about this difficult period. Describe your experience to them. Use your journal to express how you feel. Keep in mind that when you change your methods of coping it may take a little time for the new alternative methods to bring the desired amount of relief. This is normal. Because they are foreign to you, you may need to try them several times before they feel familiar and begin to work well for you. Keep experimenting during this inevitable adjustment period. Hang in there, you can do it.
Stopping destructive behaviors is something like going “cold turkey.” It comes with its own withdrawal of sorts. It can be an awful period of time with urges arising from seemingly all angles. Relentlessly fighting your urges will leave you feeling tired and rough around the edges for a time—But hold on! It really does pass. You will emerge intact.
Step Eight: Once you make it through the withdrawal period, or as soon as your urges have lessened in intensity, it becomes time to make the most vital connection of all. You need to find a way to feel in your heart all of the things you have trained yourself to think in your head. By now you are probably very good at reminding yourself to be gentle and compassionate. Now you need to experience them.
Try this exercise: Collect pictures of yourself as a child. Take some time to sit down and study them. Pick up a picture, how do you feel? If your thoughts and feelings are primarily negative, try looking at the pictures and pretending that the person you are looking at is someone other than yourself. As vividly as you can, imagine spending a day with this child. What would you do? What would it be like? What is she like? What does her laughter sound like? Can you see the wonder in her eyes? Can you feel her innocence? Incorporate information you know about yourself into this child. How do you feel? Did you used to do nice things for people when you were little? Did you pick flowers for your mother, grandmother, or favorite teacher? Imagine the little girl in the picture picking flowers and giving them to you. How do you feel? Remember something sad that happened to you and imagine that the same thing happened to this little girl. How do you feel?
Do this every day for a little while, paying close attention to how you feel inside. Eventually you will come to realize that the child in those pictures is really yourself. All of the joy and sorrow that you feel for the little girl in the picture, you will begin to feel for yourself. The joy may be a soaring happiness and the sorrow may be a soul shattering pain… these are some of the most important feelings you will ever have, for they are the beginning of true healing.
Step Nine: Recognize that self-hate is taking the easy way out. This concept is easier to understand once you have made the head-heart connection. You see, when you really love yourself you will feel the pain from all the injustices that you have ever suffered. It is often much easier to hate yourself than it is to feel the heart wrenching pain that comes from having been thrown away, betrayed, unprotected, and unloved. That kind of hurt defies description. It is both a courageous and gentle act to allow yourself to walk through that pain and heal. It has long been said that time heals all wounds, but it does not. Love does. And part of that healing love needs to come from you. Self-hate is abandoning yourself. It is when you walk out on yourself the same way others may have walked out on you in the past. You deserve more than that. Be a warrior and be there for yourself.
Step Ten: As you continue in your quest for gentleness, challenge your harmful beliefs about yourself. Do you feel beneath others and undeserving of even the most basic respect afforded to every human being? Ask yourself why you feel that way…what have you ever done? What it is that makes you so different from others? What did you ever do to deserve to be treated harshly? Your inability to answer any part of these questions is an answer in itself. In not finding some of your answers you will discover that you are not necessarily any different from other people who were treated with love and respect. You will find that you are no different from other people whom you believe deserve good things, and whom you believe are valuable, worthy people.
Once you are able to look upon yourself with gentleness and compassion you will clearly see how hurtful self-destructive behaviors really are to you. Ask yourself honestly: can you really hurt something you love? Be kind to yourself. Embrace yourself, your heart, your dreams, and even the mistakes that make you so lovably human. Embrace everything about yourself. Life only requires that you be just exactly who you are, and there is no one else in the world quite like you. You are a valuable, beautiful person—Celebrate that!