There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness
The title for this article was taken from Han Suyin’s novel “A Many Splendored Thing.” Notwithstanding her words, and despite the wisdom handed down during the past 25 centuries, there are still people who fail to realize that gentleness is more powerful than force. Words are easily spoken and quickly forgotten, but images persist. That’s why the greatest teachers taught in parables, fables, and stories. To help bring home the difference between gentleness and force, here is the story of The Wind and the Sun, written by Aesop (c 620 ~ c 560 BC).
“Once upon a time when everything could talk, the Wind and the Sun fell into an argument as to which was the stronger. Finally they decided to put the matter to a test; they would see which one could make a certain man, who was walking along the road, throw off his cape. The Wind tried first. He blew and he blew. The harder and colder he blew, the tighter the traveler wrapped his cape about him. The Wind finally gave up and told the Sun to try. The Sun began to smile and as it grew warmer and warmer, the traveler was comfortable once more. But the Sun shone brighter and brighter until the man grew so hot the sweat poured out of his face, he became weary, and seating himself on a stone, he quickly threw his cape to the ground. You see, gentleness had accomplished what force could not.”
With just a few words, Persian poet Shaykh Muslih al-Din Sa’di Shirazi (c 1200 ~ c 1292) paints another useful picture: “Use a sweet tongue, courtesy, and gentleness, and thou mayst manage to guide an elephant with a hair.” Such is the power of gentleness. On the other hand, force is futile because it offers a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Force is met with resistance. It represses, suppresses, and oppresses. Gentleness addresses the problem. It alleviates, mitigates, and obviates the pain of others.
As we start out in this New Year, it is appropriate to ask ourselves questions. Questions like, “How do I treat my family? Do I try to force them to comply with my wishes or does the warmth of my smile encourage them to work with me as a team? How do I handle my coworkers? Am I demanding or understanding? How do I interact with my neighbors? Am I curt and cold or compassionate and caring? How do I treat the belongings of my friends? Do I return everything I borrowed promptly and in the same condition it was in when I received it?
Yes, the New Year is the perfect time to make a resolution to be gentle. Like Max Lucado, who has 28 million books in print, we can say, “Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.”
When we treat others with gentleness, it shows them that we value and respect them. They may be upset and speak to us angrily, but our gentle answer will soothe their irritability and calm them down. Isn’t it true that only those with faults complain about the faults of others? So, the fewer faults we have, the greater our gentleness, tolerance, and compassion will be.
Gentleness is the mark of the spiritual person, one who sees the commonality of all. It is the recognition that despite our differences, we are all the same. It is easier for older people to be gentle, for their long experience has made them realize they are guilty of every fault they see in others; so, how can they hold it against them? True, we will not always agree with everyone all the time, but gentleness is the understanding that we can walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye.
Let’s not wait until we are old to be gentle. Rather, today, let’s join in the prayer of Alexander Pope (1688 ~ 1744), “Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see; that mercy I to others show, that mercy show to me.” We climb the highest peak one step at a time, and we make a difference in the world one small act at a time. A gentle smile, an encouraging pat on the back, a word of praise, a friendly hand, a warm hug, and a tender look are small acts, which when added up have a huge impact on the lives of others. Gentleness is a way of life. It is the conduct of love. It is a balm that lessens the suffering of others. Blessed are the gentle who give of their time to help the sick, the elderly, the unemployed, the homeless, the needy, the mentally ill, and those in prison. May we learn from their example.
Whether good or bad and whether right or wrong, our actions affect others. We set an example that helps shape their beliefs and behaviour. Like it or not, we are influencing the course of history. What type of world do we wish to have a hand in creating? One of hostility or one of harmony? One of hatred or one of honesty? The choice is ours. We can choose to walk on the path of gentleness. And as we walk on that path, let’s remember the words of another writer, “The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells on the sand; The sun goes down, but gentle warmth still lingers on the land; The music stops, and yet it echoes on in sweet refrains… For every gentle act that passes, something beautiful remains.”