The Thinking 

On Gentleness

June 16, 2009


Pore through history’s records and you will find no evidence of gentleness. To the contrary, energy, initiative, will, ideas, and conflict – these seem to be the decisive factors in human affairs.

Gentleness is an inconspicuous and private thing. It’s hard to describe exactly what you have received when you’ve been its beneficiary. One wouldn’t want to live in a world governed by gentleness, but to live in a world short of it is like living in a city without trees.

Gentleness is feminine. A woman who has never expressed at least some of her powers of tenderness has not fully lived. It’s as if she had never walked. Gentleness, which I myself have by no means mastered, is both inborn and acquired. It can be unlearned and erased. If one lives in a culture that prizes only assertiveness and energy, one may lose the essential thing. Gentleness is low-wattage. With a surge of power, its filaments break.

Some people go to therapists in search of lost gentleness, either the ability to receive or to give it. Gentleness is not simply soothing. It’s an intellectual thing as well, a form of understanding and higher awareness with its own golden mean. Properly attuned, its objective is the buried truth. Improperly attuned, it becomes bothersome, meddling, all sentimental, treacly and indulgent.

Behind the achievements of civilization – the masterpieces, the monuments, the battles, the great works of thought – the hidden influence of the right sort of gentleness lives. It’s unrecorded. It never has received public acclaim and never will.  Here is something that is perhaps most apparent when it’s gone.


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