I don’t see gentleness as flimsy and weak. Lots of people do. They say it’s a lost cause and waste of time in a harsh world that only responds to violence. But what if it’s not?
What if the way things are is linked to our collective relationship with gentleness itself? I wonder if we are quick to reject gentleness because gentleness is a threat to the world we say we don’t want but are afraid of changing in any meaningful way.
That’s what I explore in this podcast episode.
- What IS Gentleness? | 0:57
- What Does Gentleness Make Possible? | 19:36
- How to Create The Conditions for Gentleness | 22:30
- Conclusion | 26:23
What IS Gentleness? | 0:57
Gentleness absorbs the shocks from life’s unavoidable collisions. It slows down, observes, and plugs in. It’s always alive to the need of the moment; a choice for right now. Never resting on its laurels or assuming that the right response for today is the right one for tomorrow.
I feel it as an ever-present question. It invites us to see the part we play in creating the world with our words and actions.
A Firm Back With a Soft Front | 10:36
I think gentleness is a force between worlds. Between lines. Between everything. Like glue on the one hand, and like a soft supportive pillow on the other.
It is unknowable yet familiar. We recognise it when we see it in action but it seems impossible to truly define. People say it’s caring, kind, trustworthy, safe, respectful, backbone, wholehearted, holding account, and calm.
It’s a firm back with a soft front. Both strong and able to flex. It holds us to account while accepting our mistakes. It makes room for humanity. For failure. For truth.
Gentleness is Strength | 13:00
“Most of us, I believe, admire strength. It’s something we tend to respect in others, desire for ourselves, and wish for our children. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we confuse strength and other words–like aggression and even violence. Real strength is neither male nor female; but is, quite simply, one of the finest characteristics that any human being can possess.” – Mr Rogers
Gentleness is Rebellion | 13:59
Gentle Rebel is my favourite way to describe introverted, sensitive people who quietly move against the grain of the world’s noise.
But I don’t want to confuse gentleness with a personality trait. I don’t want to atomise the world any further with yet another identity that can be commodified and sold back to us in blueprints and merchandise. Gentleness is not like that. It’s not the preserve of a particular type of person. It’s deep and universal; a series of choices we make as we question and refuse to indulge in cycles of violence that destroy the world.
Gentleness is Compassion | 26:22
Compassion means to suffer together. It reminds us that we are seen, heard, and not alone. We have a chronic lack right now because we rarely see people as people. We use boxes, labels, and generalisations instead. They’re quicker, simpler, and easy to transport. We don’t need to look with any depth at any individual. We know who they are by what they look like and how they sound.
Compassion is gentle because it probes deeper than our artificial surfaces and conditioned exteriors. It is truly radical and revolutionary.
Gentleness is Rhythm | 28:36
Water gets heavy use as a metaphor but I’m going to use it anyway. It not only tells us something about the characteristic of gentleness but it embodies gentleness in practice. The persistent flow over time that gives life to the earth, carves through mountains, and defines who we are. It is both a powerful force for change and a simple substance for sustaining life. Without it we wither and die.
I love watching ocean waves lapping at the shore. I love to try imagining the billions of years that went into setting the scene for this moment. But my brain is too small to comprehend it. It’s impossible to grasp the power of water on the landscape when looking at one wave in one moment. Rhythmic repetition carves the world over time. It’s the same with gentleness. The gentle choice might seem powerless and small when we look at it in isolation. It’s not.
Gentleness is Joy | 29:24
We often think of joy as a destination we will reach at the end of the struggle. But many of my most joyful memories contain bittersweet elements. Joy is underpinned by connection and a sense of aliveness. For me it occurs when I’m not on autopilot. When I’m not drifting but am aware and awake.
Gentleness is about how we hold one another and ourselves. Joy is a spark of connection, within and between us. And it emerges not despite, but as part of some of life’s most heartbreaking and painful situations. At least that’s what I’ve found.
Gentleness is Big Enough To Hold All of Us | 30:26
Susan Cain says, “the world is scared of the dark. Modern culture says smile, get over it, move on. Normative sunshine can distract you from your rightful heritage.”
Much of the violence that threatens to take over the human spirit stems from a belief in conditional belonging. We are told what we must be, do, and have if we want to be loved. And that we must bury, hide, or change the bits of ourselves that don’t fit.
Gentleness is not interested in that. It allows us to be who we are. Not simply as isolated individuals but as part of a beautiful whole.
Gentleness is Awareness | 32:00
When I’m alert I’m in a state of stress. I see everything as a potential danger and something to fear. But when I’m aware I am plugged in at a deeper level. I can observe and filter information with intuition and wisdom. I can let things go.
The world benefits from us being in a state of alertness. It fuels a scarcity mindset and a state of urgency. I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to spend money when I feel afraid.
Gentleness is Playful | 35:06
Play is an expression of curiosity and wonder. It encourages us to let go of our pride, counter the hardened heart of cynicism, and release any fear about what others might think of us. This is gentleness.
What Does Gentleness Make Possible? | 19:36
Universalising Connection | 20:14
Gentleness holds space for everyone. It doesn’t discriminate when it comes to upholding core universal values.
Safety | 21:00
Gentleness is a reassuring voice that tells us it’s OK to be who we are, where we are, as we are.
Creativity | 21:14
Gentleness provides the conditions for us to keep trying, learning and growing. It is a voice of encouragement, which says it’s fine to make mistakes and fail. Not only that, but it actively cheers us on as we do so. Helping us to share who we truly are with the world.
Culture | 21:38
Gentleness holds space for the world to emerge from the values we collectively decide matter most to us. It helps society unite and grow, intentionally sowing seeds for the future together.
How to Create The Conditions for Gentleness | 22:30
Gentleness looks different for everyone. It shows up differently depending on the situation. And it calls each of us to focus on different things. It’s dynamic and expansive.
But one thing is always true. It starts with how we are held, and how we hold.
Holding On | 22:47
If you pick up an animal and hold it in a way it doesn’t like, you will soon know about it.
It’s the same with people. We can hold things (and one another) very ungently. Too tightly, possessively, or personally.
But what happens when we hold on like this?
We force people into corners, causing them to act out of character in order to save face. We reinforce the story we want to believe about them by treating them in a certain way. They may resist, struggle, and fight back.
But another person’s resistance doesn’t necessarily prove our point about them. It might be an opportunity to think about the role we are playing.
Likewise, what happens when it feels like WE are being held too tightly?
Under those circumstances, we too might instinctively recoil, lash out, and fight back.
Letting Go | 25:00
There is another side to this, however. Because when we are held gently we relax, we feel safe, and we let go of needing to prove anything or fight.
Under those circumstances, we stop feeling so tense and worked up. We can start working in partnership with, rather than in opposition against the world around us.
We can begin creating the conditions for more gentleness when we start to recognise the impact of this stuff. Where we might be trying to wriggle free or hit out. And where we are holding things so tightly that we are squeezing the life out of them.
So how can we hold the world with more gentleness?
Conclusion | 26:23
Gentleness supports and nurtures us with its firm back and a soft front.
When we hold and are held with gentleness, we are allowed to become what we really are. So gentle IS the path of rebellion in a hostile world. And it’s always an option.