01 | Gentleness is Always an Option

Gentleness can feel like a lost cause and a waste of time. Especially when it comes to standing up for ourselves and other people in the face of a cruel and hostile world.

But I believe there is more to gentleness than meets the eye. And while some may feel tempted to conceptualise it as flimsy or weak, it’s not. In fact, it sits as the backbone of deep inner strength and human resilience.

Gentleness creates the conditions for better relationships and healthier lives.

It is underpinned by a deep spirit of rebellion and is always an option when we feel stuck in life’s weeds. Because it can radically influence how we hold ourselves, relate to others, and engage with our future hopes and dreams.

As a result, we can find fertile ground for more deep, intentional, and meaningful growth to occur in and around our lives.

So let’s spend some time looking at what gentleness is (and isn’t), in order to nurture the conditions for more of it to emerge through the cracks.

Gentleness is Always an Option

What IS Gentleness? | 0:57

To be honest, gentleness is not easy to define. But that’s also part of what makes it so beautiful to think about.

You can’t package it. Or sell it. And you can’t force it into a 5 step process.

Gentleness is more like an ever-present question. It speaks softly into the space between the lines of life. And it invites us to pause and reflect on the kind of world we are creating with the choices we are making.

How Do Most People Describe Gentleness? | 10:36

Caring. Kind. Intentional. Softness. Firmness. Accepting. Holding Account. Trustworthy. Warmth. Patience. Slow. Absorbing. Engulfing. Enriching. Unconditional. Safety. Humility. Nurturing. Avoiding deliberate harm. Mindful. Integrity. Calmness under pressure. Honesty. Grit. Respect. Backbone. Will. “A firm back and a soft front”. Patience. Home. Responsibility. Open. Accepting mistakes. Wholehearted. Peace. Encouraging. Padded.

These are words that were sent to me when I asked readers how they would define gentleness.

It seems clear to me now that gentleness is a force of the in-between.

Indeed it is neither “this nor that”. It is both soft and firm. It holds to account while accepting mistakes. Likewise, it is safe and gritty, strong and humble.

Gentleness is Strength | 13:00

Gentleness breeds peace, integrity, and consistency of character. It is not volatile or abrupt in its response to the world. It is able to hold, absorb, and soften the harsh edges of life.

“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

This quote suggests that on the one hand, gentleness is strength. While simultaneously true strength comes from a place with gentleness at its core.

Gentleness is Rebellion | 13:59

I started using the term ‘gentle rebel’ many years ago. Specifically, as a way to describe introverted and sensitive creative people.

The rebel part was the fact that, by definition, authentic introverts and sensitive types go against the expectations of an extrovert-centric world. They move to the beat of their own drum rather than bending themselves out of shape to fit society’s mould.

But we can see gentleness as more than a characteristic of a particular personality type. It speaks to something deeper. And more universal. Something for all of us.

Gentleness doesn’t grow when we act by the logic of violent systems.

Gentleness expresses a soft, firm no. An assertive no. A creative no. It says no to these cycles of violence which only make us smaller and the world more fragmented.

Gentleness is Compassion | 26:22

Gentleness knows how to be still and silent. It is a model of being.

It doesn’t belittle, diminish, or dismiss the pain of others. And it doesn’t seek to awkwardly fill the silence with frenetic noise and action when people shed their tears.

Compassion means to “suffer with”. It is an unconditional presence. Holding the other person in a way so they feel seen, heard, and a little less alone.

This is gentleness in action. And rebellion in a world that feels uncomfortable when people are too real.

Gentleness is Rhythm | 28:36

We don’t have to see the effect to know the effect is taking place. In an impatient world, the ability to wait is an act of gentle rebellion.

When everything else is trying to distract us, gentleness is rooted in something deeper.

It’s like the ocean. Where waves are erosion in action. Besides, water reminds us that the small things we do over time add up and make a difference. Even if we can’t see it actively happening in real-time.

Gentleness is committed to the things that matter most. Consequently, it has the confidence to let go of everything else. And it trusts the in-between.

Gentleness is Joy | 29:24

Gentleness doesn’t demand a purpose for everything, but it can find purpose in anything. We find joy in those cracks and crevices between those lines where gentleness thrives.

Joy bonds us to one another in the struggles of heartbreak and grief. It can fuel our sense of longing to return home and our yearning to find somewhere new.

Despite our contradictions, gentleness has the space to hold them all. Not only that, but it’s also here where our creative outpourings begin to flow.

Joy helps us stop and taste, smell, feel, see, and hear what the world is telling us. And it breathes life into the depth of our beings.

Gentleness is Big Enough To Hold All of Us | 30:26

Much of the violence that threatens to take over the human spirit stems from a belief in conditional belonging. Society tells us we must be, do, and have certain things in order to fit in. Accordingly, this can inspire us to bury, hide, or change certain parts of who we really are.

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.”

What happens when we are afraid of the dark? We sleepwalk around in artificial light, concealing the things we are afraid others will see.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Because gentleness is unafraid of the dark.

And it accepts who we are at the core level of our being.

Gentleness starts when we accept our own unconditional belonging. When we accept that we are accepted and acceptable, right where we are.

Gentleness is Awareness | 32:00

In a state of deep awareness, the things we hold don’t drain us.

Alertness, on the other hand, always gives us reasons to be afraid.

The problem is that much of the world wants to keep us tied to a state of urgency and alertness.

Have you come across the word “Sonder“?

Sonder is a type of awareness that we can use to connect more deeply with one another in gentle ways.

“Each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as our own. Everyone has a subjective experience of the world, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited quirks. Unique memories, experiences, and traumas write an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground. With elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that we will never know existed, in which we might appear only once. As an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Gentleness is Playful | 35:06

Life is infused with a spirit of playfulness. Gentleness and play are never far from each other.

But we can be quick to let go of both when we succumb to the judgement of the world around us.

Gentleness and play are accomodating and inviting. They enhance our sense of curiosity, timelessness, and wonder. And they help us swallow pride, counter the hardened heart of cynicism, and let go of any fear about what others might think of us.

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 underpins the kind of safety we might experience in the quiet presence of someone we know we can trust with our life. It 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.

It might just take a little bit of creative thinking.

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