Gentle Power

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It is an odd day here at my favorite diner. Not a soul is here except the cook and the waitress. That’s odd. The place is generally hopping. Maybe it is too early. There is a piano nocturne playing instead of the normal mix of last century rock and serious blues guitarists.

My guess is that people will float in later. Maybe getting a late start. But for right now I have the place to myself. The waitress, who is one of the owners, is outside fussing over the tables. The cook is downstairs in the prep kitchen.

It suits me, the solitude. My ex-wife used to say I would be a complete hermit if left to my own devices and at the time there may have been some truth to that. I AM an introvert. No doubt at all about that. Solitude energizes me. Crowds drain me.

But I have come to learn that a lot of my hermit-ness had as much to do with my depression as it did with my introverted nature. Depression urges you to withdraw. You can’t handle life well because the lying little demons are filling you with lies of unworthiness and incapability. Alone, you don’t fail. Alone, no one knows. Alone…. well you get the idea.

I got through that. I did the work and I am pretty good at giving those whispering little spawn of the devil (Can you tell how much I hate my depression?) the total jujitsu and sending them on their way each morning.  Bruce Lee would be proud. (Yes, I know he was known for Karati, but he also learned and used jujitsu. Just go with me on this one.)

Yes, it still creeps in now and again. I am fortunate in my choice of wife a few years ago. She is a master at seeing me, really seeing me, and often offering a gentle suggestion of correction. Her gentleness in telling me hard truths is amazing and rare.

I have had plenty of the other kind. Harsh critiques seem to come easy to most people. I don’t know if it is because they mean to be harsh, or if it is just because they never learned a different way.  I don’t respond well to harshness.

Frankly, I don’t think many of us do. Harshness puts us on the defensive, and that is not a recipe to grow and change. It is just the opposite. I often find myself wondering how many of us really grew and got better, healed, and stronger, on a diet of harshness? My guess is not many of us.

And yet, it is more the standard than gentleness.

I used to wonder why. I don’t anymore. Gentleness takes work and self-control. It is not what comes naturally to us. When we are frustrated, lashing out is the natural thing to do. It’s human.  And in the frustration, we don’t much care if we are actually helping the other person or group grow and change. We want to vent. We want to lash out. We want to hurt because we hurt. And we get good at it.

We particularly are good at it if we are in a real relationship with someone. Because then we know just where to stick the knife. And how to twist it to maximum effect. And we want that maximum effect.

But gentleness! To be gentle, we have to push back that primal desire to hurt and look at the other person and ask ourselves, “What would work with this person or group? How can I get them to listen to me? What do I need to hear in their story and situation and feelings to help me help them?  (and, oh yeah, maybe myself.). In times and situations where WE are the frustrated and hurt ones, we have to think instead of feel.  Think of the other person instead of ourselves.

And we just ain’t feeling it.

Self-discipline is part of most faiths. For us Christians, it is what is considered one of the “fruits of the spirit”, in other words, when God is in us (as opposed to merely being with us.), then we can be self-disciplined.

But Christianity is far from the only faith or tradition that teaches self-discipline or kindness and gentleness to others. I’ve read enough other holy books to know it plays a big part in most faiths. And that most of us fail on that one.

That is particularly true in the times we are in. It is an angry time. We’d rather lash out, make fun of, cut down, shed, humiliate those who think and feel differently than we do than actually listen and do the things that we know can actually lead people to a different place. It’s all about us and us versus them.

That is why I admire people like my wife and her gentleness with me. It can’t be easy. I can be a frustrating person sometimes. I am slow seeing myself. I shut down easily in the face of harshness. And she knows just how to lead me to listening. And listening leads to change. And growth.

It is a way of living I mostly use myself. Simply because I think it works. I have used it as a manager of people in work and churches. I used it raising my kids. I use it in most relationships. Not everyone responds to it. Some people are invested in their belief that harshness works. But I have never seen hate or harshness build anything long term. Never. I have never seen harshness and hate heal. Never. Love builds and heals. Kindness builds and heals. Listening builds and heals. Self-discipline builds and heals.

It’s work. It is hard work, but it is worth the effort. Those who have lived that way towards me have transformed my life and made me better. I like to think those I have treated the same way are better for it. When they say that gentle people are the strongest people you know, they are right I think. They have to overcome the worst enemy: their own human nature.

I am alone in the diner still. Debussy is playing. I forget the title. Something to do with butterflies. I hear a couple of people outside settle into their tables. Soon, there will be more and more. A few will filter inside where I am sitting.

I am grateful for the few minutes of solitude. It allowed me to think. And be grateful and to sing that gratitude out into the world.

And that is always a good thing.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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