Uncommon Common Sense
By Bill Frayer
DO Go Gentle…
My father was a gentle man. He wasn’t meek. He had strong opinions, but he was gentle in the way he expressed them. When I was in college, I remember coming home full of myself, sure that I understood the world better than most people, certainly better than he did. Our biggest source of disagreement was the War in Vietnam. As a World War II vet, he knew a thing or two, but he listened to me and my ranting about the war without interrupting. He asked me thoughtful questions. He explained, kindly, that not everyone would agree with me. I am fairly certain I did not show him equal respect. We eventually agreed we could love each other even if we disagreed.
I have been thinking about him lately. It seems as though we could use a bit more gentleness in our world. I hope I have been able to emulate my gentle father, and I hope that as a society, we might put a little more emphasis on being kind and gentle.
It may seem like an easy-to-understand word, but what exactly does it mean to be gentle? A gentle person is, of course, kind. She often puts the needs of others ahead of her own. She tries not to be judgmental. Even if she does not understand why someone is the way they are, she avoids gossip and accepts the fact that people are different. I remember the day my daughter told my father that she was gay. He had absolutely no frame of reference for such an announcement, but, after a long period of silence, he simply told her he loved her. Sometimes the most gentle response is silence. He was good at that.
Garrison Keillor summed up the necessity of gentleness: “What keeps our faith cheerful is the extreme persistence of gentleness and humor. Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids– all the places where gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people. Lacking any other purpose in life, it would be good enough to live for their sake.”
Of course Keillor is right. We see gentleness around us every day. One of the characteristics we expats love about being in Mexico, we often point out, is the Mexican people. The people are gentle and kind. We rarely see Mexican people express anger in everyday situations. They are kind to their elders, and they are gentle with their children. We enjoy being around them because they make us feel good.
Our world today is not a gentle place. Because of the omnipresence of media coverage, we see violent expressions of intolerance and hear hateful speech from many sources. It is easy to feel discouraged when we hear our political leaders appeal to fear, racism and hate. We need leaders who gently remind us that we are all in this together, and we need to find ways to get along with kindness and compassion. We often see too much condemnation and too little love.
The Dalai Lama suggests that we can make the world a better place for everyone if we practice kindness and compassion in our own lives. It may seem to be an uphill battle, but success often comes in very small increments. I think my father understood that.