I remember in my Allentown College/DeSales University days a popular poster on the walls in the dorms had the poem “Desiderata.” It started with the following two lines: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”
This always stayed with me because, while I know that I may have many virtues, patience has seldom been one of them.
That is why I was surprised when I was asked to write about gentleness. However, as any student of Salesian philosophy will tell you, “there is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as true strength.” It is the second pillar of Salesian Spirituality and strengthens the practice of humility. Yet, I do not believe that it is enough to only be gentle with others. No, we must learn to be gentle with ourselves as well. Think about it—How often have you shown yourself the same compassion that you extend towards those around you? Why or why not?
Part of the human condition is our imperfection. That does not mean that we should focus on it. Us playing small does not do anyone any good, yet we do not need to remind others of our greatness for them to see it.
Letting your good actions and your good work speak for themselves is a prayer in and of itself. It is a way that we can live the value of gentleness in our daily lives, as gentleness comes from the heart; it does not live in the ego.
We must also learn to be gentle with each other. All of us collaborate with other people on a daily basis, whether it is in the workplace, on a sports team, or in a family setting. Are your interactions filled with loving-kindness, or motivated by a need to check items off your to-do list? (It is OK to admit it if it is a little of both. We are imperfect by nature, remember?) Practicing being gentle with others can start simply by remembering to ask people how their day is and actively listening. It is here that gentleness ties in with stillness. Are you pausing before answering to process what the other person is saying and what they mean? Do you hear past the words to their true intention? Are you adapting your communication style to their personality? When St. Francis de Sales said “Be who you are and be that well,” he also charged us with allowing people the room to do so. Gentleness stems from stillness, cultivates humility, and harkens to a culture of belonging.
A simple thing you can do to understand what gentleness feels like is to trace a heart in your palm three times with your opposing thumb every morning as you wake up, and again three times before you go to bed. As you do it, think about your interactions for the day and how you might have incorporated gentleness, kindness, and stillness into your interactions with others. Over time, you will cultivate these values so often that they will become second nature.
Kevin “Tiger” Barry ’01, Communications Graduate