“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”
St. Francis de Sales
I’m not always gentle. But I love to be.
My mother-in-law was in town for a few weeks after we had our baby. My step mother told me that she warned her ‘not to be fooled by Liz, she may come across as sweet and shy on the outside but don’t think you can push her around, she stands strong for what she wants.’
The very next day my friend told me that one of her friends said to her, ‘I can’t picture Liz as a lawyer, she’s just soooo sweet.’ My friend quickly corrected her saying ‘she is, but don’t be fooled, she’ll take you down if you mess with her.’
While I found these back to back stories to be kinda funny, I wondered what the shareable message was. And which am I, sweet or fierce? Can I really be both simultaneously?
People don’t usually associate being gentle with being strong. And I get it. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if there’s really anything stronger than being gentle?
I used to think that to be a good person, a gentle person, I had to put up with everything, be nice no matter how I was treated, no matter how harmful the environment, no matter how unhappy I was inside. Now I know that in order for gentleness to be my true strength, I need to show it, and myself, the proper respect.
When I’m able to be gentle with others, I know I’m with my people, because I get to be me, at my best, at my most peaceful, at my most helpful, at my strongest.
When I’m with those who make my gentleness fade, who place me on guard, who make me abrasive, or who transform my being gentle into a self-inflicting wound, I know I’ve strayed off course. I am no longer with my people, I am no longer in a healthy environment, and I am no longer at my best.
I view gentleness as a barometer. Environments or people that don’t let it thrive get quickly avoided. Environments that allow it to flourish get indulged upon. But it took me years to respect my gentleness in this way.
Like most people, I haven’t always been surrounded by gentleness. And in many ways I’m grateful for that. Maybe you can never fully appreciate the power of something if you haven’t experienced it’s opposite. It’s because of this that I choose gentleness whenever possible, always knowing that fierceness has got my back if I need it.
One definition of “gentle” is being “free from harshness, sternness, or violence.” When people are harsh, stern or violent with others, they’re coming from a place of weakness. Weakness that leads them to try and control, manipulate, overpower, condescend, criticize, demean, etc.
When you’re gentle, authentically gentle, you’re not looking to gain power over someone or something, you’re just you, being you, at your best, at your happiest, your most helpful, your most supportive, your most giving, your most inspired.
I meet so many women who seem to find shame in their gentleness. Shame in their sweetness. And unfortunately many of them have developed their gentleness because they were treated harshly or felt like an outcast at some point in their life. And because their gentleness arose from something bad, it gets casted with the shadow of shame. They forget that gentleness was their choice.
It’s so easy to be harsh and mean, rash and cold, belittling and demeaning, dark and manipulative; in fact, there’s a laziness to it. It’s a lot harder to be kind; it takes more effort, more restraint, more consistency, more patience, more thoughtfulness, more determination, more soul.
There’s no shame in gentleness. Gentleness is beautiful, no matter how it arose, as long as it’s accompanied by self-respect. If you were treated wrongly by someone, that’s where the shame lies. The harshness was the disease, your gentleness is the cure, not the other way around. And it must include being gentle with yourself.
Being gentle doesn’t mean being a pushover, or a pansy, or a doormat. It doesn’t mean letting someone hurt you, manipulate you, control you, or push you around.
It means putting your best side forward, treating others with kindness, and using your unique strengths to help others. It means accessing all of your potential, all of your grace, all of your ability. It means tapping into your patience, your ability to forgive, your limitless supply of love. It means working hard to rule over your ego, instead of letting your ego rule over you.
Being gentle is a muscle that you have to strengthen, nurture and respect. It takes work, patience and discipline. But tone that muscle and you’ll learn to appreciate the depth of the strength it can provide.
Being gentle because you choose to be, because you’re in an environment that lets you thrive, because you trust and believe in yourself, that’s when gentleness is a true power.
Gentleness is a choice. A brave one. And in choosing gentleness, and respecting it, you are boldly accessing your most authentic strengths.
Have you often thought of your own gentleness as a strength or a weakness?