Gentleness

Some virtues are prized by pretty well all societies and cultures. Courage, for example. Perseverance. Gentleness – not so much. In fact, it is prone to being considered a weakness. Even in cultures that do place a value on gentleness, it’s often only valued in certain people – women and girls, for the most part. With guys, the word “gentle” is generally only used when followed by the word “giant” – it seems that it’s ok to be gentle only as long as you’re huge enough that everyone knows it’s a choice.

Jumbo and Matthew ScottThis is wrong on two levels. First, the idea that it’s good to not be gentle. This suggests that it is good to be the opposite of gentle: aggressive, harsh and demanding; strident. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single person I like, admire or respect who demonstrates those qualities. The second mistake is to think that gentleness is the same thing as weakness – the puny of this world making a virtue of necessity.

Gentleness and its twin, meekness, though often mistaken for weakness, can only exist in the presence of strength, whether strength of muscles, mind, heart, voice or anything else. Meekness is strength not wielded. The weak cannot be gentle, only feeble. Those who don’t possess any strength don’t need to be gentle, because they can’t do any damage if they try. It is the strong who must be gentle with the weak, not vice versa.

Of course, there is more than one kind of strength. A person whose body is weak, but whose tongue is a weapon of mass destruction is not gentle, regardless of how feeble they present themselves as being. A coward is not truly gentle, because they don’t have the guts to be anything else: there is no strength which they are holding in check.

Kober Anna Jagiellon as a widow (detail) 01
Gentleness is not weakness. It is a form of strength. “€œOh! that gentleness! how far more potent is it than force!” wrote Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre. Of course, like so many virtues, it can be misused – the above quote comes from the passage where (spoilers!) St. John Rivers is attempting to persuade (one might almost say blackmail) Jane into marrying him – not because he loves her, but because he thinks she’ll be useful. (It was this that earned him a spot on the list of People I’d Like to Smack Upside the Head.)

But Jane is both gentle and indomitable – the two are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. Like Fanny Price, Jane would face down an army if she had to. Gentleness is not weakness. It may not push its agenda with force, but that doesn’t mean it will give way, either. Gentleness can charmingly, politely, say no – and keep saying it. “Now for the hitch in Jane’s character,” Rochester says when she won’t give way to him. “Now for vexation, and exasperation, and endless trouble!” She is gentle, but inexorable, and she carries her point. As he himself points out, he could kill her – he has the strength for it – but he can’t make her do what he wants. And fortunately for her, his love for her makes him keep his strength in check: it gentles him.

P422bGentleness doesn’t always get you what you want, though – if it did, it would just be a means of manipulating others. A gentle answer proverbially deflects anger, “but in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death,” Denethor warns his unloved second son. ‘”So be it,” said Faramir.’

That is the essence of gentleness: doing what you believe to be right with every courtesy and consideration towards others. Gentleness is a difficult opponent to beat, because it won’t fight. It is true that gentleness can be repaid with violence, or even death, but the antagonist will always be seen to be in the wrong. And the gentle will not yield.

 

The Artist's Way: A Sense of Catching Up

Covering July: a Sense of Connection, August: a Sense of Strength, and September: a Sense of Compassion.
Lightly covering – a crisp linen sheet, say, rather than a fat and puffy quilt.

July revealed such gems as “I believe I am getting better at socks” (knitting them, not the Pratchett kind) and “I feel more possible” (although the Caped Gooseberry assures me I am not only possible, but actual – I think my meaning may have escaped him).
Also “As a kid, we never had enough: books” (whether you can have enough books is debatable; our perceived lack drove me to read encyclopaedias and Agatha Christie at the age of six, so it’s not all bad).

Reading the encyclopedia

August asked me to complete this sentence: In a perfect world I would secretly love to be a…
All right, there’s not much secret about it, but I want to be a full-time writer.
In five years’ time, I’d like to be writing full time with one novel published and two plays produced.
What can I do now to help make that happen?
Write hard on Mondays. Make the most of morning spaces. Get to bed on time.

I was also invited to select a role model. The three women who sprang to mind are not only among my favourite writers (international women of mystery) but are also all three writers who balanced novels and the theatre in some way or another: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers.

mystery of marie roget set

The one woman who sprang to mind whom I most certainly do not wish to take for my pattern is P.D. James – at least having a DDJ until reaching retirement age. In the areas of literary achievement, faith and perseverance (not to mention the life peerage) I’d be most happy to follow her example.

Also, if I was a colour, I’d be russet: colour of earth and blood, rich cloth and poor, and the bindings of old books. The colour of autumn leaves, the colour of rust.

September brought an insight – I should stop calling myself lazy. I wrote “you may be scared, self-doubting and self-flagellating, feeling tired, heartsick and guilty – but you are not lazy.”

Procrastination isn’t the result of laziness, Cameron says. It’s the result of fear.  “Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all.” (p.152)

There's no fear in love.

Another insight: “Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment…” (p.153).

Much like marriage: you can’t stay in the same emotional state for 50 years, you need commitment. But commitment shouldn’t be replaced by discipline (hug two three! kiss two three!) because discipline isn’t rooted in love – except perhaps in love with how wonderfully disciplined we are!

The trick is to find our enthusiasm for the task at hand – and how to find it quickly in the pre-dawn dark when getting out of the nice warm bed seems like a particularly sadistic rebirthing technique.

As always, your wisdom welcomed! Or witty folly (better a witty fool than a foolish wit) – we’re not fussy here!

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