Virtues/Gentleness

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Introduction:[edit]

Gentleness is the virtue of doing your good with the least possible harm to others. [1] It is the decision to approach others from a stance of love—or at least benevolence—rather than indifference, or worse. Gentleness is courage without violence, strength without harshness, and love without anger. Gentleness is an inner peace that resists war, cruelty, brutality, aggressiveness, barbarism, coarseness, insult, violence, and other violations of another's sanctity.[2] Gentleness gains its strength from its steady and stable foundation. Gentleness is a constant strength born from serenity and patience that contrasts with the turmoil of outrage, wrath, vengeance, and violence.

At its core, gentleness is a way of thinking and behaving that respects the vulnerabilities inherent in ourselves and others, as it resolves to move forward and do good. It is actively responsive and protective, rather than adversarial, defensive, invasive, or passively submissive. When faced with abuse, gentleness asks ‘how may I respond with acceptance and caring in this situation?’ not ‘how can I hurt or destroy my enemy in the same way that my enemy hurts or destroys me?’[3]

Generosity keeps good company with other virtues, but remains distinct. Generosity seeks to do good while gentleness refuses to do harm, even in the name of being generous. Compassion seeks to reduce the suffering of others, gentleness refuses to cause suffering. When gentleness prevents suffering, it preempts the need for compassion.

Gentleness must not be confused with weakness. Although gentleness walks softly, it can also carry a big stick [4] as these examples illustrate. Employing non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for non-violence,[5] civil rights, and freedom across the world. More recently the nonviolent campaigns of Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia were able to achieve peace after a 14-year civil war. The 14th Dali Lama is a gentle person who guides us with his unwavering dedication to many peaceful social stances. Gentleness is not pacifism. Pacifism rejects the use of violence as a personal decision on moral or spiritual grounds. Gentleness pursues its mission with the least possible harm to others, but may selectively use violence to prevent greater violence. Peace is worth fighting for.

The Virtue of Gentleness[edit]

Gentleness is a virtue because harm is not. Gentleness is good because at its core it is the desire to promote the wellbeing of others.

For Aristotle, gentleness is the mean between irascibility and spinelessness. [6]

Everyday Gentleness[edit]

Practice the virtue of gentleness every day in these various ways:

  • Develop your empathy, your deep appreciation for another's situation and point of view
  • Learn to recognize violence in all its forms. Pause, reflect, reconsider, and find another way in every instance where you are tempted to use violence. Learn to “stare back” your thoughts of violence and choose a gentle and effective alternatives.
  • Respect and preserve the dignity of all people.
  • Learn to recognize feeling of hatred in all its forms. Pause and replace those thoughts with kindness. It may be helpful to focus on grateful thoughts as an inoculation against the hate.
  • Learn to summon your gentleness and enjoy inner peace at will. Master a technique such as square breathing, heart rhythm meditation, or centering that works best for you. Summon your gentleness to prevent inflicting harm.
  • Your daily practice of the virtues of generosity, compassion, mercy, gratitude, humility, and tolerance prepare you for gentleness.

Assignment[edit]

  • Decide you want to become more gentle.
  • Demonstrate your respect for others in every interaction.
  • Know what you can change and what you cannot. Develop the wisdom to know the difference
  • Complete the Wikiversity course on Transcending Conflict.
  • The next time you are provoked to act harshly pause, reflect, and either remain quiet and let it go, or reflect and create some gentle way to make progress. Practice deliberate restraint.
  • Complete the Wikiversity course on Dignity.
    • Respect and preserve the dignity of all people.
  • Learn to resolve conflict without resorting to coercion, and without abandoning your own goals.
  • The next time you encounter a conflict, resolve it effectively without coercion or inflicting harm.

References[edit]

  1. from Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567.  attributed to Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, p. 163
  2. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  3. The Natural Inclusionality of Gentleness By Alan Rayner, 2012.
  4. Paraphrasing the popular quotation attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.
  5. Some question if Gandhi is truly non-violent, citing maltreatment of his own body and the displacement of mill workers. See, for example, The Natural Inclusionality of Gentleness By Alan Rayner, 2012.
  6. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 

Further Reading[edit]

Students interested in learning more about gentleness may be interested in the following materials: