We may admire proofs of hardiness and assurance, but we involuntarily attach ourselves to simplicity and gentleness. Gentleness is like the silent influence of light, which gives color to all nature. It is far more powerful than loudness or force, and far more beautiful. It pushes its way silently and persistently, like the tiniest daffodil in Spring, which raises the clod and thrusts it aside by the simple persistence of growing.
It is to be feared that in this stirring age, when we enumerate the elements of success, that we do not lay stress enough on the milder virtues of simplicity and gentleness. While fond of applauding the hardier virtues of energy, self-reliance, perseverance, and others of a similar nature, we are in danger of losing sight of the fact that ofttimes an exhibition of gentleness and courtesy is not only extremely pleasing in itself, but is not infrequently one of the most expeditious and efficacious modes of advancing present interests.
It is singular what power gentleness and courtesy bestows on him who practices them. The most boisterous winds only cause the traveler to wrap his cloak the closer to him, while the gentle rays of the sun speedily induce him to discard it. And thus it is with many of the pursuits of life, where sheer force of intellect or intensity of application would ofttimes end only in a failure of plans and purposes, gentleness, by its silent but powerful influence, will not only excite a feeling of good will in the minds of others, but as oil removes friction from a machine and causes it to move smoothly, so will gentleness remove apparently insurmountable objects from the pathway of our success.
Gentleness belongs to virtue, and is to be carefully distinguished from the spirit of cowardice or the fawning assents of sycophants. It removes no just right from fear; it gives no important truth to flattery; it is, indeed, not only consistent with a firm mind, but it necessarily requires a manly spirit and a fixed principle in order to give it any real value. An able man shows his spirit by gentle words but resolute actions. How often experience convinces us that a bold and brazen loudness of tones and roughness of manner cover only a vacillating spirit and irresolute actions! And on the other hand, do not history and observation show that quietness and gentleness ofttimes mark the most determined of actions? The rarest bravery of all in the world is found actively engaged accompanied by an exhibition of gentleness. And ought we not so to expect it? The person moved by a spirit of gentleness throws all the energy of his nature into action. It is not allowed to waste in boisterousness, but is guided and directed in the most appropriate channels by an understanding calm and collected.
In the captain of a canal-boat we generally expect gruffness of manner, loudness of tones, and a general lack of refinement, dignity, and gentleness; but in the commander of an ocean steamer we shall always find the quietness, gentleness, and dignity that we all recognize as such a proper accompaniment of power. So true it is that gentleness of manner is the most appropriate and general expression of true greatness and worth that we use the expression “a gentle man” to express the highest type of worth in man.
In the mechanical world do we not always find that the greater the exhibition of power the steadier and quieter the movement becomes? It is the rickety engine of but few horse-powers that goes with a fizz and a clatter, while the massive engine that supplies the motive power for acres of machinery goes almost noiselessly; and the sublimest exhibition of power in the universe—the movement of the heavenly bodies—proceeds in absolute quiet. We observe the same effect in the moral world; the master minds who have moved kingdoms and swayed the thoughts of millions are uniformly gentle and dignified in their bearings. The loud-tongued and clatter-brained fanatics merely cause a movement, in their immediate vicinity.
There is a magic power in gentle words, the potency of which but few natures are so icy as to wholly resist. Would you have your home a cheerful, hallowed spot, within which may be found that happiness and peace which the world denies to its votaries? Let not loud, harsh words be uttered within its walls. Let only gentle, quiet actions there be found. Speak gently to the wearied husband, who, with anxious brow, returns from the perplexities of his daily avocations; and let him, in his turn, speak gently to the care-worn woman and wife, who, amid her never-ending round of little duties, finds rest and encouragement in the sympathy of him she loves. Speak gently to the wayward child. A pleasant smile and a word of kindness will often restore good humor and playfulness. Human nature is the same with it. It has its joys and sorrows as well as those of mature growth, and its little heart will quickly yield to the power of gentle, loving kindness.
Hearts of children are, after all, much like flowers; they remain open to the softly falling dew, but shut up in the violent downfalls of rain. Therefore, when you have occasion to rebuke children, be careful to do it with manifest kindness and gentleness. The effect will be incalculably better. Speak gently to the dependent who lightens your daily toil; kind words insure respect and affection, while the angry rebuke provokes impertinence and dislike. Speak gently to the aged ones; many are the trials through which they have passed, and now, in a little while, they will be missed from their accustomed places—the spirit will have passed to its rest. The remembrance of an unkind word will then bring with it a bitter sting. Speak gently to the erring one; are we not all weak and liable to err? Temptation, of which we can not judge, may have surrounded him. Harshness will drive him on the sinful way; gentleness may win him back to virtue.
True gentleness is founded on a sense of what we owe to Him who made us, and to the common nature of which we all share. It arises from reflection on our own failings and wants, and from just views of the condition and duty of man. It is native feelings, heightened and improved by principle. It is not deficient in a sense of true worth and dignity, but it recognizes in all men the possessors of infinite possibilities, even the possibilities of eternal life; and it treats them as brethren. It summons to its highest and best form of expression all that is noble in manhood, inspiring in purpose, grand in aim, and walks proudly therein; humbly, yet with an air of conscious dignity; quietly, yet with the insignia of power.
Since, then, true gentleness is thus significant of power, thus potential for good, and is the high and distinctive test of a gentleman, ought not all the young earnestly strive to learn that spirit of self-control, and accustom themselves to speak and act gently at all times, and, by so doing, to act as becomes a man and responsible being?
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