Wednesday, March 5, 2014

On Gentleness

The Gentle Giant (I LOVE this piece. Picture and artist link here: Atomhawk)
Yesterday I posted on Facebook about John Travolta's faux pas at the Oscars and my reaction to people's intolerance for mistakes. If you haven't heard about it, he mispronounced Idina Menzel's name as Adele Dazeem. I saw the clip and it was pretty funny. No harm done, right?

What followed the Oscars was a hideous, ugly backlash from thousands of people. Lots and lots of nasty. Idina herself hugged him and wasn't worried about it. I read that he felt awful about the mistake. It seems our world hasn't much tolerance anymore, but waits with bared teeth and gaping maw to chew and spit out anyone who isn't perfect in its eyes.

Now, I'm fine with a little ribbing and some funny memes--I think that helps us process, and there is power in humor to help deal with a situation. I had to laugh at myself at girls' night last Friday for something I said accidentally that set my cheeks on fire! But to berate someone for doing something by accident, well, I just don't get that. I'm not like that. Or, I didn't think I was. 

When I go downstairs to the basement, I go through the kitchen door, through the freezing cold garage, then open another door to go to the stairs. Sometimes when my children catch me going through the door, they grab the handle to stop the door from shutting. 

I've told them several times not to do this. Both my shoulder muscles are slightly compromised, and I had to do a couple months of physical therapy to help my left one. It doesn't take much to strain, and one of the worst possible movements I can make is to have someone jerk either of those shoulders backwards.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was feeling a bit self-righteous that I wasn't doing that awful stuff so many were, I went to go downstairs. As I pulled the kitchen door shut behind me, my eight-year-old daughter grabbed the handle to stop me from closing it. 

It only took a millisecond for me to get upset. "What do you think you're doing?" Her blue eyes got rounder as I paraded through my tirade. "I've gone over this several times. You can't forget! This could really mess up my shoulder!" At this point I began having the strange experience of feeling like I was separated from myself, watching how I was acting. I continued lecturing in a stern voice, until I heard myself say, "Promise me that you will never forget this again!" 

At that instant, I realized how absolutely absurd I sounded. In that moment, I realized I was no better--actually, worse--than anyone who mocked a celebrity for forgetting someone's name. My daughter hadn't done it on purpose. She's an incredibly tenderhearted girl, and while I get frustrated with my children for forgetting things sometimes, she would never purposely do something to physically hurt me. I could have turned to shut the door in case someone forgot. I could have said something before I went out the door. Why was I taking this out on my sweet girl who forgot something just like I have done thousands of times myself?

She left to go to her room, and I stood there, sunken in the marsh of the words I'd dropped around us. My heart squeezed as a sick feeling plummeted to my toes. I hurried after her and apologized several times, then asked, "Will you try to remember not to grab the door when I'm closing it?" Such a different, non-accusatory question. She nodded, we hugged, she forgave me.

What I need, what she needed, what everyone in this human race needs is a soft place to fall when they make a mistake. When people do something by accident that hurts or upsets or offends another, most of them feel so terrible. There's no reason to pound each into the ground over it to make sure they understand the awfulness of their mistakes. Believe me, they know. The same goes for treating ourselves with gentleness. I spent too many years bashing myself for things I should have let go of. Gentleness. I must learn to be gentle with everyone, including myself.

So many times lately, the words come to my mind, "But for the grace of God, there go I." We never really, truly know what is in someone's heart. Can't we hold each other's hearts tenderly? Can we hold our own so? Are many of us so terrified of making our own mistakes that we are lightning quick to point and jeer and step on others as if that makes our accidents, our missteps somehow less significant? What if we were to gently reassure ourselves and others that it's all right to have made a mistake? To learn from it and move on? All too often, self-righteous indignation can get in the way and cause us to trample others' soft hearts or keep on bruising our own. 

I say this to myself as well as to the world: please, please, be a soft place for someone to fall. We never really know what is going on in someone's life and heart, even when we are living with them. It is an incredibly damaging sort of pride when we think ourselves lofty enough to pound the stakes of judgement into others' hearts. I can't tell you how many times I have said or done something incredibly stupid and hoped and wished for understanding and gentleness. One of the hardest things I am learning is to be gentle with myself. My husband has been telling me this for years, and you know, he's a really smart man. So I forgive myself for that incident with my daughter. I will hold myself more gently, and I hope that will help me treat others in a softer, kinder, more understanding way.

I leave you today with these two wonderful quotes:

"Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others." --William J.H. Boetcker (1873-1962)

"We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness." --Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)


Whovian Gran said...

So beautifully written and such a timely message.

Whovian Gran said...

So beautifully written and such a timely message.

Jessie Oliveros said...

This was a great post, Rebecca. I've had moments like your door-moment. Thanks for sharing.