Whether we’ve been told to toughen up because we’re too sensitive, or that we’re heartless and insensitive, the question of what makes a man or woman gentle, is one worthy of reflection. While I believe we are in the process of change, up until now, we appear to have mistaken gentleness for weakness; seen sensitivity as something to be ridiculed or denied expression. But they are two very different things! Gentleness takes strength! Without gentleness, being strong risks devolving into force or ‘power over’ others and ourselves, particularly over our feelings.
The ability to respond to what’s going on inside ourselves, and to notice what’s happening with others, have a considerable impact on the harmony and success of our relationships. Sensitivity allows us to appreciate not only the people in our lives but some of life’s finest – and least expensive – gifts, whether through our physical senses or our inner sense.
A sensitive person knows when something feels right or not; sees behaviours like bullying and harassment, taunting and abuse, for what they are and doesn’t excuse, justify, or dismiss the behaviour, or the pain it causes themselves or others. Being tuned in to what you are feeling, and responding to yourself with loving kindness, while not necessarily automatic, may ultimately be what makes us stronger.
Without being sensitive to our own feelings, which might simply be a matter of allowing for and being with them, how could we expect ourselves to be sensitive to the feelings of others?
Like everything, sensitivity has both light and shade. There’s no denying that many people find the world a painful, confusing, or isolating place. And in traumatic situations or when sadness, loss, disappointment or anger feel overwhelming, any of us could shut down our feelings, don the mask of bravado or adopt our great Aussie mantra of “She’ll be right mate!”, to survive. What’s important is that eventually we come out of hiding and re-connect with the joy of life!
It takes persistent courage and strength to stand firm in your belief in the rightness of treating yourself and others with empathy; a quality we are meant to be taught as children and one which is often missing in someone who bullies others.
Self-restraint and self-discipline; some of our most finely-honed qualities, allow us to be gentle and are not the domain of the weak. They begin with an unwavering belief in the goodness of humanity, undaunted by the actions of the few who would have us question it.
The person who is conscious of the futility of causing harm to another knows that when we stand on the ‘battlefield’, we are all equals in our capacity to lose what is most precious to us… if not our lives, then our aliveness and our connection with others and the essence of ourselves.
As we transform our idea of sensitivity and gentleness from weakness to strength, it enhances our relationship with our own inner barometer to benefit ourselves and all of our most important relationships for life.
Inner Sense No. 31 | September 2012 – updated June 2019