One of my favorite stories as a child was “The North Wind and the Sun” from Aesop’s Fables. The story goes that the north wind and the sun were debating between themselves about who was stronger. As they argued “with much heat and bluster,” they see a man walking across a field. They decide whoever is able to strip the man of his coat is stronger. The north wind goes first. His large gusts of wind almost knock the man over, but all his cold air accomplishes is to make the man grip his coat harder. Then it’s the sun’s turn. He steps forth from behind the clouds and radiates his warmth. The man is so comforted and relaxed by the sun’s rays that he takes off his coat and lies down under a tree. The lesson of the story is that gentleness is stronger than force.
In some ways, we all need to take the story of the north wind and the sun to heart. We live and breathe in a world that tells us that it’s okay to use force. We’re often told that the way forward for change in this world is to strong arm people. Both in person and on social media, I see folks spewing hate at each other for having different opinions on politics, race, gender, family, and religion, as if that’s going to get someone to change their mind and see a different perspective. I see metaphorical walls erected between Black, Brown, and White Christians because so many of them think they’re right and they have no problem alienating someone else for their “wrong” perspective. Our sad human inclination is to use violence in our words, to knock people over with shame, in the belief that that will convince them to change.
But, if I can be completely honest, I’m tired of people thinking the path to change (whether racial change or otherwise) is through force. When was the last time you were humiliated and thought, “Yes, what that person is saying to me is right. I need to change”? When was the last time you were metaphorically knocked over and then changed what you were doing? Our hearts and our minds don’t usually work that way.
As my friend and fellow (in)courage contributor Lucretia Berry once said, “Shame is not a teacher.” In fact, shame is like the north wind in the story from Aesop’s Fables. When we make people feel small and verbally hurt them, it only makes people want to retreat and to stop trying to work toward change. They pull their coats tighter to their chests, resisting our efforts. That’s not the effect we want to have on people. Rather, what people need, what we all need, are warm rays of love and kindness and a gentle invitation to a better way.
When I see our world today, I see a world in need of gentleness. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s also a characteristic that’s mentioned throughout the whole Bible. For example, Colossians 4:5-6 writes, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” And Proverbs 16:24 states, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
This verse from Proverbs is a verse that we recite often in our home. We want our kids to know the power of their words and how gentle words will always be more inviting and more loving than a harsh rebuke. Gentle language, after all, is the model of Jesus. I think about how many times He walks up to strangers and calls them “brother” or “sister.” Jesus goes to the people on the margins of society and has meals in their homes. He befriends people, treating them like family, and lovingly invites them with His words into a better way — His way.
One of Jesus’ gentle approaches to people was asking questions. Instead of rebuking the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asks her a series of questions to help her reflect on her life and come to the conclusion that she needs him. When the religious authorities of the day came to fight with Jesus, He didn’t shout a three-point argument back at them. Jesus was calm, gentle, and asked simple questions to redirect the conversation and get to the heart of what really mattered.
Asking questions, instead of just trying to teach and correct people, is one way we can express gentleness like Jesus. Questions are a helpful way to get people to reflect on their words and the impact of their views. Perhaps in a moment that we really disagree with someone, we can pause, pray, and then respond with something like, “Oh wow, that’s interesting. Tell me more about that” or “I’d like to better understand how you arrived at that conclusion. Can you share more?” There is an art to asking questions so that the other person doesn’t feel attacked or insulted as well as giving space to truly listen to their perspective as well.
Affirming a person first before asking a question goes a long way too. We need to affirm the good in someone, even if it’s the good-gone-wrong, and paint a vision for them of the best they can be. Let’s challenge ourselves to be gentle like Jesus and to radiate His warm, loving rays. When a heated debate arises, let’s watch our facial expressions, the way we hold our bodies, and the words and tone we use. May we treat the people we engage with with love, dignity, and gentleness. If we want to create change in this world, let’s pursue that change gently. Gentleness is what will empower people to pursue healthy, collaborative change for the future.Leave a Comment