Do you remember Aesop’s fable about the contest between the sun and the wind? They were arguing about who was stronger. They saw a man walking along the road and agreed that whoever could get the coat off his back was strongest. The wind blew hard and long and cold, but this did not move the coat off the man. In fact, it made him draw the garment even tighter around his body. Then, it was the sun’s turn. It shone so brightly and warmly that the man soaked in its rays and was inspired to remove his coat. The moral of the story has to do with gentleness as a force in change.
The weather of this past weekend brought this parable to mind. The wind and rain were very strong on Friday, and particularly so in the open spaces. When I needed to travel across the campus, I pulled the collar of my coat up around my neck, plunged my hands deeply into the pockets, and tried to bury myself in my covering as I made myself a smaller target for the wind. And so, I thought of the parable and wondered about the sun.
On these cold and windy days, there are few people outside. Those who are outside are traveling from some sheltered place to another. No groups are standing around talking; no one is sitting on the benches; no students are throwing a Frisbee on the Great Lawn. The campus is barren and—almost literally—lifeless. With the addition of a few extra degrees, however, and a lessening of the blustery forces, everything changes. T-shirt and shorts make a quick comeback, benches get filled and games erupt on the fields. With a little sun, life returns.
As I said, my experience revived the fable in my thinking. I have been reflecting on how potent gentleness can be and needs to be in relationships and decision-making. It promotes collaboration and conversion; it makes room for dialogue and disagreement. In the current time, I recognize the need for gentleness in my life. I see the benefits in opening up my mind and heart to other ideas and persons. That which had seemed so distant and distasteful becomes, at least, understandable. Taking an aggressive and unyielding position on subjects only places roadblocks in the way of cooperation and progress.
Gentleness is one of the ways in which I would ordinarily interpret the Vincentian virtue of “meekness.” I find it easier to encourage myself to be gentler rather than meeker. As Paul finishes up his letter to the Philippians, he tells them: “Your gentleness should be known to all” (Phil 4:5). Amen.