The topic line of this post sums up my question: What is “gentleness”? What isn’t it?
From what I have read, theologians both Catholic and Protestant appear to agree that “gentleness” involves a rational use of power of the stronger over the weaker.
This is a very well-constructed abstract definition of the concept which, granted, has much merit, but, as I say, it is abstract and must, for me, anyway, be demonstrated in its use in particular situations. However, I do not wish to take up your time here bye listing out this or that example, so I will at least hint at some by posing the following questions/points:
A key aspect of the definition of “gentleness” above is the presence of a stronger and a weaker party. So, then, we must ask what, precisely, does this strength of weakness entail? Is it as broad as it can be or are there some limitations to the definition? IF we apply it to moral strength vs. weakness…
What are we to make of satire, which seems to have been lauded by the Church(?) for some centuries now. (I touched on this subject, being a classicist and citing Horace and Juvenal as pre-Christian examples, in a previous recent post.) Satire, by its definition, is often quite harsh when dealing with moral “weakness”. I would hesitate to say, however, that, even in this spirit of “harshness” it is acting unlovingly toward its subjects. It almost chastises, albeit in a strong and pointed way, the moral weakness (but not necessarily the person behind it). Citing Christian examples even from Sacred Scripture, we can find Jesus (arguably?) often responding very harshly to the Pharisees’ attacks. Paul himself was (apparently?) even accused of excessive harshness in the chastisement of those under him as well as others (being called “unspiritual” for it, possibly alluding to the Spirit’s role in a gentle approach).
To apply this very particularly to my own situation: I have a significant visual impairment. As a result, many people with normal vision, either consciously or no, treat me as one far from their equal in ability/intellect/general dignity. This moral failing has always stirred in me (what I understand to be) a “righteous indignation”, not because I am under attack per se, but because ofthe principle behind the assumptions made about me and other visually imapired individuals. My responses (and that of other blind individuals) to such are often criticized as being “too harsh” and normally-sighted people often tell us to be more “gentle” to them. yes, I agree that some of us can be downright hateful and can attack normally-sighted people in unreasonable and ad hominem ways. However, I would argue that my response and that of many others does not attack the person but their “ableist” assumptions. When I respond, yes, I respond quite vehemently, attacking the misplaced assumptions with some force, while, at the same time, not being so harsh as to hate or malign the individuals behind them.
It would seem that even the Church Fathers could be quite harsh in their attacks both of moral and doctrinal failings. This not long ago used rather to bother me, but a closer reading, I think, often shows indignation toward the behavior rather than toward the individual committing it.
Finally, I would submit (for your approval ;)) the argument that one (the?) key to gentleness is evaluating (or at least attempting to evaluate) the way in which the moral offender relates to his/her sin. If we look at the points above, I think we see a common thread. If the person, for instance, bears some degree of ignorance in his/her commission, then a gentle approach must be taken based on the degree of his/her ignorance. If he/she is entirely ignorant on a point, than an entirely gentle approach must be taken with him/her on that point. If, however, he/she knows of the nature/gravity/etc. of his/her fault, a harsher/more direct approach is, at least, permissible and, at most, necessary(?). For instance, one could logically assume that most if not all of us even intuitively (“unconsciously”) understand that all men/women have equal dignity. Therefore, if we observe someone not being treated as such, we have the right(?) to respond with indignation. (Indeed, I would argue that such a response, which is “natural”, also “brings home” the point of our understanding of the seriousness with which we take an insult to human dignity.)
So, what do you guys think of the above analysis? Firstly and foremost, is it in line with any Church teaching on the subject? Secondly, would you agree or disagree with any or all of what I put forward? If you do, either way, please feel free to post a reply! Also, if you have anything to add/elaborate on, please feel free to do the same! Even if you ahve a completely different take on the nature of “gentleness”, go ahead and throw it my/our way!
Thanks to all.
P.S. I hope this post makes some sense. My posts are usually much more cogent than this, but I blame the late hour. (Literary/academic background making me feel guilty now. LOL)