In tough times, we look for strength. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fake strength out there. Fake strength has an undertone of anger and outrage and indignant certainty to it.
A colleague recently told a story of waking up early to clean out his inbox. In the dark of pre-dawn, he came across a couple of poorly written and thoughtlessly long emails from colleagues asking for review and action on a tight timeline.
“I was immediately enraged,” he said. He fired off a few nasty-grams in response.
On reflection, my friend realized that his anger was fear in disguise. He really felt powerless to keep up with the ever-growing mountain of work while juggling the responsibilities of his young family lurking just outside the door of his home office.
That’s anger and outrage for you. It’s often a cover for fear or sadness, for the unspoken realization of our limitations, our smallness. It’s a way to say to ourselves and the world, “I’m going to make sure you take me seriously!!!”
Anger can look strong. But it’s often weakness dressed in dramatic clothing.
Gentleness is real strength. Or as one of my mentors once said, “Gentleness is strength under control.”
Gentleness controls and directs the energy of anger into productive places. It acknowledges the underlying expectations we have about ourselves and others with a wink, because gentleness has a sense of humor. It helps us not take ourselves too seriously, to laugh at ourselves and the predicament we all find ourselves in. It doesn’t allow us to put ourselves too much at the center of our universe.
We don’t have to cling to the crutch of anger to feel strong during this crisis. We can exercise the powerful practice of gentleness.