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Character Building - Gentleness

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

SAID a well-known man to his daughter: "My dear, I sometimes think that one of the most beautiful attributes one can possess is gentleness."

The phrase has often come to mind when we have heard the sharp or bitter speech, the unnecessarily harsh criticism. And in this day when criticism of almost everything is fashionable, one needs to lay especial stress on the beauty of gentleness.

Our girls preparing for college, and taking active part in athletics of various kinds, may perhaps be losing that sweet pity for the weak and suffering, that tender consideration of others, that every true woman should possess. The girl can study right alongside of her brothers, she can row a boat and toss a ball, can play tennis and golf, ride horseback, drive an automobile, and perhaps handle a gun gracefully and deftly; but can she be as gentle as her mother was at her age? If not, her education is being neglected.

From the time that she is a tiny, toddling child the daughter must learn tenderness and consideration for others. Show her helpless little animals, and teach her that to be rough to them is wrong. Cultivate the maternal side of her nature by giving her dolls to play with, and discourage her striking them and throwing them about the floor. Teach her not to destroy her toys; not to hit or kick her playthings, even in fun. She must feel as she outgrows babyhood that she belongs to the mother sex, the sex that the world depends upon for comfort, for pity, for compassion. Tell her of the self-sacrificing women, like Florence Nightingale, who have given up their lives to doing the gentle acts that have saved life. In this day there is little danger that our girls will not be in-dependent enough, or mentally strong enough; but there is danger that they may not be gentle enough. Let the mothers give this part of their training careful and personal attention.

But in training the girls one must not forget that the boys also need instruction, by precept and example, in gentleness. There is nothing finer than a large, robust man who is also gentle. Make the boys understand this. Tell them of great men like Abraham Lincoln, who, huge in stature and rugged in character, yet had the gentle heart of a little child. Point out to them how much the world needs boys and men of big, compassionate natures. Tell the little boy that he must give thoughtful and gentle care to his little sister, and to his mother, and that although he will get to be bigger and stronger year by year, the women he loves will always be physically weaker than he and will need his protection. Make him appreciate that for a strong person to tyrannize over one less strong is cowardly, and that a man is never closer to the divine than when he is fighting evil, protecting weakness, and relieving suffering.

Gentleness can also be taught to the very young boy through his love for and interest in animals. Show him that his dog is dependent upon him for food and care, and should be an object of his gentleness and affection. Talk to him of the evil of unkindness to dumb brutes, and enlist his sympathies for every creature in need. Some persons may suggest that this will make him unmanly, too tender. There is no danger of this, for contact with the world will develop only too surely the selfish and careless side of every man's and woman's nature. The seeds of gentleness must be carefully sown in pure soil, and prayerfully tended to make them grow and bear fruit all through life. Try to have your son grow up with the living knowledge that the strongest are the tenderest.

Another way to cultivate gentleness in judgment and thought is to encourage the habit of looking for the good in every human being with whom one comes in contact, and in being so kind that this good will be developed and the evil forgotten. An old rhyme tells us that

" Politeness is to do and say
The kindest thing in the kindest way."

The kindest way is the way we would want to be treated ourselves. Teach the child to form the habit of asking him-self, "Would I like to be spoken to or treated in that way?"

The rule of putting one's self in the place of another, and of doing as one would be done by, is the unfailing prescription for gentleness.

Interesting and simply told biographies of Florence Nightingale and Abraham Lincoln are in Volume IX. A number of the Nursery Rhymes in Volume I bear directly upon the subject; for instance, "I had a little pony," "My dear, do you know;" and "The Orphan's Song." Further on in the same volume are "The Violet" and "If Ever I See." Let the girls read chapter IV of "Odysseus" in Volume II, and learn about gentle Nausicaa; also "Simple Susan" in Volume III. Boys will like "Two Little Boys" and "Amendment" in Volume III. "Friskytoes" and "Miss Tabbycat's Adventures" in Volume IV inspire the right feeling toward animals. Older boys and girls will appreciate the stories of the lives of Robert E. Lee, Washington Irving, and Alice and Phoebe Cary in Volume IX. "Grown-ups" should find lessons in "The Inhumanities of Parents" and "How to Care for the Sick" in Volume X. Lastly, in Volume XI read again and again "Baby Bell," "If We Knew," "In School-Days," and become familiar with the beautiful poems in the division "Sorrow and Bereavement."

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