Column: Thoughts on becoming a gentle man

He swaggered out of the Palace Bar, obviously pleased with himself.

He stood on the sidewalk, preening, flexed his overdeveloped muscles, made a couple of lewd comments to two passing, attractive women, looked around to see who was admiring his pose, then strutted down the street, adoringly validating his performance in each store window.

This self-absorbed young man had built his image and his body around the old-fashioned concept of hard and tough. And unless he is very lucky, he will probably go through life trying to maintain that fatuous affectation. He may never learn what real toughness is.

I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to that gentle, tender little boy who once resided in that man. I suspect the answer is that he was scared away by older boys, or ridiculed by the macho admonitions of cohorts who urged him to be a “real man,” or killed off by parents, bosses or others who wanted him to behave like their version of a hardened grown-up.

It may be too late for him to get in touch with that warm and sensitive part of himself that was such a joy for him and others to be with. The tender part of him likely oppressed under the tough, arrogant, pseudo-manly exterior.

And in his present posture I doubt that he will ever have the opportunity to appreciate the words of St. Francis: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing so gentle as real strength.”

Nor will he likely understand that his carefully contrived armor of toughness is not strength. He has coated himself with a hard protective shell, within which, I suspect, is hollowness. He has paid attention to the outer man and neglected the inner one.

What I must hope for him, however, is that he somehow learns that strong people are not necessarily the toughest, loudest or biggest. Those characteristics may qualify them to be bullies, but little more. A person’s strength is not worn on the outside but lives and moves within. Phony poses don’t represent toughness; it’s an inner quality.

Real strength can be soft, requiring the kind of toughness only a strong person can give. Real strength can’t be built in a gym or owned like a pair of boots. It is a quality, however, that can be unlocked. It is not something to be controlled, but guided.

Being gentle with one’s self and tender toward others is, perhaps, the most effective way of releasing one’s inner strength. It means, for a male, uncovering the soft, caring, sensitive warm power within that frees him to relate to himself in the fullness of his being. Using only half of his self—the self-defined macho elements—severely limits his emotional range.

Can this person develop a new set of values? He can if he realizes his life is out of proportion. He can if he understands that he will not be protected by his version of toughness, only by his humanity. In his present lifestyle his self-image will likely only relate to others who harbor the same self-concept which circumscribes his world to relatively few.

Perhaps he will learn that it will be his gentleness and tenderness that will make others want to be with him.

I hope he learns to become a gentle man.