I’m learning to be fiercely gentle, like Pippi Longstocking

When did being gentle become weak and boring? With our world’s stay-tough mentality, we’ve forgotten something fierce about this little word.

Knsy Knsy | Getty Images

Somewhere along the lines we’ve lost gentleness. Gentleness in manners and gentleness as a word.

First,let’s talk about the word itself. It’s been a while since I heard anyone saying that someone is “gentle,” at least in any kind of a flattering way. (Few and far between, you might hear the phrase “gentle soul,” but it can feel a little condescending depending on the context.) I have, however, seen the word used in terms of a laxative, a laundry detergent, and a dermatological dermabrasion procedure. The first impression when you see it on a bottle like this is two-fold: It shouldn’t hurt, but it won’t be as effective either.

And a quick search for synonyms on thesaurus.com doesn’t yield much better associations: docile, mushy, bland … not great. Actually, pretty pathetic. No wonder people don’t want to be labeled as gentle.

WE RECOMMEND: These 10 words comfort Chris Pratt when he’s homesick

Maybe that’s because we are so often told we need to fight: for our rights, ideas, emotions, our place in life. Instead of conversations, many of us engage in word battles, instead of exchanging views, many exchange blows. Rather than admit that we are beautifully different, sometimes it feels like people just want to dance on the enemy’s grave. (Especially given our heated political climate of late.) The internet is echoing loudly with the idea of: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. What about ‘Turn the other cheek?’ Or maybe even just the word ‘forgive’? Nope. Not likely these days.

Gentleness gets bad PR

Today, being strong and incisive are seen as positive traits, while gentleness is most often associated with weakness. But this association is a mistake because gentleness is strength. One has to have quite a strong character not to just explode with anger every time something upsetting happens, or, say, Uncle Billy says something insensitive on your Facebook wall. This doesn’t mean you need to loose face, you can stick firmly to your opinion, but with respect for the other person in the conversation. Just because we must love our neighbors, doesn’t mean we have to like them all. But strong opinions that are conveyed through quiet words are probably even more effective. In this case, I might say being gentle could be another name for having class?. Or maybe even imply nerves of steel.

Gentleness has no gender

Or at least it shouldn’t. It doesn’t need to be an exclusively feminine trait. Gentleness doesn’t have to have doe-eyes or even a cute dimple in the cheek. It can go hand in hand with firmness and consequence. A gentle woman, just as a gentle man, says “yes” or “no” when he or she feels like it. Gentleness stands its ground, because it knows why it is being offered: It engages the deeper certainty underneath the surface of any words or actions. But it does not harm or humiliate anyone by it.

WE RECOMMEND: The secret ways he says ‘I love you.’

Gentleness also goes together with love and respect, but does not allow itself to be run over. Lack of wish for revenge or retaliation does not mean giving up the fight for justice, that is what “turning the other cheek” means. It’s all in how we go about it.

We can be fiercely gentle

I’m thinking of Pippi Longstocking, the uncouth redhead, and the happiest girl in the world. By her lack of humility and total disdain for the conventions of the adult world, Pippi became an icon of non-conformism. In that sense, we all (at least sometimes) would like be be like her. Who doesn’t yearn to get out of the boxes life puts us in? Who doesn’t want to throw their papers off the desk, or to deny some silly social convention or another?

Oh, yes, Pippi was sometimes impudent, and she was also very strong physically, magically, because well … it’s a fiction after all. But she never ever, hurt anyone, and she always protected the weak. Those were the only moments when she got angry and used her strength. She was not aggressive; she was gentle, even though this is probably the last word that comes to mind when we think of her.

WE RECOMMEND: 3 things science says never to do when you’re angry

A pity, because contrary to the conventions, gentleness understood as the kindness and love which “is patient, is kind, is not lifted up with pride, does not boast, does not rejoice from injustice,” as opposed to being a wimp, would be very good for us all.

Joanna Kiszkis
Joanna Kiszkis
Anna is an art historian living in western Poland. She is a spokeswoman for the Capitol Musical Theater and a Song Festival. She likes silence, rain, dictionaries, illustrated weeklies (and so on, as in the poem "Polish Flowers" by Julian Tuwim).

Leave a comment: