Monday, April 15, 2013

On Being Gentle...

In an earlier post, I wrote about not being a bully. This post is about the flip side of that topic. It’s about being gentle.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was raised to be both a gentleman and a gentle man. Based on my memories of childhood, my mom had a head start on the latter of those two.

Even when I was little, I had a pretty gentle nature, even compared to other kids of my age. Please bear in mind that I’m not saying this in a self-congratulatory way. It’s simply an accurate description of my temperament. Consider these examples:
In preschool, I refused to play Red Rover Red Rover. If you are unfamiliar with the game, here are the rules, per Wikipedia:
The game is played between two lines of players, usually around thirty feet apart. The game starts when the first team (usually called the "East" or "West" team, although this does not relate to the actual relative location of the teams) calls out, "Red rover, red rover, send [name of player on opposite team] right over." or "Red Rover, Red Rover, let [name of player of opposing team] come over." or "Red rover, red rover, we call [name of player on opposite team] over."
The immediate goal for the person called is to run to the other line and break the "East" team's chain (formed by the linking of hands). If the person called fails to break the chain, this player joins the "East" team. However, if the player successfully breaks the chain, this player may select either of the two "links" broken by the successful run, and take them to join the "West" team. The "West" team then calls out "Red rover" for a player on the "East" team, and play continues.
Why did I refuse to play? The game seemed too violent and I was concerned that someone might get hurt. None of my classmates nor my teacher shared my concerns, so the game proceeded without me.

Another example... I had quite a collection of toy soldiers when I was a child. My father was heavily into military history and wargaming, so he made sure I had battalions of historically accurate toy troops to play with. Among my collection were a few cavalry units. However, I wouldn’t use these when playing war. Why? I didn’t even want to pretend that the horses were fighting since that would mean pretending they got hurt or killed.

(Some may wonder why I didn’t care about pretending the humans got hurt or killed. I think it’s because I had already figured out on some level that there was something wrong about animals being enlisted to fight human wars, a position I still hold.)

This gentle side did not mean I was (or am) an oversensitive wilting flower. After all, I was learning the basics of swordplay from my father before I was even in first grade. I loved peaceful books such as Winne-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows, but also bloodier stuff like The Hobbit and Greek mythology.

Bourne side.
This basic dualism persists to this day. In many ways the same sensitive boy I always have been, enjoying such peaceful habits as listening to classical music, going to art museums, reading, and relaxing with my cats. Yet I also practice pretty brutal martial arts (despite hating violence) and enjoy watching a good action movie once in awhile.

Cat Lady side.
(Regarding the cats/martial arts thing... A friend of mine has referred to me as a cross between Jason Bourne and a Crazy Cat Lady. I can’t argue with that assessment.)

Is this duality paradoxical or inconsistent? I don’t necessarily think so. Take for instance my martial arts training. Despite the fact I am punching people, choking them, and hitting them with a stick two or three times I week, I still think of myself as essentially gentle. How so? Because I don’t do what I do simply for the sake of doing it. Martial arts without both a moral and defense aspect would have no appeal to me whatsoever. As I’ve written before, I train to hurt people because I hate to see people get hurt.

In a way, I feel that my martial arts and fitness training provides a sort of armor for my true sensitive side. It’s a bit hard to explain. Essentially, I feel the freedom to be as gentle as I want to be because I am capable of being NOT gentle if I have to be.

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