Dec
13
2011

Gentleness (Greek, prautes; Antonym: injurious and destructive evil)

Most everyone struggles with being gentle in some way or other. It can sometimes be really hard after a long day to find words that are calming and kind, especially with those with whom we are closest. In these moments, it can be as simple as the tone or the look that we give that conveys harshness and distance.  In terms of the Greek word prautes, which we translate as gentleness, it is a very difficult word to define because there isn’t a word like it in the English language. The best word to use isn’t actually the word gentleness, but rather the word meekness. However, the problem is that we rarely use this word today in our regular conversations, and therefore, the meaning is lost to us today. Can you remember when the last time you used the word meek—probably never!

An expression we might use for gentleness or meekness is ‘strength under control.’ St. Francis de Sales wrote it another way: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” The Greek writer Aristotle often used the word prautes in his writings and used many words to describe its meaning. As you will read below, you need lots of words and phrases to describe this unique Greek word. Here is Aristotle’s description:“The ability to bear reproaches and slights with moderation, and not to embark on revenge quickly, and not to be easily provoked to anger, but to be free from bitterness and contentiousness, having tranquillity and stability in the spirit.” (On Virtues and Vices) Again, as you can see, it can not always be easy to define the word meek or gentle.

The writers in the New Testament always used this word to exemplify a genuine consideration for others. It’s the person who has a disposition that is even-tempered and calm, especially when they have been mistreated. The person who possesses this quality can easily forgive someone who has wronged them in some way, and at the same time, they know how to manage their emotions well. I like how the theologian William Barclay described the gentle person—“he will err on the side of forgiveness rather than on the side of anger.”

However, gentleness does not mean that when you are being calm in a difficult situation that you can’t ever get angry. Again, Aristotle offers some clues with respect to this; when it applies to anger and gentleness, it is  “on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.” (Nicomachean Ethics)  Again, gentleness is ‘strength under control,’ and sometimes we use this trait in difficult circumstances. It’s when someone confronts you in an injustice manner, and instead of staying silent, you become prautes. It’s when you have been overlooked for some reason and instead of hiding, you face the situation with prautes. It’s when  you see someone being verbally attacked and you enter the circumstance with prautes. As author and professor, Leo Buscaglia wrote some years ago, “Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”  Gentleness does not necessarily mean that you should remain silent in a trying circumstance; in some instances, you must move into the hurtful situation and gently correct or change what has been done to you or to someone else.

Questions you can ask yourself: how gentle are you especially when someone has upset you or “it just isn’t your day?” When you are in an argument, do you use harsh or gentle words? With this, while you may be passionate about a given issue, how controlled are you when you speak? In respect to your emotions, how even-tempered are you? Do you control your emotions or do they control you? How considerate are you of others and their sensitivities and feelings, or are you a raging bull in a china shop with others? When you face a difficult situation do you typically counter with hurtful words or do you remain silent and hide from the obvious problems? In what ways do you need to learn how to use prautes to enter arguments and problems in your relationships? What do you need to change in your life to become a gentle person?


In: Spiritual Formation
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