Although we greatly appreciate gentleness in others, most of us do not work hard to develop the trait ourselves. Consequently, we fall into patterns of harshness, the antithesis of gentleness, which are subtle enough to escape detection by us when doing moral inventory. We're harsh in our attitude when, for example, we display pessimism. To be pessimistic is to look on the dark side first, to expect the worst of people and situations, and to dismiss redemptive possibilities. The cynic is also harsh. He eagerly attributes selfish or sinister motive to others and in doing so reveals his own bitter spirit.
Patterns of harshness also emerge in conversation, particularly in the form of sarcasm and destructive criticism. Sarcasm is an indirect verbal attack used by those who would rather not be forthright. This is a convenient offensive weapon because usually it's not recognized as such. When someone is praised for some good quality, one can simply snicker and say, "Yeah, right," registering disagreement but not so as to invite a reply. The sarcastic joker appears to play peacefully when actually he makes war. The critical person, too, speaks harshly, openly tearing down others in the attempt to make himself look better. But the payoff is brief and ultimately counterproductive. Although he feels a temporary sense of superiority, his critical spirit displays his weakness. He looks worse, not better, than his target of attack.
Open violence is the clearest form of harshness. Although Christians usually don't consider themselves to be participants in violence, this might be due more to a narrowness of moral vision than to a truly peace-seeking life. One need not directly injure other persons or damage their property to be guilty of violence. Unnecessary violence toward animals or other parts of nature are also instances of this vice. Since all of creation is God's and therefore owned and valued by him, we affront God when we unnecessarily harm an animal, destroy vegetation, or pollute the environment. Such acts sometimes are justifiable, of course, but they do need strong justification. The burden of proof is upon us to show that taking this animal's life or damaging that ecosystem is justified. When we destroy parts of nature, we must note that it's God's creation we're acting upon. As the Lord says, "Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine" (Ps. 50:10-11).
So the gentle person avoids harshness, cynicism, or violence, and is instead hopeful, forthright, and peaceful. To be hopeful is not necessarily to expect the best possible outcome in any given situation, but it is to think and behave in a way that maximizes the chances for a good outcome. Hope envisions and works for a worthy end, recognizing whatever obstacles may emerge and developing strategies to overcome them. Hope is the gentle, rather than the harsh, approach to life.
To be forthright is to be direct and honest. When disagreeing with someone or disapproving another's behavior, the gentle person either says nothing or speaks directly to that person about the matter. He doesn't take the halfway approach of sarcasm or resort to gossipy complaints, but addresses the matter in an honest and straightforward way. Such is the gentle approach to conflict.
The peaceful person promotes life and harmony among people and between humans, animals, and the rest of creation. Although not necessarily a pacifist, he opposes violence even in its subtler forms and eagerly seeks ways to bring about harmonious resolutions to conflicts. Such is the gentle way of life.