Another Gentle Origin Story
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
I was talking to a fellow coach recently about my deep interest in how Gentle Men can bring a different sort of power to to the world, one which is more balanced and regenerative. As we discussed the topic, she asked if I knew the origins of the world "gentle". I had never looked it up. So I took that as homework. Here is what I found based on a quick internet search:
Middle English: from Old French gentil ‘high-born, noble’, from Latin gentilis ‘of the same clan’ (see gentile). The original sense was ‘nobly born’, hence ‘courteous, chivalrous’, later ‘mild, moderate in action or disposition’ (mid 16th century).
Hmmm... At first glance that sure doesn't seem like a path to a more distributed type of power in the world, at least not based on my understanding of nobles, royals, and monarchies.
But wait. What about 'of the same clan'? That suggests to me that being gentle is rooted in seeing others as people who are like us. And if we treat people who are like us like we want to be treated ourselves (hey - who let The Golden Rule in here???), then gentle starts to elicit the notion of balance and shared power. Of course, not all people of the same clan treat each other very well - I mean, hey, families... So maybe that's close but not quite there yet.
Looking at the latter term, 'mild, moderate in action or disposition', brings me to some of the research I've been doing on the subject. As I interview folks about the concept of "gentle men", it is common to hear them immediately respond with descriptors like "weak" or "effeminate" or "feeble". Once that sentiment comes out, there is generally a subsequent stream of words that include things like "caring", "compassionate", and "trustworthy". I think the order there is important. We have so many cultural biases about what a Man is, and the word "gentle" doesn't match that archetype. So I'm not going with that etymology, either.
Ok, how about we come back to 'noble'? Yeah, I know, I threw it out of the court up above. But here's another take that I think fits better. Recently I learned of a technique called the Noble Story. The link leads you to a fuller description. But in its essence it's a series of intentional actions one can take to generate empathy for another person. Importantly, it concludes with this instruction:
List the things that you want for the other as a person (i.e. as another human being in this world that is trying to do this work and live a happy life).
Whoa!!!! We're definitely getting somewhere with this! If being gentle is grounded in the word "noble", and the goal of using a "noble story" is to identify ways you can support another person in living a successful & happy life ... well, sign me up!!! I bet you want in on that, too, right? I mean, who wouldn't?
So what would it be like if men were consistently more gentle, in the name of building a more empathetic approach, one that recognizes others' emotions, emphasizes their belief in another's strengths, then aims to support someone else's happiness? I think it's the way forward.
I've used Noble Stories a few times recently in my leadership roles and it's really helped me change some old narratives that were keeping me stuck. Want to be more gentle, men? Try being 'noble'!