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Try a Little Tenderness

Why? Because it goes against the grain, or seems to. Because we’re worried that, if we do, we’ll turn into mush, and everyone else will. We think of tenderness as having a very limited application. We certainly don’t think of it as a potential solution to the world’s ills, or our own.

But I’ve been thrown into tenderness, kicking and screaming. I’ve found it comforting and utterly ruthless. It spares nothing, loves everything. Transcends all my careful boundaries.

Without tenderness I cannot find the courage to face myself. I cannot hold my ground. I need to hide. I am afraid.

I think it’s the same out there in the world, the macro reflects the micro. We cannot have peace out there until the seed of tenderness is planted right here, inside.

This is also the thing we find hardest. We can more readily turn tenderness outwards before we can bask in it ourselves. The trouble is, it’s not sustainable if you’re not the fount. Sooner or later your bleak self-disdain consumes your intention.

My friend is one of the most intelligent people I know. She uses her head. If she had her way she would silence her heart completely. She’s very much afraid of kindness, she worries that it will corrupt the spine of intention, blur clarity, turn us deaf, dumb and blind.

I try to tell her that you can’t see clearly with just the mind. You miss things. The mind can be a tyrant. It won’t let you see anything that it has no ready explanation for. It owns the concepts, owns the language, and guards them jealously. Nothing that doesn’t dovetail perfectly with it’s prevailing worldview can even get through to raise questions.

Tenderness is subtle and audaciously simple. I’m not talking about Hallmark ‘tenderness’, no rouge hearts, no glib protestations. Tenderness is not noisy. It shies away from showy display. Tenderness pitches up wherever there is silence. And there isn’t much of that. We all blindly stampede away from the tenderness that floats to the surface of stillness. Technology occupies us when we’re stationary and we have all sorts of streaming paraphernalia to fill our world with random noise while we’re on the move. The mobile phone rings as regularly and as often as a pulse, wireless is everywhere.

Then, from the epicenter of the clamor, we grasp desperately for imposters. 'Bye, love you'. So many phone calls ending in this conflation of casual with the profound, as though we might summon love through sheer repetition. Then, the implication when it goes unsaid, that it has left the room. But real love has no need to protest itself, no need to persistently proclaim itself into being. So all this broadcasting of sentiment replaces the real thing and we wonder why a sense of emptiness persists.

When we reach inside for the capacity to love, to be tender, we find nothing but clumsy imitation.

We haven’t stopped to feel grace, mercy and tenderness. We have no idea what they are or how to spread them around. Desire rises in the void and runs rampant inside us. We want this, we want that, we don’t know what we want, but we want.

Stop. Just stop. Even for a moment. Practice stopping. We cannot change anything until we see clearly. Seeing takes courage. Tenderness is soft and hard, cuddly and muscular. It is the surgeon’s knife that cuts to save. Tenderness gives us the courage to see. What’s real is not for the fainthearted. When we see clearly, solutions appear. I am warped and wounded but I know this is true.

So please, just sssshhhh….just for a moment. Let some tenderness in, and let's get healed.


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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