Common sense from Proverbs: A gentle way

Common sense from Proverbs: A gentle way

A Scripture study from Caring, part two of four.

Read part one here.

“Only kind people are truly tolerant. Only gentle people are truly strong.”—Cathy Burnham Martin

In any situation, we can respond two ways: with openness and acceptance or with condescension and disconnection. Often, it’s our tongue that gets us in trouble. A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare (Proverbs 15:1 NLT).

Have you ever noticed the way we speak to a child as an infant is much different than as a teenager? You rarely hear someone talk to a small baby in a loud, obnoxious tone but rather in soft, subdued and gentle tones. The response is delightful—a bubbly smile, subtle cooing and bright eyes that melt hearts. How in the world could you ever speak to a baby in a harsh manner?

Unfortunately, we eventually do. That little baby grows into a teenager—and those teenage years can erase romantic memories of the infant years. Of course, not all teenagers experience those common phases: rebellion, laziness, lack of focus and poor hygiene, to name a few. But for any teen, when you push them with harshness, you usually get resistance in return. No more cooing—that’s been replaced with a challenge to your authority.

Books on leadership have flooded the market in the past several decades deconstructing every imaginable style. Some leaders are driven by ambition, which can leave others drowning or tossed about in the wake they leave behind.

A harsh style of leadership might say: “My way or the highway.” Or, “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.” When we begin to consider people we work with or have the responsibility to guide as “tools” or a means to an end for personal gain, it’s dangerous. What may be framed as holy ambition is no more than selfish promotion.

Sometimes it’s all in the presentation. Yes, there is a time for firmness. The workplace is not a playground. Rules govern a safe working environment and goals encourage deadline markers are met and production stays on course.

Along the way, a leader might consider the following a guide:

Gentle words soothe.
Harsh words wound.
Gentle words convey warmth.
Harsh words kill the spirit.
Gentle words mend and heal.
Harsh words hurt and divide.

A harsh response doesn’t generate willing devotees. When you push in anger, you can only expect a passive response, at best, in return. At worst, hostility.

I will never forget the words that one of my employees had placed on her office wall, in plain sight for everyone to read: “Lord, please make my words sweet for someday I may have to eat them.” Personally, I have had to eat some of my words. That’s probably true of most of us—but we can prevent such situations with an eye toward gentleness.

A time to reflect

  • Meditate on Proverbs 15:1.
  • What is your leadership style?
  • Who are some of the role models who have affected your life?
  • What are a few “gentle answers” you could offer in a harsh situation?

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Lt. Colonel Tim Foley, Dr.

Lt. Colonel Dr. Tim Foley is the Divisional Leader for Officer Development in The Salvation Army Northwest Division.