‘A Revolution of Tenderness’

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Photo by Richter Maganhildi

It felt aptly timed the other day when I read about an interview Pope Francis had done with a Catholic weekly magazine. In it, he noted the cruelty and atrocities in the world and called for a “revolution of tenderness.”

I read it and then mulled it.

A revolution of tenderness.

Revolution and tenderness. Together.

A gorgeous conceptual and semantic coupling appearing on my Facebook feed in the thick of an ongoing, active crime scene in San Bernardino, Calif. More shooting of people who went to work and thought they were going about a pretty routine day, who may or may not have said “I love you” to their spouses that morning, who had never begun their Christmas shopping, or who had put off something they always dreamed of doing. Gone.

And then, well, America doesn’t disappoint. People on the edge of their seats waiting for a suspect’s name, skin color, ethnicity, some sort of something to seize upon to make it about their agenda. Memes calling for more guns. Memes calling for less guns. More pointed pleas to pray, sure, but with an addendum: how about doing something, too?

To the folks asking the latter, I’m listening. Please, tell me. What can I do to help? Because we’ve created a reality where even the whiff of a suggestion to reduce guns is going to cause a violent uprising that makes these mass shootings look like a cakewalk. What is the realistic solution? I don’t think there is one. We’ve already passed our tipping point. We are overwhelmingly a nation gripped by fear and paranoia. Plus, our police forces are on edge, the many brave under scrutiny due to the actions of their rogue brothers.

So maybe the answer to my question about how to help is to go back to the Pope’s words. I can wage a revolution of tenderness in my little corner of the world. The citizens armed to the teeth can wall themselves in and lay in wait for the unhinged or head to the supermarket packing heat and, hey, maybe I’ll be eternally grateful one day because they’ll take out some guy pointing a weapon at me.

But my choice? I’m suiting up for that tenderness revolution. I already know what that looks like. And I don’t give a flying fig who thinks it’s schmaltzy.

A few days ago I was thinking about Christmas and the holiday season as a whole and what it means. In the ebb and flow of a freelance lifestyle, it’s often necessary to take stock around the concept of giving. I’ve learned that just because some years we have to scale back the dollars doesn’t mean we have to scale back the giving. How about the giving of one’s self in friendship or support? You know, showing up for people. Not being the person that withholds.

I wish I could say I don’t need occasional reminders of this, but I do. It took me a long time to get it in the first place. We often underestimate what our presence means and could mean to others. What a game-changer a phone call can be. Lending an ear. Making someone feel seen. Encouraging their new venture. Attending their performance or exhibit. Buying them a cup of coffee.

That’s tenderness, isn’t it? Yes. All of it ticks the tenderness box.

This kind of revolution isn’t always easy. Part of it is about dialing down our rhetoric, however well intended. I am as guilty as anyone of reflexive sarcasm about another’s beliefs or keeping some at arm’s length. I have seen and heard comments from people I love that send chills up my spine; I’m sure it goes both ways. More than ever these situations call for tenderness. It feels impossible sometimes with our world views so vastly different, but it’s essential that we keep up the effort. The way a prickly person is often most in need of a hug when it’s counter to how we’re feeling in that moment, our prickly times call for a kindness that we frequently have to reach for in ourselves.

A revolution of tenderness is doable. It’s worth a try. I’m in.

The mass shootings aren’t stopping any time soon.

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