Yesterday (August 10) my wife and I attended a funeral for my uncle Marvin Byler, dad’s older brother. His unexpected passing leaves one remaining sibling from this original family of six boys. It became apparent during our celebration of uncle Marv’s life that his 89 years was marked by a true spirit of gentleness.
Aristotle defined gentleness as “halfway between excessive anger and indifference” a far cry from the self-debasing weakness that is often associated with this important quality in one’s character. Uncle Marv was described as a kind and amiable person who welcomed everyone and had a servant’s heart.
Today’s cynical and competitive workplaces would benefit from leaders who model gentleness. When a leader is willing to do the right thing, regardless of position or authority, it will surely be noticed and hopefully emulated. Uncle Marv’s family talked about how his gentle manner has influenced who they are as adults.
A story about George Washington illustrates what gentleness might look like in a corporate environment. It is said that while on a fox hunt with friends, the group passed through a field bordered by a stone wall. As the general’s horse jumped the wall it accidentally knocked off a stone. Washington immediately stopped, dismounted and replaced the dislodged stone. One of his friends chided him by saying, “You are too big a man to bother with that.” Washington gently replied, “No, I’m just the right size.”
It’s refreshing to realize that status and power doesn’t always equate with being too proud to perform more humble tasks. George Washington understood that and so did my uncle Marv. His family and friends shared many stories about how his kindness took the form of mowing lawn and tending flowers at church or welcoming everyone to Sunday morning worship.
This didn’t mean he never exercised discipline or showed courage. Some of his children recalled times when punishment was meted out for their disobedience. In the workplace, arrogance is no match for a gentle spirit. Just think of the many tyrants whose actions seem small in the face of love and kindness. The most hardened of hearts can be broken by gentleness in response to personal attacks.
The world is full of leaders who lie and cheat in order to exalt themselves. Their success may gain them some short-term advantages but it is persons like uncle Marv and George Washington who ultimately earn our trust and admiration. Their stature isn’t measured in terms of height or achievements, although they may still have both. We respect these leaders because a gentle spirit kept their ego at “just the right size.”