Try a Little Tenderness

When I have a chance to discuss with my cover designers what I’m looking for in an image, I start with tenderness. Tenderness is hard to capture visually, and probably doesn’t sell as many books as steam, hunkiness, or cowboy hats. I’m not backing down, though, because to me, tenderness is the essence of romance.

We choose to be both vulnerable and loving in tender moments, and if our honest emotions and courageous overtures are ridiculed or rejected, we’re devastated.  A little rejection in a tender moment lasts a lifetime. A little tenderness, when somebody is expecting ridicule or rejection, ALSO lasts a lifetime.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that Pope Francis has done a TED talk and declared that we need a revolution of tenderness. Tenderness, sayeth the Pope, is, “love that comes close and becomes real… it means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other…Tenderness is not weakness, it is fortitude.” .

The Pope and I share a priority, and to some extent a value. Imagine that. I’m a lapsed Catholic, and I can go to town full-lawyer-female-righteous about why, but the Venn diagram of Francis and Grace has a big area of overlap. Hmm.

I found myself quoting Mitch McConnell this week too, because he and I also agree about something. He put it this way: “We have term limits. They’re called elections.” In the context of a larger discussion (gerrymandering, campaign finance reform, FCC rules regarding campaign coverage), I cited McConnell’s reasoning. If we get dark money, gerrymandering, and a few other behemoth evils out of politics, the electorate will turf out the bad eggs, and keep in office the folks who are pulling their share of the load. It’s a theory, anyway.

The point is, I almost, sorta, yikes, agreed with somebody with whom I would have said, I have nothing–nuffink!–in common. Two somebodies–the Pope and Mitch McConnell. Mercury must be in retrograde.

Then I saw the Heineken commercial, which chronicles an experiment. Two strangers cooperate on a task, putting together an Ikea-style modular bar. Unbeknownst to them, they are paired up because they hold wildly opposing viewpoints on political issues. They learn this after they’ve built the bar, and then they’re given a choice: Walk out, or have a beer together. They find the courage and humility to have that beer and talk to each other.

Division, isolation, and separation make us weak and easily frightened. What struck me this week, though, is how my default mode has become to anticipate differences, to ignore areas of common ground. That is tiring and contrary to my values. I want to live more in the middle of my Venn diagrams, where I’m connected to other people, braver, and more open-hearted.

Have you ever been surprised to find common ground? Relieved to not have to keep your dukes up all the time? To one commenter, I’ll send an audiobook of Thomas, the latest Lonely Lord to hit the audiobook shelves.

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17 comments on “Try a Little Tenderness

  1. 1
    Susan Gorman says:

    I was surprised to have common ground with the folks at Celeste’s dog training class. The other class participants and I have nothing in common; opposite political views, social views, age except our desire to train our dogs. This desire has bonded our group together.

    After a 60 hour work week, I find that I need peace and quiet and time to recharge. Taking Celeste to class accomplishes many things. I get out and have time for myself, we train and I spend time with people I might not have chosen as friends. It’s nice to be me in class- I wear jeans, my corgi sweat shirts and sneakers-not my usual work uniform of slacks, sweater and scarf! And we accomplish a lot.

    Love the new covers!!

    • 1.1

      I’m the same way around horse people and cat people. If I find out somebody is nuts for kitties, all my shields come down (well, most of them). Same with the horses. If you’re horse people, we can be friends, regardless of almost anything else going on your life.

      And your comment about wearing your me-clothes is insightful. Sometimes, I’m really tired when I come home, and the pets are clamoring for attention (which means food), and the groceries have to be put away, and the wash, and the… and the…. I find if I make myself stop and change into play clothes, I get some energy back. As long as I drag around in court room attire, I drag the fatigue with me too.

  2. 2
    Beth says:

    I bagged Thomas at Audible under the pre-order! Yay! First time I’ve ever pre-ordered an audio book.

    A lifetime kicking around the globe taught me that we’re pretty much the same under all the labels and skin coverings. The angriest people lug huge hurts around with them. Amazing how many snarls vanish under a soft touch and a quiet, “I’m so sorry you’re having a miserable day. Is there anything I can do to help?”

    There are honest to God crazies out there you don’t want to mess with – terrorists and domestic abusers set on murder/suicide solutions spring to mind – but being open to the needs of others and a willingness to lend a hand is a primary sign of mental health to my mind. A lot of people go months without feeling the touch of a human hand. Watch them flinch when you stretch out a friendly hand. But get that first kind touch in and they melt like butter.

    • 2.1

      My former spouse once observed that though he could get really, really frustrated with people (usually for good reasons, from what I observed), if he touched them, a lot of his anger dissipated. He couldn’t hold onto his anger if he was physically connected to the person who’d pushed his buttons.
      I’ve wondered if that’s a brain thing–that you can’t be in attack mode if you’re hugging somebody, shaking their hand, patting their back. In any case, it echoes your observations, which strike me as wise.

  3. 3
    Teenie Marie says:

    I find if you talk about THE WEATHER in my Midwestern city, all can agree. Much like those Lords and Ladies back in Merry Ol’, the weather unites us and it’s a polite thing to talk about. It’s often miserable or crazy or….mild and lovely so whatcha gonna do over the weekend if the weather holds?

    I did a performance on Friday and in the Green Room, my singers and I began to talk about the various critters that were invading our various abodes…raccoons, squirrels and bats(!)…with another group. We sing classical music and they sing jazz…but we had those darn varmints and getting them out of our attics in common. And we had a lovely time together!

    • 3.1

      You remind me of the old Claude Bolling Suites, which were a lovely blend of classical AND jazz.
      Your choice of topic is timely, though. I made the acquaintance of the biggest old freight train of a black snake in my yard this week, and no, I am not keen on slithers. I think he wanted to inspect my foundation at close range, but I persuaded him otherwise. Will I be wearing shoes outside for the next ten years or what?

  4. 4
    Marianne says:

    “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~Plato

    We toured a mission church in California last year that was designated a Jubilee of Mercy church by Pope Francis. Our guide didn’t exactly know what it was all about, so she looked it up and asked the priests who were having a conference there.

    I am not Catholic, lapsed or otherwise, but I went, lit a candle and prayed for those I have a tough time forgiving.

    • 4.1

      I’ve always liked the idea of Jubilee years, and Jubilee generally. The basic concept is you get to hit reset on all accounts, rejoice together, and let go of old issues. A do-over that would come, for most people, only once in a lifetime, or a winning lottery ticket maybe. If you’re in the middle of a feud, it’s an automatic cease fire. Nice idea–and could make a good book concept.

  5. 5
    Pat Gribben says:

    A few years ago my husband and I moved to the Florida city where my daughter and her family live. We really knew no one else. About a year later I discovered that a local yarn shop also sold needlepoint, a long-time hobby of mine. Soon after, that section of the shop was sold to another owner and I found a community of stitchers. We are mostly of the same generation, but have little else in common except a love of stitching. We have different backgrounds, religions, and political views, but we leave these at the door when we enter the shop. We are a community of friends who share the joys and sorrows of our lives, help and encourage each other, and look out for each other. I am so happy to be a part of this community!

    • 5.1

      You are very much onto something. The benefits of needle-craft, and of crafts generally are social as well as physical and mental. Knitting can help you quit smoking, cope with eating disorders, and battle depression, for example. Making something beautiful is good for self-esteemn, and for most people, the repetitive movements, patient attentiveness, and soft textures help reduce cortisol levels.

      I think it’s like my former spouse’s observation about not being able to hang on to his anger if he was physically connected to someone. If you’re doing something you love, something that makes you feel happy and calm, the need to connect with others through conflict and power struggles just goes away.

  6. 6
    Mary T says:

    Many years ago, I was told by my boss that I would be moving to another office and working on a project with a gal I just didn’t think I would like at all. She was from a wealthy family. Her daddy was a VP of some big company. She was always going on about what clubs they belonged to and all the expensive status symbols she and her husband were going to acquire once he passed the bar and got the job her daddy was going to get for him. In short, she just seemed like a snob to me.

    But we started working together and it didn’t take long for me to realize she wasn’t really the pill she appeared to be. It was just how she was raised. She really was a decent person who had a good heart. And while we never became “besties” we ended up having a good time working together.

    It helps if you make an effort to look for the best in people.

    • 6.1

      I had a similar experience with a roommate. The first time I met her, she was having a hissy-fit about a recent hair cut. I thought her hair looked FINE, but then, I don’t own make up, don’t know how to use it, didn’t get my hair cut, and pretty much wore whatever was clean. She was raised to maximize her appearance, which simply did not compute to me.
      After a few weeks of living together, I realized that far from being vain, this woman carried unseen burdens, and didn’t realize how beautiful she was, inside and out. We become very good friends, and she saved my bacon any number of times when my daughter was little.
      Though she was always particular about her hair cuts…

  7. 7
    anne egger says:

    I have a couple of girlfriends who have different opinions about politics than I do.
    Because we love each other, we just don’t bring it up. We are free to vote as we wish, but it doesn’t affect our friendships.

    • 7.1

      I hope everybody has a few friends like that. When you can’t set aside your difference to enjoy an ice cream cone, when you only know people who sing the same songs you do, you’re missing out on a lot of lovely people.

  8. 8
    Elaine says:

    Grace, This blog post really moved me. Thank you for touching my heart and espousing values that are important.

    Elaine

    • 8.1

      Elaine, thank you. I’ve become aware recently, how tiring it is to always have my dukes up. Life is not a courtroom, and nobody appointed me prosecutor at large. Then too, I hope my identity and values are strong enough that I can admit to areas of agreement even when they surprise me. It’s no fun being an island all the time.

  9. 9
    Larisa says:

    Thanks for the pep talk Grace.