When I was getting my education degree, my instructor who taught classroom management was famous for saying, “You need to be firm but gentle.”
Saint Benedict says something similar in chapter 64 of his Rule. He says that a prioress “in administering correction should act prudently and not go to excess, lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust she break the vessel” (64:12) and she should “remember love as she sees best for each individual” (64:14).
You don’t have to be a teacher, a parent, or the prioress of a monastery to have to deal with difficult situations or difficult personalities. Tough situations and conversations are a part of everyday life, and in these times we know the importance of being both firm and gentle. Being gentle is important to show respect for the other, yet we need to stand firm to show respect for ourselves and for the needs of the situation.
In those times when it is not easy to be firm but gentle, we can look to Jesus. Yes, Jesus was humble and gentle. But that was not all. He also could be assertive and firm when he needed to be. The great saint of charity, Vincent de Paul, often encouraged his followers to have “the spirit of Our Lord, who was equally gentle and firm.” I think that is good advice for us all.
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”
~ St. Francis de Sales