Tenderness In “You” and “Us”

“Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.” -Pope Francis

Last week, “Ted Talks,” the popular platform for spreading inventive, revolutionary ideas, had a surprising guest speaker. World-leaders in areas such as science, politics, business, or global issues customarily provide the guest speeches, but this day, Pope Francis addressed the crowd from the Vatican via videoconference to encourage a “Revolution of Tenderness.” I’m sure just reading the word “pope” summons many emotions for each and every reader. They are positive emotions for many, but for many others, that word and position is likely tied to some negativity. I would ask you to set aside any prejudices and, whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, other, or undecided, to stop reading this blog right now, click on this link, and watch Pope Francis’s speech. It is one that transcends religious denomination and speaks to the commonality of love within the human soul.

Back? Great!

In case you didn’t have the fifteen minutes to watch the speech but still want to finish reading my blog (not the best choice if you ask me), I’ve summarized some of the more pertinent quotes as they relate to my own reflection.

“As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: ‘why them and not me?'”

“How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic, and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, people, and countries.”

“When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being? In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage, and we need creativity.”

“Love does require a creative, concrete, and ingenious attitude. Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The “you” is always a real presence, a person to take care of.”

At this point in the speech, I was pretty galvanized. What Pope Francis was saying made sense. There is so much anger and hatred in our daily discourse, whether it is on television or even creeping into our individual interactions. Surely, if others, like me, could recognize this issue, the world would start to become a better place! (Notice how my pride snuck in there? Keep reading.)

To sum this all up, Pope Francis referenced the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). “The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of today’s humanity,” Pope Francis said. “People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people.”

Then, he discussed the two influential people, the priest and the Levite, who saw the discarded man − beaten, bloodied, and left on the side of the road − and walked right by. These people, who were so influential and important, saw the suffering of this man, and they did nothing. They are the cowards, the hypocrites, the villains of the story, and at this point, I was feeling pretty rotten because I realized I was them.

Only a week ago, I was on vacation in New Orleans with friends, and I saw a man lay down in the middle of the sidewalk. Our hotel was close to a bad part of town, so I was cautious whenever I walked anywhere (as I’m sure the priest and Levite were on a road littered with robbers). I could see this man from my hotel window, and he lay there for quite some time. I left my hotel to go to a convenient store, and I walked right by him. I could see this face of the other. He was young, probably in his early twenties. I don’t know why he was laying on the sidewalk, but seeing him up close, I did not think he was doing well. Of course, I said a silent prayer for him as I passed, but don’t you think the priest and the Levite did the same for the man beaten and left by robbers?

What’s worse was that I walked right by him again on my way back from the convenient store, and this time I was carrying water. The least I could do was leave a bottle for when he woke up. The thought crossed my mind, and I wanted to, but I did not. I made plenty of excuses in my mind, “I don’t want to inconvenience my friends who are walking with me. What if the man wakes up and is crazy? I could endanger my friends’ lives and mine. What if the man is fine and just doesn’t want to be bothered?”

All excuses. I walked by and did nothing.

“And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves ‘respectable,’ of not taking care of others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road,” Pope Francis said.

My heart sunk as I realized I was one of those “respectable” people. It was not that I didn’t feel for this man. I did not lack good intentions for him, but I lacked the concrete language of love that Pope Francis explains. I lacked the strength and courage to have the tenderness necessary to help this man. Pope Francis quoted Mother Teresa, who said, “one cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.” I either lacked the fortitude or the will to love that man at my own expense. Despite the fact that it just as easily could have been me and not him down on that sidewalk and despite seeing the face of “the other,” in that moment, solidarity was not my default attitude. I was part of the problem, and for that, I beg for pardon.

If each and every one of you think long and hard, I imagine you could recall a time in which you could have been more concrete in how you loved another. Remembering these failures should not overwhelm us with guilt and shame, but rather, a heart of contrition. We all come up short in one way or another. Rather than obsessing with the past, we should bring these failures to God and to each other, and ask forgiveness, which the Lord’s Prayer tells us He will grant, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

As importantly, we should learn from these failures, so that we can approach the future with a heart of hope and solidarity. Pray that we can become a people of tenderness, because as Pope Francis said, “a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you.”

Pray that you are that individual. Pray that your neighbor is, too. Pray that I am, and I will pray that all of you are. Let’s pray for a world with hope for the future, and tenderness and humility in the present.

“The future of mankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the futures is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.'”

One thought on “Tenderness In “You” and “Us”

  1. Anita says:

    Wow! Pope Francis is truly an amazing man. How can you not love him and all that he stands for?
    Will, thank you for sharing this TED talk and for sharing yourself with us. I, too, often feel the guilt and I must ask for forgiveness for all the times I have failed to be loving, kind and giving. The times I knew what I should have done but failed to answer HIS call. I have asked myself many times, “Why is it someone else out there sick or homeless and why not me?” Or said, “That could be me, but for the Grace of God it isn’t.” I know I need to put myself out there, to step out beyond my my comfort zone, but why is it so hard to take that first step?

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