Monday, March 12, 2012

The Courage to Be Tender

“Shall I tell you what you have that other men don’t have, and that will make the future? It’s the courage of your own tenderness. “

What a beautiful phrase. The courage to be tender. This from D.H. Lawrence’s durable masterpiece, Lady Chatterly’s Lover in a dialogue between the lady and her lover (Chapter 28 for those curious). But the phrase applies equally to relationships with children. We all know how to scold children, to shout at them from the soccer sidelines, to threaten or praise them so they’ll get good grades, but where is the collective effort and courage to be tender with them? I imagine there is an etymological connection between “tender” and “tending,” as in tending to their inmost needs, paying attention to who they are and when they need a loving strictness or a courageous tenderness.

Lawrence’s passage continues:

"…and he realized that this was the thing, to come into tender touch without losing his pride, his dignity, his integrity as a man. 'I stand for the touch of bodily awareness between human beings,” he said to himself. 'And it is a battle against the money and the machine and the insentient ideal monkeyishness of the world. ' ”

Bodily awareness between human beings. Not a popular concept in the culture of litigation where our most necessary human impulses are reduced to the fear of our most depraved behaviors. “Since some people have touched inappropriately and harmfully, we shall banish all touch to solve the problem. And thereby create a new kind of depravity— the neglect of our most biological and human need.” And so to pay Paul, we not only rob Peter, but leave him hurt, in pain, isolated, alone, on the ground without any comforting touch. We make all touch suspicious and thus, lose our capacity to be touched by the world.

“It’s touch we’re afraid of. We’re only half-conscious and half alive. We’ve got to come alive and aware. Especially the English have got to get into touch with one another, a bit delicate and a bit tender. It’s our crying need.”

As an Englishman, he knew what he was talking about. All of this was written in 1928 and though on one level, our public attitudes toward the body and sex, “the closest of all touch,” would probably shock Lawrence himself, our Puritan inheritance of distrust of the body lives on, now in the form of teachers being advised “don’t touch children.”

And yet, of course we do. And the more tender and the more constant and the more loving and the more playful and the more affectionate, the healthier and more robust and more happy and more loved our children become. So when the lawyers come to the University education class to advise the next generation of teachers to never touch children, I suggest that the students hold their hands and give them a back rub while they talk. Teach them about our crying need and give them the courage to be tender.

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