In the comic strip, Animal Crackers, there was an elephant named Eugene who was not exactly in touch with the other animals. One installment showed Eugene actually standing on some poor helpless zebra. “What?” he responded, totally oblivious to the zebra underfoot. Lots of apparent strength, but no sensitivity.
Some people are like Eugene. They think that tenderness is a synonym for weakness. Perhaps that is what the author of one book on management had in mind. She suggested that the way to get ahead is to never let anything reach your heart. At least, never let anyone see that it does. Be ruthless! Be aloof! Be Eugene.
Tenderness makes us responsive to the pleasure or pain of another person. Therefore, we need tender hearts to have a healthy relationship with friends, spouse, or even our children. Why, then, do so many married people seem to live in mutual isolation? A chief cause is self-centredness. Self-centred people only care about what directly affects them. They detach themselves from everything else. In many marriages, that has become the normal condition. Normal, but not healthy.
Lose the tenderness in your marriage and one of you could try to find it with a stranger. It happens every day. People who cheat often say that all they wanted was someone who understood them.
So, am I saying that we all need to become emotionally sensitive? Not really. As I see it, developing a tender heart has little connection to our level of emotional sensitivity.
True, some people are more emotionally sensitive. I am 100 per cent man, but I cry at poignant moments in movies. Music, whether sung or played, can move me deeply. My heart swells when I hear my nation’s anthem. I can go into raptures about a sunrise, though I will see thousands of them in my lifetime. The song of a bird will stop me in my tracks. In short, I am a sensitive man.
Bob, my dentist and friend, appears insensitive to some people (if you ask him, he will admit it). But I remember the day Bob had a hard time getting my right lower jaw anaesthetised. It wasn’t pleasant for me or for him.
After many ineffective Novocain jabs, he said, “Mike, we need to find a new dentist for you. You’re my friend, and I don’t like to hurt my friends.” If you meet both of us, you would probably say that I am more tenderhearted, Bob less so. That would be wrong. You would be equating sensitivity with tenderness, when the two are not the same thing.
Some hypersensitive people have almost no true tenderness for others. Their sensitivity is all focused inwardly. They care little about who gets hurt, as long as it isn’t them.
Yesterday, we saw a couple at a coffee shop in the mall. The young lady was crying. Really crying. What impressed us was the young man. He sat quietly, listening to her, lightly resting his hand on her shoulder. Not once did he look or act like he wanted to be someplace else. He just focused on her and tried to understand.
We can learn from him. He was present. He was concerned. He was supportive. I do not know the rest of their story, but that episode was touching.
Try a little tenderness. The result will be a life of shared joys and sorrows, and no one will feel isolated.
Think, Act, Pray
Sam has had a great day at his job. He comes home bubbling with enthusiasm, eager to share his joy with his wife. She, however, hasn’t had such a great day. In fact, nothing has gone the way she had hoped. How does she respond? ‘Your day! Your success! Don’t you care how I feel?’ Not what he had hoped for, and the beginning of a long, cold night.
Later, he finds her sitting alone in their room, turned away from him, crying softly. What is his first thought? ‘Oh no! Not tears! Not now!.’ He doesn’t say anything, at least not with words. But his posture, his attitude, and his impatience reveal his irritation.
Without intentionally trying to do so, Sam and his wife have isolated each other, closed each other out, because neither of them responded with tenderness.
1. What are some better ways for Sam’s wife to respond to him when he comes home?
2. What are some better ways for Sam to respond to his wife when he finds her crying?
3. If they have a pattern of isolation and self-centeredness, what are some practical steps they may take to bring tenderness to their marriage?
4. Do you have an example of a way your spouse shows tenderness to you? How did it help you?
A Final Note
Remember the difference between sensitivity and tenderness. As I said, it’s easy to mistake them. As you will see in the next segment, sometimes people who seem to be tenderhearted are really overly sensitive.