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The strength of speaking gently

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After five years of public school teaching, I’m learning to appreciate these words from a hymn:

Speak gently, it is better far 
To rule by love than fear; 
Speak gently, let no harsh words mar 
The good we may do here. 
(David Bates, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 315).

Early on in my teaching, I expected my students to follow the rules I established. Whenever they didn’t, I would get offended and hand down a heavy punishment, usually delivered with a stern look and angry tone of voice. Often students walked away from talking with me and related to friends how I’d “yelled” at them, instead of reflecting on what could have been done differently.

It seems to me that if someone has all the power, often that individual wields it and annihilates resistance. Yet when I think of what I know about God in Christian Science, I am amazed that the all-powerful, all-wise God, is so gentle in His correction. 

My favorite poem of Mary Baker Eddy’s begins, “O gentle presence, peace and joy and power; / O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour” (Poems, p. 4). What a great example for those in the position of teaching, parenting, or management: They can practice a gentle, loving strength, which is what truly guides others to take actions that follow a higher and better path.

As a teacher, I’ve learned that whenever I need to give consequences, they should be such that allow students to think deeply about their actions, rather than about how angry they are with me for disciplining them. As a wise teacher once told me: “Discipline is more like a slow cooker than a microwave: you can’t just ‘zap’ a student’s behavior and expect it to change in minutes. It is the constant, patient work of adding the right ingredients and monitoring progress to end up with a satisfying result.”

To the degree that I have practiced being calm in disciplining students, I have found that most of them are responsive. At the end of the last school year, I even had students write to me saying, “Thank you for giving me consequences, they helped me learn the right way,” and “even though you were tough on us sometimes, we know it was because you wanted the best for us."

Similarly, there may be times when it feels like God is punishing us heavily, but that feeling is just our limited sense of the circumstances. In reality, God always wants only the best for each of us. One analogy for how God corrects humankind is seen in the process of purifying and refining gold. When gold is melted, sometimes dross or impurities appear. But the intense heat melts away the impurities, and then only the gold remains. 

As Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy described this analogy in her book Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896: “God is a consuming fire. He separates the dross from the gold, purifies the human character, through the furnace of affliction. Those who bear fruit He purgeth, that they may bear more fruit” (p. 151).

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