If I called you soft, what would be your immediate reaction?
Does it make you want to break out in hives?
Of the many values I was expected or encouraged to live up to (and into) in our household and extended community, softness was simply not on the list. Unless it was related to relinquishing something dear to me to someone deemed less fortunate – but even then, ‘soft’ was not the ideal. Soft, was expertly hidden under ‘being reasonable,’ ‘doing the right thing’ or the ‘be kind’ that goes with ‘not being selfish.’
In our culture, we tend to be rewarded for being resilient, strong, determined, edgy, and hard.
Don’t be so soft. Toughen up. Or you won’t make it in the real world.
Soft, was for girls. Not leaders. Sadly ironic, that I would reject the word soft then, given that I happen to be female. Soft was an adjective delivered at best with sympathy or pity, at worst with scorn and ridicule. Soft people didn’t succeed. Wouldn’t make it to the top. Were pushovers and doormats. Soft boys didn’t have grit, determination, courage, guts – or, consequently, sex appeal. And soft girls well… were, you know, girls. Giggly, silly and soft. Insubstantial and inconsequential.
And so, for as long as I can remember I (along with much of the rest of the world) have made soft intrinsically ‘bad,’ wrong and undesirable. An insult that brings up disdain and the shrinking sensation of shame. And spent many years proving I was tough, resilient, could go the distance, stay the course and back down from nothing.
I decided to look up synonyms for soft and I found: flimsy, fluffy, impressible, malleable, feathery, moldable and yielding. Personal interpretations I have heard include: indefinable, undistinguishable, fuzzy, untrustworthy, unproductive, unprofessional, incompetent, too feminine, too girly
In short – resolutely not powerful.
Undesirable for a female because if she wants to lead, she needs to be assertive (but not aggressive), directive (but not bossy), know how to white knuckle it and forge through. And undesirable for a male because it’s too female. Softness has had no honorable place in the male by default (leadership) world we live in, where anything seen as inherently female is worth… less.
Soft…the perfect adjective for stuffed toys, puppies, elderly women’s and babies’ skin. Definitely not leadership.
Or is it?
In a world that is currently coming apart at the seams (and offering so much opportunity to transform at the same time), leading from heart – from love, compassion, courage, and softness is precisely what’s missing in order to bring communities, organisations and humanity back into balance and thrive.
Contrary to what we’ve been conditioned to believe, the opposite of soft is not strong. Soft and strong can both coexist in the same space, like water for example. As Lao Tzu astutely noted,
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. Water is both soft and strong.”
So is wind Lao Tzu. Indeed, the opposite of soft is not strong. The opposite of soft is rigid, coarse, inflexible, intolerant, uncompassionate, stiff, unbending and unadaptable. Traits that perfectly describe dictatorships and extreme régimes, racism, homophobia, transphobia, abuse, greed, hate, savagery … and all other sorts of human rights abuses and dysfunctions.
Is this the real world I needed to learn to survive and lead in? Unacceptable.
To overcome and transform this, we will need to expand our repertoire of desirable leadership qualities to include more socially defined feminine traits like compassion, softness, empathy, and care.
To access the fierce compassion and courage which is found in the heart – not the mind – you have to soften your edges.
Softening our edges is what actually gives us our edge! Not to mention access to all of our humanity.
Given the dehumanization that results from excessive hardness and an over reliance on resilience in inherently dysfunctional environments, I’ve decided to go soft!
Really? Me? Soft? Hell yeah, all the way!
Caution! Soft edge!
Now I have the strength to proudly own it as positive feedback.
What about you?
Sending Love to your Wild Spirit,