“The prudence of the best heads is often defeated by the tenderness of the best hearts” (Henry Fielding).
AMONG THE VIRTUES VALUED IN OUR AGE, TENDERHEARTEDNESS IS ONE OF THE MOST UNDERVALUED. In the minds of many, toughness is the key to success in the real world, and tenderness is seen more as a weakness than a strength. The truth is, however, tenderness can solve a much wider range of problems than its opposite. In the history of our world, the people who have exerted the greatest real power — power to build, rather than destroy — have always been people with tender hearts, hearts full of grace and kindness.
The word “tenderheartedness” can mean two different things, both of which are valuable. In modern usage, tenderheartedness often means compassion. It denotes that one is easily moved by another’s distress. In this sense, the person with a tender heart is one who can be touched by someone else’s suffering and is willing to respond with mercy. Surely, this is a prime virtue to include in our character.
But tenderheartedness can mean something else: it can mean that a person has a tender conscience. Unlike the individual who has allowed his conscience to become hard and insensitive, the tenderhearted person has a conscience that still works. When it is pointed out that he has erred, he is “touched” by that fact. His heart is still tender enough to feel genuine, healthy remorse for his failings. And like other kinds of tenderness, this tenderness of conscience is a potent force, a strength with impressive capabilities. It allows the person who possesses it to do something that the tough are rarely able to do: take steps of honest growth and personal improvement.
There are few gifts we can give to others that are more beneficial than tenderheartedness. Whether it is tenderness of compassion or tenderness of conscience, this is a quality that can do powerful, life-changing good. It can move mountains — mountains at which the “strong” can only curse. And one of the most remarkable things about it is that, while life lasts, it is never out of our reach. Even the hardest heart can become more tender if it’s willing to make that choice.
“When death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we regret, but our severity” (George Eliot).