Gentle is also a verb. One can gentle a horse, calming it with soothing words. One can ennoble persons, raising them to the gentry, as Shakespeare alludes to in King Henry V:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
For he that sheds his blood with me today shall be my brother;
Be he ne'er so vile, this day will gentle his condition....

Traffic engineers can gentle the flow of cars on a busy street by adding curves, removing chokepoints, and tricking drivers via optical illusions into moderating their pace. We have all experienced the opposite phenomenon to gentling: the disruptive wrench-in-the-works person who adds to stress, who exacerbates a situation.

Cardinal Newman in his "Definition of a Gentleman" (1852; see [1]) discusses how a graceful human may remove barriers to the free action of others, how such a person may give aid invisibly where needed, and how a "gentleman" may respect and honor institutions (such as religions) even while not sharing in them. That spirit of gentleness, of actively gentling one's environment, is worth pondering.

When trapped on a highway at rush hour, try an experiment: instead of mindlessly tracking the motions of the car ahead, deliberately gentle its accelerations. Speed up a bit more slowly, letting the gap in front grow like money in a bank. Decelerate more slowly, applying the brakes delicately. One's own trip time may be unchanged --- but consider what happens to the cars behind. They see a smoother traffic pattern, with less stop-and-go and more continuous motion. If enough other drivers follow suit, the gentling effect propagates --- and a traffic jam changes phase to become a fast, efficient flow again.

Now, ask the important questions:

Can we begin now?

Friday, May 07, 1999 at 22:15:34 (EDT) = 1999-05-07

TopicSociety - TopicScience - TopicLife

(correlates: CrispinCrispian, Periodic Tables, JustLayers, ...)