Fondazione Zoé

Tenderness is often seen as special quality in the relationship between man and woman.

prof. Carmelo Vigna

Physical tenderness helps us to understand spiritual tenderness, but the opposite is also true. Indeed, spiritual tenderness does not tend to exist without becoming physical. The spirit and the flesh, in humans, are permanently and inevitably linked. Every division between them results in, and is the source of, pathologies, of the soul and the body. Because of this, we must often watch children to understand our role as adults. We must learn to be receptive – tender (therefore tense) – like children.

Precisely because it alludes to an ability to receive others, tenderness finds its natural expression in personal relations. In nature, bodies often relate according to an alternation in their own space. If a tree grows and is strong it makes space for itself, a less powerful tree has to retract or might even disappear. If a wild animal arrives in the desert, a weaker one hides. But no one thinks of tenderness in these cases. Simply because we spontaneously link the image of tenderness with stepping back which is willing or tendential. If we use the word in the natural world (as we do when we say wood is tender or soft to cut), it is only figuratively. It is as though we are attributing subjectivity to nature and natural events.

Tenderness is often seen as special quality in the relationship between man and woman. Not tenderness of the body, but also of the soul because every relationship between couples comes from a desire to receive, with their differences, another and this implies a necessary stepping back. Reciprocally, of course. Two people can meet only in this way, or imposing oneself on the other and offering oneself unconditionally in order to help them find peace. That is to say, practicing tenderness. The opposite, which is imposing oneself forcefully, means trying to have power over them and make them submit. But no one resigns themselves to a link of dependence which has been forced upon them, unless it is necessary. And if they realise it is, they will do everything they can to free themselves as quickly as possible. Toughness can only link us superficially. It can link bodies, but not free spirit.

Tenderness between two people is expressed in many ways, but “caresses” seems the most simple and immediate way. Tender is indeed currently said of people who embrace. One understands the other and offers an appropriate gesture which is dear to them. One is tender if they deal with another’s being as a thing of love, in many ways including body language. A hand which caresses, exactly because it means a body of love, is a hand which moves towards the body of another. It touches it as though to announce itself, but also moves away. It leaves to leave the other to be. No love seems greater than a mother or father for their children.

For tenderness to be this way, it is not necessarily erotic. It can be any object of love. We have all experimented and continue to experiment with love that is independent of eroticization of others’ bodies and sexuality. Love comes in the most varied and surprising forms. Maternal or paternal love seems the fullest form of love.

But then there is brotherly love to be taken into account, which is another thing entirely , and tenderness of children towards their ageing parents. At this point it is the children who step back and the parents move in with their needs. They need protection and care, especially if they lack autonomy. They need, in their final moments, to be accompanied to their deaths. The most extreme points of tenderness and the announcement of birth, but also more mutedly death. If birth invited parents to receive their child, death invites children to remember their bonds. On the other hand, when something unmentionable happens around us, we can only receive it. Indeed, we use the verb the same for birth and death.



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