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Jody Gastfriend Headshot

Patience is a Hard-Won Virtue

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A recent CNN headline proclaims, "Smartphones make us superhuman." The story goes on to cite the myriad ways in which handheld communication devices -- complete with multimedia recording and sharing capabilities -- have changed the world. Injustices have been revealed, revolutions abetted and routine chores simplified by modern phones, electronic tablets and notebook computers.

Generally, I agree with that assessment. I am increasingly enamored of "smart" devices and mobile technology. I love being able to reach my children anywhere, anytime (assuming they answer my calls). I love being able to accomplish real work from a doctor's waiting room or from my living room, and I love the guilty pleasure of looking up old beaus and classmates on social networking sites.

But the whole idea behind mobile technology is to make us more flexible, to make work easier and to make life more efficient. The point, as far as I'm concerned, is to relieve us of pressing demands and give us more time, and more ways, to relax and engage other people. Somehow, I'm not sure my fellow digital devotees have gotten the message. Consider how rabidly impatient people are these days. Watch the rolling eyes of a friend who's been put on hold. Walk through a bank lobby and check out the toe-tapping people waiting in line. Take a deep breath and notice -- really notice -- the drivers zipping around in traffic, only to land first at the stop light instead of second. We are increasingly hard-wired for instant responses to our needs and easily frustrated when we have to wait for anything. In short, we have become a nation of big, whiny, foot-stamping toddlers.

Granted, I live in a fast-paced city in the northeast where we have the ignominious reputation of having some of the worst drivers in the country. But I have friends around the U.S. who complain to me about escalating rudeness on the roads. Cars don't stop for pedestrians at crosswalks and drivers start honking milliseconds after a light turns green. Even in face-to-face meetings, attention spans short circuit and people openly check their email, Facebook and Twitter accounts when they should be engaged in conversation (or at least listening politely).

As a senior care professional and the daughter of two octogenarians, I think we can all learn more about patience from our aging parents and family members. At some point, you need to slow down and accept that you can't be as fast as Usain Bolt. The more time I spend with my folks, the more I am aware of the importance of patience. My mom walks a lot slower these days and I notice that I have to force myself to keep pace with her and not rush ahead. Sometimes she retells a story and I have to bite my tongue and not point this out. I coach family caregivers to have patience with their aging parents while at the same time, not sacrificing their own health and mental well being.

But patience has its own benefits, if we can just slow down enough to recognize them. When I walk slowly beside my mother, often she'll share an observation or a snippet of memory that I might not have heard if I'd been rushing ahead. When she retells a story, sometimes she adds details and richness that I missed the first time around. When I look in her eyes, I can see the wisdom that she still has to offer me.

As I age, I grow increasingly more appreciative of ways to enjoy the present as time races by. I recently had the pleasure of attending an event sponsored by the Family and Work Institute and hearing a presentation by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State and author of "Why Women Still Can't Have it All."

She spoke about the competing pulls at our time and our reactive tendency to respond immediately. "At the end of your life, will you regret not responding to emails or not spending time with your family?" she asked. As humans, it is so easy to squander the gift of time we get back in our lives thanks to technology. Being able to really cherish that time is the thing that makes us super humans.