"How poor are they who have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"
--William Shakespeare, from "Othello"
We are an impatient people. In our hurry-up-and-get-it-done pace, which informs not only how we work and plan but also how we treat each other, we often hurry by what we have been looking for or give up too soon. Whether it is the misguided belief that time is money and shouldn't be wasted or the even more insidious and silent value that we should be able to change our life situation at our whim, our collective disrespect for both time and process in life is rampant.
On a macro level we see our impatience playing out in our government at least every two years. An impatient and anxiety-driven electorate creates political movements that are not based on rational, confident decision-making and long-term planning. Instead these movements appeal to the collective impatience and anxiety to be the leader. We expect instant results from our cumbersome political process, even if the problems they are challenged by were created over decades. Not surprisingly we swing between parties at an ever quickening pace, not allowing either one the chance to work together.
Our impatience fuels our failing personal relationships, as well. Most of us grow up with little education and value for the art and practice of a patient heart. Instead, our knee-jerk reactions to the anxiety we experience when our relationships falter is to give up on the challenges of intimacy before we really know what is next. Too often we don't wait, and in our haste to remove the discomfort, we dispense with our promises and relationships as though they are easily replaceable. We witness the deep repercussions of this false expendability within our family structures and even our connections to our community.
Looking around, it is easy to see the source of all this impatience. It begins in each of us, when our immediate gratification of our goals is thwarted or even just delayed; we leap to giving up instead of learning to wait. We seldom recognize the discouragement and failure we experience as a symptom of our own impatience. Our impatience with our own process and our intolerance of our own shortcomings multiplies in our personal relationships and as a part of the greater whole in our community and country.
The truth is that developing patience is an act of emotional generosity and a true measure of social maturity. When we allow others and ourselves the space and time for the process of learning to unfold, we agree to a life that can improve by degree. Patience is a form of continuous forgiveness, it offers the benefit of the doubt to ourselves, the people we care for, and the people we have trusted to lead us. By believing in the premise that we are all doing the best we can at any given moment, we accept a relationship with time that carries a wisdom greater than our own and are willing to let go of our own sense of timing.
Leanardo Da Vinci, one of the great innovators of the Western world, said this:
Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.
Long seen as the companion of wisdom, patience is the one character virtue of humanity that has a big enough platform to build all the others. We have to learn to wait; we have to be willing to stay with a process even when it doesn't immediately gratify us.
Adding the quiet power of patience to our relationships is a soothing balm that transforms them. The daily annoyances, the missed signals and miscommunication, the conflicting levels of desire and togetherness that characterize all long-term relationships become part of an ongoing process that has its peaks and valleys. We don't measure our relationship by the feelings we have at this moment, rather they become part of a process that has its own lessons and wisdom. We get to see what is beyond what feels impossible to us, because we have the heart to wait out our challenges.
This election day, make choices with a patient heart. Go home and offer the same wisdom to your family and friends. Start with yourself; give yourself the patience you deserve.