One of the great tragedies of life is unfulfilled potential. The world could have had, and should have had, many more police and pilots, engineers and entertainers, composers and chefs, doctors and diplomats, mechanics and masseurs, linguists and librarians, geologists and graphic artists, translators and therapists, nurses and navigators, welders and writers, as well as men and women working in many other occupations. Too often, what could have been, never came about. Although there are many reasons for this, one of the major causes of failure is the inability to persist in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
If only they had persevered. If only they had refused to give up. If only they had the self-discipline to forge on despite the obstacles that were strewn on the road to success. If only they had the PATIENCE to continue. As we prepare for a New Year, let’s not abandon our dreams and resolutions because of impatience. Rather, let’s have the clarity of mind to understand that it takes time for seeds to germinate, plants to grow, and crops to be harvested. Let’s also consider these words of Og Mandino:
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. With patience you can bear up under any adversity and survive any defeat. With patience you can control your destiny and have what you will. Patience is the key to contentment, for you and for those who must live with you. To be brave without patience can kill you. To be ambitious without patience can destroy the most promising of careers. Patience is power. Employ it to stiffen your spirit, sweeten your temper, stifle your anger, bury your envy, subdue your pride, bridle your tongue, restrain your hands, and deliver you whole, in due time, to the life you deserve.”
Sometimes the words we use confuse and mislead us. For example, we talk about ‘LOSING patience’ or not being able to ‘FIND the patience’ to deal with a situation. Don’t get deceived into believing that patience can be lost or found. It is not a commodity. It is a decision. It is a decision to wait. It is a decision to hold on to our dream despite any delays we may have to put up with. Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon was a French Naturalist, so he understood that it takes time for nature to develop her plans. Armed with that insight, he offered this sound advice, “Never think that God’s delays are God’s denials. Hold on; Hold fast; Hold out. Patience is genius.”
Before we leave the subject of ‘holding on,’ I’d like to share this Pueblo Indian Prayer:
Hold on to what is good
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
Even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life
Even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand
Even if I’ve gone away from you.
Patience is not only genius, it is power. Small tasks repeatedly done lead to major accomplishments. Consider the termites of Zambia, for instance. After eating sand, these insects patiently deposit it on the ground, climb onto the deposit and add another layer. Bit by bit, they add layers, until an ‘ant hill’ is formed that is up to twenty feet tall and fifty feet in diameter. Yet, the stunning achievements of African termites are dwarfed by the incredible potential that lives within YOU. No wonder the Greek Poet Hesiod wrote, “If you should put even a little on a little and should do this often, soon this would become big.” Another way in which patience is power is in its ability to change the difficult into the easy. Any new task or responsibility is difficult at first. But if we patiently stick to it, it will become easy.
Besides considering what patience is, we should also reflect on what it is not. For example, patience is not despair, indifference, or procrastination. Rather, it is a temporary truce; it is a willingness to accept what cannot be changed NOW. While being patient, we do not remain idle. We change our tactics, look for other solutions, and relentlessly press on. We can never be sure which path will lead us to the goal we desire, so we patiently, persistently, and perseveringly keep trying until we meet with success. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shared his view on the same subject: “Every man must patiently bide his time. He must wait — not in listless idleness but in constant, steady, cheerful endeavors, always willing and fulfilling and accomplishing his task, that when the occasion comes he may be equal to the occasion.”
Lack of patience is not a malady. Because it is not an illness, it cannot be used as an excuse. Yet, some will say, “I can’t help it. I’m impatient. That’s just the way I am!” However, “That’s just the way I am!” really means, “That’s the way I choose to be.” Those who are egocentric, or think they are the center of the universe, make demands on others, and when their unreasonable demands are not met, they become frustrated, irritable, and upset. Such behaviour is not a formula for success. Impatience is a sign of immaturity, and to overcome it we need to start thinking of others and accept responsibility for our personal success.
Patience is a virtue and a key to success. But our patience must be measured and balanced. If it is taken to extremes, we wait until it is too late. The success, which could have been ours, is lost because of delay. Look at how well this principle is described by the eighteenth century French priest Jacques Roux, “There is a slowness in affairs which ripens them, and a slowness which rots them.”
Part of the human experience is coping with illness. When it strikes, our natural reaction may be one of rebellion and rage. However, such feelings are self-destructive and only compound the problem. Trying to cope by gritting our teeth and bearing it isn’t much help either because that tactic is undermining. No, the only way to deal with suffering is with patience, for patience prepares us to move on. We willingly accept our lot because we realize it, too, will pass. And if it does not, we have the capacity to accommodate it. If we choose to, we can muster up sufficient strength to accept the challenge of the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, who said, “Dare to look up to God and say, ‘Deal with me in the future as Thou wilt; I am of the same mind as Thou art; I am Thine; I refuse nothing that pleases Thee; lead me where Thou wilt; clothe me in any dress Thou choosest.’”
Patience is not only about enduring a long wait; it is also about enduring insults, provocation, and mistreatment without resentment, anger, or bitterness. Why put up with abuse? Because patience is also an expression of compassion. Because we are compassionate, we tolerate the faults of others. Because we are strong and they are weak, we accept their abuse with a smile and wish them well.
Buddhists commonly refer to patience as armor that protects the compassionate person from the barbs and verbal attacks of others. Interestingly, Leonardo Da Vinci had a similar idea, for he wrote, “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 be powerless to vex your mind.”
Almost all violence stems from anger, and patience often has the power to neutralize it. So, patience is a tool of the peacemaker. To eliminate possible misunderstanding, let me give one example of patiently accepting abuse and then contrast it with an example in which impatience is warranted.
In the first example, let’s say my supervisor at work always treats me condescendingly. Regardless how hard I work, he treats me without respect. Yet, I patiently bear his abuse. Why? Because I recognize he is a fellow human being. A human being with pain. Perhaps he feels threatened by my performance. Perhaps the source of his cruel remarks is fear. In other words, his abuse exposes him as the weakling he is. Instead of kicking a weak person by fighting back, shouldn’t I be compassionate? After all, if I bear my abuser’s cruelty with a smile, he may eventually learn that I am not a threat. If so, instead of upsetting him, I would have uplifted him. And by doing so, I would have made the world a better place.
However, at times, impatience is called for. For example, we must not tolerate child abuse or wife beating. Also, anything greater than zero tolerance of violence must not be permitted in our schools. Although abusers are sick and in need of help, our compassion is first directed toward their victims, who are in immediate need of help. After the victims are rescued, we can try to rehabilitate the abuser.
A society based on consumerism boosts profits by preaching the doctrine of impatience. “Don’t wait; act now! Don’t wait until you can afford it; buy it now with a credit card! Why prepare for your future by working hard for many years when you can strike it rich NOW by winning the lottery or a casino jackpot?” Patience is out the window and instant gratification is banging on our door. When we abandon patience, we abandon self-discipline. A world without either is a world without Mozart, Thomas Edison, or Tiger Woods. It is also a world without Olympic Gold Medal winners, astronauts, professors, corner pharmacists, auto mechanics and countless other members of industry, the trades, and the arts. Can you think of anything worthwhile that can be achieved without giving up immediate gratification for long-term gain?
In a single day we may face countless irritations: someone tailgates you on your way to work; someone cuts in front of you while you’re waiting in line at the post office; coworkers chat and laugh loudly in the next cubicle while you’re conducting a business phone call; you’re going out with friends tonight, but they show up an hour late, or you’re cooking dinner when you’re suddenly interrupted by a telemarketer. I’m sure you can think of many other examples. So, what do we do when we encounter an endless stream of minor irritants? Well, we can choose to become upset or we can choose to follow the example of oysters. They use an irritating grain of sand to create a glittering pearl. We can use our irritating experiences to create pearls of forgiveness, pearls of compassion, and pearls of understanding.
Learning to accept minor irritations prepares us to endure major ones. Those who lack patience find minor irritations or suffering unbearable. However, those who have mastered patience find great suffering tolerable. Patience has great impact on our happiness, for how can those who are upset and constantly complain be happy? Those who are always angry withdraw from the world; they curse the world. But those who are patient are peacemakers who embrace the world, bless it, and thank it for the opportunity to create pearls.
How can we expect to have others accept our weaknesses unless we are willing to accept theirs? Patience, then, is about respect for others. It is when we interact with others that we come to understand ourselves. For when we act with patience and understanding, that’s what we become. And when we act with impatience and anger, that’s what we are.
How can we commit to a relationship unless we have patience? Patience binds, heals, and supports relationships. Impatience is divisive. It severs friendships, dissolves marriages, breaks up families, and breaks hearts. So, patience is also about maturity. Patient people do not throw away pets and possessions or relationships and responsibilities simply because things aren’t working out as originally expected. Patient people bring out the best in them. Impatient people bring out the beast in them.
You say you’re not as patient as you would like to be? Not to worry, just be patient, for patience comes to those who wait.
Patience is the ability to wait for the fruition of our goals. Or, as the ancient philosopher Epictetus is reported to have said nearly 2,000 years ago, “Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig. I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” It takes time to do worthwhile things, so those who lack the patience to persist will fail to accomplish much. Do we want to develop as much of our potential as possible? If so, we’ll have to learn how to be patient.
After getting their fill of mulberry leaves, silkworms make silk cocoons, which the Chinese and Japanese used to weave silk gowns and kimonos. That explains the Chinese proverb, “With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.” Clearly, patience is power.
“Who can occupy your patience when impatience roars through you? Who except you can choose not to act with judgment when all of your thoughts are judgmental? Your life is yours to live, no matter how you choose to live it. When you do not think about how you intend to live it, it lives you.” (Gary Zukav)
“A certain amount of impatience may be useful to stimulate and motivate us to action. However, I believe that a lack of patience is a major cause of the difficulties and unhappiness in the world today.”(Joseph B. Wirthlin)
“Replacing rudeness and impatience with the Golden Rule may not change the world, but it will change your world and your relationships.” (Steve Shallenberger)
“Your potentials are called POTENTIALS because they are POTENT. Don't make them IMPOTENT by being IMPATIENT. Make an IMPACT".” (Israelmore Ayivor)
“Patience with others is Love. Patience with self is Hope. Patience with God is Faith.”
Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living by Allan Lokos
Patience: A Little Book of Inner Strength by Eknath Easwaran
The Power of Patience: How This Old-Fashioned Virtue Can Improve Your Life by M.J. Ryan