Back then, in the 50’s through to the 80’s or thereabout, people seemed enamoured by the word ‘patience’. The word evoked puritanical ideas belonging to a subliminal past, a past that people back then longed for. So smitten were they, back then, with the word that they yearned to breathe its values into their children. In Nigeria, for example, patience became quite a popular name.
Back then people believed “the patient dog eats the fattest bone”; now, the patient dog, they say, “starves to death”. Many of the young people I have come in contact with in London have never even encountered the saying, or more regrettably, the word. With the fast food age that made its entrance in the 50’s and took roots in the late 80’s the need to be patient has become even more unattractive. There exists now a semblance of truth about the word that is quite frankly a misrepresentation, of what patience really is.
Unfortunately social habits indicate that people tend to ascribe antiquity to a saying, or an idea, or a word and then proceed to shove it to the archives of their brains, the compartment where they rarely visit. I conducted a social experiment recently where I asked 20 young people, age 25 and under about their experience with the word ‘patience’. 40% gave me that funny look that instantly categorised me under the label ‘weirdo’. It was a look that basically summarized their ignorance of the word. 30% thought it was a negative word that suggests an unnecessary waiting, laziness and a sure path to poverty. While 30% thought patience was a virtue, albeit an outdated one, straddled somewhere in the bygone area; a virtue meant for people in the olden days, the pre – computer age people, people who had no Google.
Perhaps part of the problem with the way patience is perceived is due to its negative definition. Patience speaks of delayed gratification, a notion that is extremely unpopular in our present society and in some cases even entirely unknown. Delayed gratification, although a momentarily unsatisfying notion, does not reject or deny gratification all together. Patience becomes negative if it means complete denial of gratification, or of success, or of dreams. The demands patience makes is not towards an end in itself, but rather a means to a more effective end.
Amartya Sen in his book titled An Uncertain Glory, a look at India and its many contradictions, recommends impatience to the underprivileged Indians, whom he says are reluctant to rise and demand change and a removal of their deprivation. He defines patience as “a minor form of despair, disguised as virtue” Sen describes this underprivileged lot as ‘passive’ and perhaps they are, however, passivity is not necessarily a synonym of patience. The wait, that patience demands is not passivity or stupidity or a call to inactivity, but rather it is a period of mindful thoughtfulness, of analysing, of strategising, the end product being a well thought out calculated action.
Aristotle draws a delicious parallel between Patience and Fortitude, he philosophises that “Patience is so like fortitude that she seems either her sister or her daughter”. Since fortitude implies a resoluteness of mind that enables a person to face pain and difficult situations and since pain and difficulties are a present and continuous part of our lives perhaps patience is an important ingredient in our lives. If patience is like fortitude, and fortitude demands a certain mindfulness, bravery or courageousness, impatience then is a mindlessness that results in rushed actions. Take as an example a person stuck in a traffic jam, the reality of the situation is that they are stuck in a traffic jam. In this scenario you have two broad options, to be patient or impatient. To be impatient will require you to rant and rave, and in the process build up your stress and hormone levels to the point where your thoughts become clouded. Whereas patience grants you the clarity of mind to identify the traffic jam as a temporary situation, it allows you the presence of mind to translate the negative implication of being stuck in a traffic jam, to a delicious sense of spaciousness, and suddenly you have time! Time to process that thought that has been left hanging in the corridors of your mind, suddenly there is time.
As much as words like sharp sharp, hustlers, go-getters, all oppose patience to certain degrees; the word has not become irrelevant. Perhaps the remedy lies in its definition.
To define patience as a virtue evokes images of sanctity and rectitude and honourableness, attributes that seem unattainable to many. Defining patience therefore as a skill, vital in our everyday relationships, might be a more successful approach. So patience becomes necessary in the nerve stretching process called child-raising. Patience becomes vital in dealing with a husband, a wife, a partner. And in this increasingly globalised world, with its diversity in cultures, religion and sensibilities, patience seems poised to regain its fading glory.
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