I used to think of patience as a passive thing, something like raw intelligence, that you either were born with or you weren’t. I thought that someone was a patient person just as I thought he was tall or short. Patience just was. You either had patience or you didn’t.
With time and age has come experience and insight, and I now realize that patience can be learned, that I am capable of becoming much more patient (oh boy, more responsibility for my actions and the resulting consequences!).
Amazingly enough, just the realization that I had control, much more than I realized, and that I could achieve even more, resulted in a major increase in my patience. I started paying attention to what set me off, started anticipating, thus preventing. I came up with alternatives in advance, escape routes and pre-problem solutions. I worked out conversational scripts (internal and external) to steer me away from hot spots and critical issues. I became self aware enough to talk things out before they blew, to see the challenge developing and put out the sparks before they became a wildfire in my mind.
Most of all, I learned to re-frame things. For a long time, I was taking things too personally, subconsciously assuming without even thinking it through that other people were at worst deliberately and at best incompetently frustrating my brilliant and noble plans for a better and brighter future for all. As my long-time and very grounded assistant reminds me on occasion, “It’s not all about you.” (She kindly softens her words by appending she is the exception to the rule.)
I have learned more acceptance, rarely giving up on the final goal but becoming much more patient about the process necessary to get there. And in retrospect I realize that my pushing too hard often would backfire, actually slowing the process.
There is a Zen story of a man paddling his canoe slowly through the fog. It is a new boat, freshly painted, and he is very proud of its pristine condition. He sees another boat coming his way and he yells a warning that is ignored, and in spite of his best efforts he is unable to avoid the other boat. While he is uninjured, his brand new boat has a nasty scrape. He is fuming, consumed with anger at the people in the other boat, until he looks more closely and sees it is a drifting boat, unterthered and unmanned. His anger disappears.
Why? His mental frame of the incident has changed. What ways can we manage our emotions by managing our mental frames?
Two concluding observations and a closing quote:
1. With people, often fast is slow and slow is fast. Ethos, Pathos, Logos. (More on this in a later blog.)
2. It is often easier (smarter too!) to remove restraining forces than to increase driving forces.
“Exercise patience with others. In times of stress, our impatience surfaces. We may say things we don’t really mean or intend to say all out of proportion to reality. Or we may become sullen, communicating through emotion and attitude, rather than words, eloquent messages of criticism, judgment and rejection. We then harvest hurt feelings and strained relationships. Patience is the practical expression of faith, hope, wisdom and love. It is a very active emotion. It is not indifference, sullen endurance or resignation. Patience is emotional diligence.”
– Stephen R. Covey, “Principle Centered Leadership”