Patience is a Virtue … And I don’t have it!
The phrase ‘patience is a virtue’ is a well known one and rightly so as its history stems back to the fifth century. Alongside six other ‘virtues’, patience was highlighted by poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius as being a human trait which people were blessed to possess. We may all understand the meaning of patience but what is it about this capability which is beneficial to those of us who have it (myself not necessarily being amongst them)?
Some time around the turn of the fourth century, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius or Prudentius to his mates, published Psychomachia or ‘The Contest of the Soul’. This was the first fully allegorical poem in Europe and heavily influenced the Middle Ages. Prudentius was a Christian-Latin poet, lawyer and provincial governor. While he wrote a number of poems, his concept of these virtues which appeared in Psychomachia is one of the few ideas which has endured right up to the presence day.
I confess that I didn’t read the entirety of Psychomachia in preparation for this blog but it basically anthropomorphises our virtues and vices, of which one is patience. Alongside patience, humans may also be blessed with chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness and humility. These virtues are locked in a fierce battle with our vices: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, wrath, greed and sloth. Do they sound familiar? We now more commonly refer to this group as the seven deadly sins but for some reason the only virtue which has continued to be commonly referenced in the 21st century is patience. Patience, by the way, is at war with wrath (or anger).
In Psychomachia the virtue of patience is triumphant in the face of anger: ‘Wrath is its own enemy, Fury kills herself’. Of course, all the virtues win and the deadly sins implode in upon themselves in the poem. But why does patience continue to live on in our culture as something to be treasured? We can all recognise the importance of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness and humility but we don’t regularly reference them in our daily lives. Perhaps that’s because, according to Prudentius, ‘No virtue enters the battle without the help of Patience. Only Patience has the strength needed by all the others’.
I think that’s enough philosophising for one day so let’s move on to why patience is a positive trait to have. Firstly, I think it is fair to say people are becoming increasingly impatient and seek immediate gratification for everything. Consider our attitude towards not knowing the answer to a question and the way our fingers immediately reach towards our phones. We can’t stand the unknown and technology means there is very little we now have to wait to discover. We no longer need to wait and therefore many of us (probably myself included) have lost the capacity to do so.
Impatience can lead to, frankly, stupid decisions. Sitting back and taking stock of the situation, the causes and effect of a certain action and what the ultimate aim is can enable you to make a conscious, thought through decision which should result in a better future. Patience requires self-control, something humanity seems to be struggling to maintain. I’m thinking of certain Presidents who tweet crazy statements at all hours of the day and night, for example. Thinking through a decision and committing to the best course of action requires patience and will enable you to reap the rewards in the future. Snap decisions are often not the wisest and waiting allows time to offer a little clarity when you’re able to look back from a better headspace. Don’t rush into important decisions and instead practice your patience to ensure you’re making the right choice.
Patience also requires understanding and compassion. If your friend is late to meet you, don’t get frustrated with them because they probably have a perfectly good reason for their delay. That being said, we all know someone who runs on a different time zone to the rest of the world – if you dislike waiting for your friend, delay your own arrival at the meeting point to save yourself the hassle of waiting. Patience requires flexibility as you need to work around the schedule of other people and other things. Delayed trained may be the bane of your life but what can you do about it in the moment? Getting angry helps no-one and certainly won’t make the train arrive faster.
I’m not a patient person and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t Google the unknown answer to a question within a few seconds of it being asked. But writing this article has made me take stock of just how impatient I can be when it comes to information. I have lost track of the number of television shows I have spoiled through IMDb but the vast majority of these answers I so desperately need in the moment are forgotten minutes later. A friend of mine says that he’ll Google questions if he genuinely doesn’t know the answer after thinking about it or discussing the topic for a while. If he knows he once knew and he just forgot, he’ll wait for that answer to resurface in his brain. From now on, when it comes to someone asking me a question to which I know the answer, I’m going to be patient. This is just one example of how you can choose to practice patience in your life. How will you try to be more patient?
Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.