The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 5, 2000
Your Option

Power of patience
By Taru Bahl

THE Tower of Babel, the world’s first skyscraper, was a man-made disaster. Built hurriedly and without adequate planning, it was an attempt at erecting a super structure in record time. The builders wanted to prove their detractors wrong since they were vehemently opposed to its construction. The planners mistook their arrogance for inspiration. By seeking to make energy a substitute for a clearly defined plan, they defied all norms of patience, perseverance, and fortitude.

A bamboo tree which grows in China is planted, watered and fertilised for the first four years. In spite of all the painstaking effort, it shows no visible signs of growth. But sometime during its fifth year it shoots up to 90 feet in six weeks. Here the lesson learnt from nature is that faith and patience are the cornerstones of all endeavours and relationships. Everything blossoms in its own time. It is, therefore, important to understand that things will unfold in their natural course and tampering with it will only lead to distortion and damage.

  This is not to say that one must use patience as an excuse for not making effort and finding new ways of doing things. Swami Vivekananda had only a rebuke for the man who sat near the river front waiting for the water to dry before he could cross over. He urged him to look for alternatives, like making a raft, rather than "patiently" wait in a futile manner.

The impatience to reach goals without sufficient homework and planning is an obsession that extends to all aspects of modern life. We take short-cuts, expect miracle cures and instant solutions. Failing this, we get edgy and impatient thwarting little constructive effort that could still have been made. Rushing into a whirlwind romance, followed by an even more rushed wedding, for example, is a sure way of meeting disaster head on. A little bit of patience leading to gradual unfolding of the relationship would have yielded better dividends.

Look at our social conversations. Most of us are in such a hurry to get ourselves heard that we keep interrupting the person who is speaking. We lack the social courtesy and patience to allow him to finish by being attentive listeners. We are worried that we may lose the chance to get a word in.

Similarly, we get into an argument because we do not try to put the conversation in perspective. People who are patient don’t get provoked easily. They adhere to the "count-to-ten" principle and allow their rage to subside before they react to an affront. By doing so, they give themselves time to collect their thoughts and present a cogent point of view. They are, therefore, much better prepared to handle the situation than if they would have had they reacted impatiently.

The dictionary defines patience as bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune and pain without complaint, loss of temper and irritation. It is the willingness to suppress annoyance when confronted with delay. It is quiet perseverance, an even-tempered care and diligence. Patience is one of those special qualities where success feeds on itself. It is a quality of the heart that can be greatly enhanced with deliberate practise. Fortitude goes a step further, it combines patience with strength of character in the midst of pain, affliction and hardship. Stoicism is calm fortitude with repression of emotion which may, at times, look like indifference.

Impatience often manifests itself in the form of mannerisms like rubbing of hands, pacing up and down a room, knitting of eyebrows, vigorous shaking of legs, etc. Our mental impatience gets us so stressed that we cannot think straight making our entire response system sluggish. By creating ‘patience practice periods’, we can make a conscious attempt at not "sweating out the small stuff". It will help us keep our perspective and have a calming effect on the people around us. Even in an emergency, it will give out the signal that "it’s not a life- and-death situation". So, instead of yelling, getting frustrated and worked up, one should use one’s mental and physical resources and come up with viable and sensible solutions.

The biggest advantage of being patient is that it creates a more peaceful and loving self. The more patient one is the more accepting one will be of what is rather than crib about what ought to be. Without patience, life is extremely frustrating. Patience adds the dimension of ease and acceptance. Acceptance then is an important concomitant of patience. It is the antithesis of denial and control. It is a willingness to realise what reality is and to allow that reality to be, without a need to change it. Therein lies a happiness that comes not from manipulating outside conditions or people but from developing inner peace, even in the face of challenges and difficulties. Acceptance and love have the power to change people and situations which impatient hustling, coercion, threatening and pushing around can never achieve.

Becoming more patient implies opening one’s heart to the present moment even if one dislikes or disagrees. If one has to catch a flight and is stuck in a traffic-jam or he is unable to finish a letter which the boss had dictated because of a power failure, one has reason to be impatient and tense. For a moment pause and think, "Is there anything I could do to avert the situation and do damage control?" If the answer is in the affirmative, find a way but if things are really beyond one’s control then it is best to wait patiently and/or do something constructive with that time.

Normally, when a person is seized by an "impatient panic attack", logic and reason are the first things that desert him. This is why Edward de Bono, management guru and thinker, constantly refers to the importance of doing things effectively which may not necessarily be quickly. Effectiveness can come about only when decisions are taken after sufficient thought and planning. So, in an emergency rather than hurriedly trying to straighten things out, try ‘opening out’ to the moment.

Patience involves seeing the innocence in others. It helps in eliminating small irritations. Usually, we focus on little problems and concerns and blow them out of proportion. At times, in the interests of long term goals and objectives, it may be better to remain patient in the short term. It would be prudent, for instance, to suffer the temper, tantrums and unreasonable behaviour of a boss during a training period. There would be no point in reacting, losing cool or walking out in a huff. Keeping one’s cool, sticking around till the training is over and then going one’s own way may be the best alternative. Not only would this be a professionally wise but also a triumph at a personal level.

Life is not all about getting along famously with like-minded people. Every now and then one has to suffer the company of fools. The challenge lies in taking them with a pinch of salt. This adds grace and dignity and makes the individual much more tolerant. This is the defining quality of a patient person.