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On patience

Few things require patience like training horses does.
Few things require patience like training horses does. When I was working with horses, I noticed I had an increased level of patience for everything, maybe because I was actively practicing trying to understand another creature and his reactions to me.
For most of my life, I have thought of patience merely as the ability to suppress the expression of one’s impatience. For most of my life, I have been an inept practitioner of patience in this form. Friends call it brutal honesty, family calls it “being German.” There is a Twitter account dedicated to my irascible side. It is part of my charm and the fastest way I make enemies. My hotheadedness has always been accepted as just part of who I am: unchangeable, baked-in. Yet it’s something I’ve been trying to change for years. I’ve been going about it, to use an American term, ass-backwards. Suppressing what you think, while perhaps a valuable talent, is not patience. It is a survival instinct at best, and spinelessness at worst.

I begin to believe that I do not express my opinions too rapidly, but rather that I form them too rapidly.

Midwesterners as a whole seem to be a far more patient breed than we West Coasters, with our stereotypical obsessions: fast cars, hard living, and perpetual youth. Watching my team work has been mind-opening. I’ve watched my boss quietly listen to reasons we should change something in our plans — reasons that sometimes seem ridiculous. Why doesn’t he say something? I often think. But he usually holds his reaction until the speaker has finished, and it’s only then that he decides whether he agrees. I’ve seen him do a complete about-face when he realizes he was on the wrong path.

I get red in the face when confronted with something I don’t agree with. I fear I turn red a lot in meetings. Part of this is that I’m some young smartass who thinks stuff needs disrupting. By default, I think that most stakeholders in old media don’t understand “the future” or are too beholden to other interests. I am automatically suspicious of any argument that is based on doing something a certain way because it has always been done that way, or because changing it has failed in the past. But the truth is that I don’t have magic answers. Sometimes things have always been done a certain way because that way works. Sometimes they don’t need disrupting.

Sometimes I am wrong.

This, I think, is the key to patience: knowing that you do not have all the answers. It goes hand-in-hand with humility, another trait I sometimes forget in my other pants. Pride is the enemy of patience. Patience is more concerned with the welfare of all than it is with what it thinks or how it feels. As a Christian, I am painfully aware of my own hypocrisy. While my current take on this came about in a rather corporate setting, I certainly intend to apply it to everything from maintaining long-distance friendships to learning code.

When you acknowledge how limited your own understanding truly is, you realize that forming solid opinions quickly is dangerous. It closes off possibilities, puts you at risk of making avoidable mistakes, and makes you look like an immature asshat half the time. And it makes it that much more compelling when you do stick to your guns.

Patience is taking the time to understand something — or someone — fully. Patience is thinking more and speaking less.

Published in Ponderings

One Comment

  1. Sam


    I think there’s a point you touch on here which is worth mentioning. Certainly there’s a lot of value to waiting until you have as much information as possible before making your mind up, rather than jumping to conclusions, but I think the most important thing is to not be afraid of being wrong. Society impresses on us an instinct to stick to our opinions and try and be *right* at all costs, but assimilating new information and updating our opinions is how we make progress.

    Watching a couple of mathematicians or scientists arguing (real ones, not the sort you see on TV shows) is a pretty illuminating experience. It’s pretty common to hear a heated argument, sparks flying and so forth, suddenly screech to a halt with “oh, I’ve just seen why you’re right!” (particularly with mathematical questions where there’s a defined right answer) or “huh, okay, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that”.

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