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I was mulling over the idea of patience this week (at the request of my friend Lauren) when the funeral congregation was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer.  One section of the prayer seemed particularly relevant to the idea of patience, for reasons I promise to explain later in the post.

…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

So where does patience come from?  I think it comes from several sources.  First, it comes from a realization that most people are just doing the best they can. They may not be as quick, competent, or understanding as we’d wish, but they’re doing what they know how to do, how they know how to do it.  We all, in some way, are just scraping by, just faking our way through life.  When you come up against the limit of another person’s abilities there’s no use getting angry – just take a deep breath and either get through it or start looking for alternatives.  Few people are seeking to do you personal harm.  The checker at the grocery store doesn’t move like molasses because she hates you, your coworker doesn’t leave the dirty mugs in the kitchen because he wants to ruin your day, and your roommate doesn’t move the milk to get under your skin.  They’re all just going about their lives, being themselves.  Yes, some of them are making decisions that are easy for them and without regard for you, but no one’s actively trying to hurt you, so why take their actions personally?  We’re all self-centered, even me, even you.  Whether we know it or now, to someone else we are all the roommate who never puts the pans back where they belong, the coworker who forgets to refill the copier paper, or the person who should know the answer but who can’t answer a simple question.  What makes us think that our way of doing things is so right or our time so valuable?  Impatience is a prioritization of one’s own needs, wants, and point of view over those of other people.  It’s natural, but it’s not healthy.

So how do we cultivate patience?  It’s an on-going quest for me, but I’ve learned several things that help me manage the worst of my impatience.

1) Depersonalize the situation.  I remind myself that it’s not about me, it’s not a personal offense, and it doesn’t make sense to waste energy getting riled up by it.

2) My time is not as valuable as I may feel it is.  When everything around me feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace, I try to check my foot-tapping and remind myself that the world will not collapse.  I run through the worst case scenario in my head, and almost always come up with “I’ll be temporarily annoyed or inconvenienced” as the worst possible outcome.  There’s no sense causing myself annoyance in expectation of someone else doing so, so I try (albeit not always successfully) to let it go.

3) I pay close attention to people and try to figure out where their competency ends.  If what I need from them goes beyond what they can do, I stop impatiently waiting for them to do it and start making other plans.  I do this with customer service representatives, classmates, TAs, coworkers – anyone I need something from but who can’t quite give it to me.  It is simply foolish to expect someone to suddenly grow new skills or understanding merely because you want them to.  So I try not to set myself up for frustration by asking more of a person than I can reasonably expect to get.

4) Forgive us our trespasses.  I cut the people around me some slack in the hopes that they’ll return the favor.

For me, developing patience is a life-long process.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling the flashes of irritation, but whenever possible I try to cut off my negative thinking.  It’s made me a more patient person, as well as a happier one.

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Categories: Choices Tags: , ,
  1. Martha
    April 28, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I love reading your blogs. Each one helps me learn a little bit more about you. Each one makes me think a little bit more about how to live my own life. And each one makes me happy to be related to you. You are wise and thoughtful and I love you!

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