Be Patient, Before You Become A Patient

The other day I read a story about a man who became enraged after having to wait in a doctor’s office for over an hour. He stormed over to the receptionist’s window and screamed at a staff member, then suddenly froze, turned a pale color, and collapsed onto the floor, never to regain consciousness. The autopsy revealed nothing physically wrong with this person. His death was attributed to angry thoughts, which sparked a massive coronary.

Patience is often interpreted as stoical endurance of pain and hardship, but it goes well beyond that definition. It is more about embracing the situation exactly the way it is in that moment, and responding in a resourceful or transcendent state of mind. Patience has a deeper aspect of intelligence and wisdom. This is not to be confused with the example of a braying mule overloaded with saddlebags, trudging along a bumpy path until it drops dead. That type of patience is without clarity. Forbearing difficult circumstances can be about struggling to get through something, but developing true patience is a discipline that allows us to be in a flexible flow as situations unfold.

A sense of humor can be a powerful ally to overcome impatience, helping us (and others) re-frame perspective and transcend the difficulties of the moment. A customer service rep I know handled an irate client’s complaint over the phone by saying, “I can certainly appreciate why the situation would anger you. We’ve been in business here for over 60 years; perhaps, we’ve become a bit senile.” The client laughed heartily and the rep was able to resolve the grievance immediately.

If patience was a commodity, it seems to be in shorter supply these days. As a result, we pay a higher price for it in terms of our collective well-being and societal civility (road rage, domestic violence, et al). Next time that impetuous flash of impatience rears its head, take a deep breath, perceive the moment from a broader context, and ask yourself if there is another way of looking at it. Or, put yourself in the shoes of your favorite comedian—how would he/she respond in that situation?

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