Sometimes I wonder why it's important to be patient.

I'll be patient with people who are mean and cruel. But as I'm being patient with them, they continue to treat me like shit. When I witness the many injustices in the world, I am reminded that the "arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." But as the universe slowly arcs, the forces of injustice continue to cause suffering.

In short, patience is bullshit.

If someone is going to attack me, I have a right to defend myself. I have a responsibility to do so, don't I? Patience may seem like a virtue, but it has no place in a world where we have to get shit done and remove any obstacles to our agendas and plans. Patience may be fine for naive optimists; in the real world, it's little better than a vice.

But what happens when I embrace impatience as a virtue? I begin dividing the world into two camps: allies and enemies. Allies are those things that help me achieve my goals; enemies are obstacles that thwart my agenda. Allies are the oil that lubricate my well-laid plans; enemies are the monkey wrenches that bring them to a grinding halt. Allies are good; enemies are bad.

Herein lies the problem with impatience: it forces me into condemning others. And in so doing, I condemn myself.

The Lord is patient with us, St. Peter tells us. "He doesn’t want anyone to be destroyed. Instead, he wants all people to turn away from their sins." (2 Peter3:9) So it should be with us. We are patient with people because we do not want to condemn them. We don't want them to suffer. Rather, we want them to know salvation--we want them to know peace, joy, kindness, and love. Patience is nothing more than an act of compassion.

The next time someone or something tries your patience, your might find these strategies helpful:

  • Listen to Guns N' Roses. Or any other song that might calm you down. Music has a calming effect on us. Take advantage of it.
  • Listen to yourself. Ask yourself why you are feeling impatient. What values are revealed by your impatience? For example, I might be impatient with traffic. If I ask myself why, I might discover that I'm being prevented from meeting up with a friend for coffee. My impatience, therefore, reveals how much I value my relationship with that person. I can then investigate why that person means so much to me, and, better yet, tell her so when I finally meet her.
  • Listen to the other. Ask yourself what reality looks like from the point of view of whatever it is that tries your patience--the agent of your impatience. In other words, practice empathy. This is not to excuse bad behavior. Rather, it is the first step toward practicing compassion. What values might be reflected by this agent? For example, if I am impatient with a coworker for going on and on as he reasons through a decision, I might discover that he values thoroughness or he takes pride in his work. Or, maybe it reveals a certain amount of insecurity and he is seeking reassurance or validation. In either case, I can respond to him compassionately.

Remember that while our Lord is waiting patiently to return, people are being saved.
— 2 Peter 3:15

Patience, I now realize, is life giving because it allows me to see more clearly my motivations, values, and fears--and those of others as well. Patience helps me see people not as allies or enemies, but as human beings with dignity and as human being who, like me, carry their crosses. Patience allows me to help carry them.

Patience, I believe, is the key to our salvation.

Music video by Guns N' Roses performing Patience. (C) 1989 Guns N' Roses