The Virtue of Patience & Why You Need It

Why is ‘Patience’ a virtue? Welcome back to our series on the Codist virtues. Today, we will be taking a look at one of the most difficult virtues to master — patience. Patience is defined as “The ability to wait, or to continue doing something despite difficulties, or to suffer without complaining or becoming annoyed” (Cambridge Dictonary, 2021). These are inherently hard things to do.

It is not easy to pursue an unlikely dream and keep going when success is not immediately forthcoming. It can be challenging to remain stoic when you are stuck in traffic, or your kids are screaming at each other. It is tempting to just let go and unleash your frustration, venting your annoyance and rage to the world. It’s tempting as we erroneously think that, by venting this frustration, we relieve the pressure, but we are not pressure cookers.

Counterintuitively, by venting our frustrations, we actually make them grow. The human mind is a wonderfully powerful tool for comprehending the universe. Yet, as we discussed in our article ‘All The World We Cannot See’, it cannot present to the understanding every impression that it receives. Instead, it filters the world and only offers those impressions that seem to be relevant. This mechanism means that when you are frustrated and annoyed, your brain will screen the world to show you more frustrating and annoying things (Cepelewicz, 2019). This feedback loop effectively means that when you are happy, you tend to get happier, and when you are unhappy, you will get unhappier.

Thus, if you are stuck in traffic and are raging about the idiots on the road, guess what? You will start to notice more idiots, and your frustration will build. If your kids are getting on your nerves by getting frustrated at them, you will achieve nothing except to ensure that you will notice all the annoying things they do more and, in turn, get more and more frustrated. Once you realise that this loop exists, only then can you break free from it.

Patience is the key to breaking this loop and recovering your sense of proportionate calm. It takes practice but, honestly, the rewards are enormous. For example, I have four young children, ranging in age from a few months to ten years old. Now, I’d be lying if I said that there are not times when they get on my nerves or frustrate the hell out of me. Hell, there are even times when I fail to practice patience and fall back into the frustration loop. But, as I practice more and more, I catch myself starting to get frustrated and angry and stop myself with the question, “what is really happening here?”.

This question acts as a circuit breaker, forcing me to pause and turn my focus away from my frustration to the actual situation at hand. Is the baby crying when you are trying to do something? What is really happening? Maybe the baby is cold, hungry, or wet; perhaps they have wind and are in pain. By asking this question, we focus on the actual situation and its solution and not on our frustration.

Perhaps some d-head stole your parking spot. What is really happening? Well, maybe they didn’t see you or possibly they misjudged your intentions. You can get frustrated and have an argument with them, but what do you gain? If they stole your spot on purpose, they wouldn’t care that you are upset, and if they did it by accident, yelling at them would only make them defensive. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt, show them the ‘what the hell?’ hands, and move on.

By actively asking this question whenever you get frustrated, you focus on the solution and not the problem. But, what if there is no solution? What if, like idiots in traffic or rainy days, this is an essential part of existence. Well, in that case, asking the question “what is really happening here?” will help you identify that too. If the thing that is frustrating you is unavoidable, then perhaps your expectations are part of the problem.

Now, before you respond, stop and think about it for a moment. When was the last time you got frustrated that it rained in winter or was hot in summer? Unless you are a very cross person, I would bet that you can’t remember. This is as your experience of life tells you that you can expect rain in winter and hot days in summer. You expect these things, and thus, while you may or may not enjoy them, you accept them as unavoidable and adapt your behaviour accordingly.

Why not do the same thing with the other annoyances in life? When you get in your car or hop on the train to go to work, do as the stoics recommend and tell yourself that ‘today, I am going to come across d-heads and bad drivers, but that is to be expected’. Look for ways to make the time more pleasant and productive. Just as you bring a raincoat or an umbrella on a rainy day, read or listen to a book or do something else enjoyable. And whenever you start to get frustrated, remind yourself that this, like the weather, is just how things are.

This is the power of patience — it gives you the ability to face the ordinary, mundane world while acting correctly. In a way, the virtue of patience is the opposite of the virtue of courage. Just as the virtue of courage is essential to begin something new or to change course, the virtue of patience is critical to continuing when things get tough or holding course when things look their worst. In this way, these virtues complement each other and the other virtues, building brick by brick the wall of wisdom, which is the surest defence of our families and communities. As Aristotle says in the Nichomedian ethics, ‘Each virtue cannot exist alone but only as a whole in the virtuous and wise life’.

Thus, honour cannot truly exist without the courage to act on what you believe to be right, just as you cannot be genuinely courageous if you cannot be honest with yourself and others. Similarly, the virtue of patience is required if we are to persist in the path of wisdom. You can determine what you believe to be right and develop your code of honour, and you can courageously and honestly set out to change, but you will fail in the end without patience. Patience is the key to success in everything as failure is almost inevitable, and only patience and persistence will give you the strength to get back up and try again.

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First Published on https://www.andrew-stadtmauer.com/ on the 9th of September 2021

I am a writer and philosopher. Join me in exploring the purpose of life and how we can best achieve it. Check out www.andrew.stadtmauer.com for more.