Patience Is a Virtue . . . Or Is It?

“Patience is a virtue.” When did this statement lose its importance? It doesn’t mean as much as it used to, and it may have to do with technology pervading our lives so much that it has made patience virtually obsolete. When I was a kid, I watched The Jetsons, thinking that future technology would save us so much time that we’d finish our work in five minutes and spend the rest of the day sitting around being pampered. But that’s not how the future turned out. Some parts came true; we can be completely connected to anyone or anything we want, 24 hours a day. Instead of freeing us from labor so we can play more, being so connected has had the opposite effect. People have begun to depend on this connectivity in ways our grandparents could never have imagined. We work from home during off-hours. We order things off the Internet at three a.m. in our pajamas. We don’t have to wait for anything, so we don’t. Our need for immediate gratification is satisfied right in the palms of our hands.

So where did our patience go? At the turn of the last century, people had to wait weeks for products to arrive on the Wells Fargo wagon. Now we can track our shipments from the moment we place the order, and we become impatient if the order takes longer than estimated. It still takes 12 minutes to bake a batch of cookies, we still have to wait to get through TSA for flights, and kids still have to wait for the bus. But in recent years, we have lost the ability to wait for these things patiently.

A person who has taught me a lot about patience is my friend Dale. Dale was born with Cerebral Palsy and has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. Although he is very independent (he owns his own business and home, and he does not receive government assistance), he still has to take things at “Dale speed.” A new pair of shoes, for instance, can take him an hour to put on and tie. Air travel takes longer since he has to be the first on and last off the plane. When Dale goes to a movie, he knows he has to arrive early in order to get into the handicapped section of the theater. He is able to sit for 20-30 minutes without doing anything, even though he has a smart phone and an iPad, while he waits for the movie to start. His best friend’s kids, however, instantly pull out their game consoles and start playing games. Dale cannot understand why they can’t wait patiently like he does. Dale is an expert at being patient.

Why aren’t most of us better at it? You’d think if we place a call knowing we’re going to be put on hold, and the automated menu even tells us what the estimated wait time is, we’d be less frustrated knowing our wait time will reach a limit. Instead, we become less and less patient the more time elapses, and by the time we get to speak to a person, our patience is completely gone. I suppose if we were forced to be patient like Dale has been, and like people were in the days where “snail mail” was the primary form of communication, we could learn to be patient about other things as well.

I don’t deny that technology plays an important role in most of our lives; I am as connected as anyone, but I seem to be less patient now than I was when I was younger, and before the Internet started consuming so much of my free time. I look back on the pre-Internet days as a time when I had the freedom to do nothing, and that wasn’t such a bad thing. If patience is a virtue, as William Langland wrote in 1377, I sure want it back.

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“Patience Is a Virtue . . . Or Is It?”