Lateral thinking: Patience: Easy to lose, hard to find

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 26 2021

By R.S. Karunaratne

The strongest of all warriors are these two – time and patience. - Leo Tolstoy When an officer had dislodged or misunderstood an order, Secretary Stanton stormed into the President’s office and said: “I believe I’ll sit down and give that man a piece of my mind.” “Do so,” said Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. 

“Write to him now while you have it on your mind. Make it sharp. Cut him all up.” After writing a furious letter Stanton mused aloud: “Whom shall I send it by?” “Send it!” Exclaimed Lincoln. “Why do you want to send it at all? Tear it up. 

Now you have freed your mind on the subject and that is all that is necessary. You don’t have to send such letters. I never do.” President Abraham Lincoln convinced Secretary Stanton of the virtue of patience.

 Today we understand patience to be our ability to wait calmly for a long time and accept delays without becoming angry or anxious. Patience also means our ability to accept trouble and other people’s annoying behaviour without complaining or becoming angry. On the other hand, patience can mean the ability to continue to give your attention to work that is difficult or tiring. 

Patience as a skill

 Children and adults lose their patience when they do not get what they want. However, adults know that patience is easy to lose and hard to find. Parents need a lot of patience to deal with their children and adults too need it in their dealings. In a 1999 study by psychologists Harvey Mandel and Harold Minden at York University in Toronto, patience topped the list of skills parents thought they needed. Likewise, impatience was the number one attitude they did not want to pass on to their children. Most people are temperamentally calm but a few of them lose their cool at the slightest remark. Psychologists have considered whether such people can learn how to be patient. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and co-author of “Everyday Blessings: The Inner Works of Mindful Parenting” suggests that to cultivate patience you have to practise mindfulness – the art of bringing your full attention to bear on the moment at hand. However, being patient is often a choice. 

When you stand in a long queue to get something done, you know that losing your patience will not help. These days you see people standing in long queues to get vaccinated against Covid-19. If you do not get angry, everything will go smoothly. I have observed that people lose their cool when they feel thwarted.

 That is a very unpleasant feeling. A patient person will not be carried away by such feelings. Parents usually get annoyed when children do not keep their books and clothes in proper places. Without losing their patience, they should try to train children to keep their things in proper places. When once they get used to it, you do not have to lose your patience every now and then. 

Parents and teachers know through experience that dealing with children is a tricky business. Small children do not stay in one place for a long time because they are full of energy. If you tend to react angrily, it will only lead to frustration. If you feel that you are going to lose your cool, back off, breathe or count to ten. Thereafter you can decide what to do. After a break, your mind will be free to adopt a fresh approach to solve the problem. If something goes wrong, you can calmly let them know how you felt. 

Temper tantrums 

As a writer I do not like to live with a lot of people. When there is too much noise and chatter, I cannot concentrate. However, teachers and others who have to live or work with a lot of people need to know the value of patience. They should be ready to face temper tantrums and loud noise. Some people shout at others when they get angry. They think that shouting is an effective way to vent their pent-up feelings. 

However, when you shout at somebody, they also get angry. If they also shout back, it will lead to a very unpleasant situation. Some people walk away from explosive situations, but it is not going to help. When you find yourself in a challenging situation, you cannot afford to leave the scene. Therefore you have to learn the art of staying in control when temperament ups the emotional intensity. If volatility is a problem, try to figure out where it is coming from. Rest assured that you can change any volatile situation with patience.

 However, to cultivate patience you need a lot of time and practice. We have to admit that it is impossible to be patient all the time. Psychologists stress that it is OK for children to see that you are irritated by their behaviour. However, how you express your irritation matters a lot for children. You are teaching them a lesson in good behaviour and setting standards. Therefore it is important to pay attention to your bouts of impatience because they are red flags signalling that something is out of whack and needs to be dealt with. 

Psychological help 

Some people lose their patience all the time. A few decades ago, I had to work with a colleague who used to lose his cool every now and then. He shouted at customers and got into never ending arguments. The management felt that he needed psychological help and transferred him to a place where he did not have dealings with the public. Most of us do not know that patience is a beauty secret. It makes your appearance and energy radiant, soft and approachable. The more patient you are, the more attractive you’ll become.

 Patience keeps you young and spares you from the stressed-out look of perennially trying too hard and fighting the flow. Patience enables us to become friendly with others. On the other hand, patience supports your well-being and best interests. To appreciate its biological advantages, consider what makes a dieter able to forgo an alluring scoop of ice cream, or a compulsive shopper to resist a blowout sale. 

The ability to delay gratification helps you to attain a greater long-term goal. What is more, patience is a victory of the reasoning brain over the impulsive one, and an emotional coping mechanism with an evolutionary rationale. Patience is often exhibited behind closed doors. It is the impatient ones who grab our attention. Some of them are private bus and three-wheel drivers honking in traffic and grumbling customers in slow-moving queues. We have made films exalting the virtues of courage and compassion, but nobody has thought of writing a script on patience. 


Having patience means being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity. Patience can make the difference between annoyance and equanimity. In addition to religious leaders and philosophers, researchers have begun to praise the virtue of patience. They say good things come to those who wait. Patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions. They can cope with stressful situations without much effort. 

Patient people are good friends and neighbours. They are cooperative, empathic and forgiving. When it comes to an election, it is the patient people who wait in long queues to elect someone as their representative. If you look around, you will find that it is the patient people who achieve their goals. Millennials have been criticised for being unwilling to grow and learn when they start working in an establishment. They want to jump from one position to another. Patient people lead a healthy life and they rarely complain about minor health issues. [email protected]

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 26 2021

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