The Virtue of Impatience?


You have heard it said: “Patience is a Virtue”. I never have liked this cliche, and believe it to be false morality constructed by people languishing under the illusion of determinism. The sister phrase is “Good things come to those who wait.” Bad things also come to those who wait. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. One cannot escape evil by being patient.

ImageIn addition, frequently NOTHING comes to those who wait. We look around at society, and see people who have spent their whole lives and thousands of dollars playing the lottery. They wait, convinced that if they wait long enough, they will be rich. If they instead invested those thousands of dollars into a business venture, or into an education they could make something of themselves, rather than languish in their filth. Patient people watch from the street corner, as the parade of life passes them by.

Now this is not to say that strategic waiting is without merit.

ImageHowever, strategic waiting is active, not passive, and it is only waiting until the optimum time to take action presents itself. It requires the careful selection of what you are waiting for, and intelligently deciding where to wait for it, and how to position yourself for maximum effect. It requires paying attention with all of the senses heightened to their maximum cognizance waiting with great expectation and focus. However, just like with fishing, if the fish aren’t striking, it may be time to move to another spot, and try a new lure.

Consider a Tiger. The Tiger must be persistent. If a Tiger crouches, hidden in the canebrake, but doesn’t select his spot carefully, then he will likely starve to death. ImageThe Tiger must at the very minimum crouch near his prey’s use trail. However, the Tigers that actively pursue their prey eat the best, and have the most fulfillment in their hunt. If one is able watch a Tiger stalk, and stealthily pursue his prey, one will notice almost a sense of euphoria in the pursuit of some delectable treat. The satisfaction of a successful hunt is a potent reward. Like-wise to Man. Patient, timid souls never achieve greatness. Only the hungry, who know what they desire, and tirelessly seek their Macguffin truly can hope to achieve it. When luck or opportunity brings the ImageTiger his prey, he has the talents, energies, and means to seize upon the luscious rump, and baring his teeth and claws, tackles and shreds his quarry while ravenously devouring its flesh.

There is something existentially satisfying about knowing ones prey, and hunting it well, ending in the eventual rapacious conquest. That continuous conquest brings about a sort of meaning tied to achievement and an identity defined by hunger. Without the persistence of desire, the Tiger would starve.

Consider the Eagle.  The hunter must be a visionary. The Eagle sees the landscape far above the perspective of the trout. ImageThe trout is content to frolic and flip in the babbling stream, enjoying the feel of the water upon her scales, and the sparkles of the sunshine glinting on the waves and her shimmering body. The Eagle spies his prey from afar, and after carefully planning and timing his attack while soaring on the updrafts, then turns his sharp beak toward the water and folds his wings in tight for his wind-screaming dive. The Eagle’s soft feathers make no sound as he Imageaccelerates toward the water. His eyes focused entirely on his prey’s every movement, flip, and wobble as he screeches directly toward the unassuming trout. His Goal is Everything. Nothing can shake his laser like focus. His fierce will is undeniable, His certainty of achieving his prize is resolute. BAM!! Talons outstretched, the Eagle, colliding with the breaking body of the trout, flaps his powerful wings and soars away with his dinner.

The Eagle would never feed if he had poor judgement, less courage, or lacked his keen vision that allows him the certainty of his attack. His vision and forethought allow him to plummet a thousand feet toward certain death, yet emerge victoriously with a prize, with hardly the spray of a few waves on his talons.

In both of these instances, the Impatient one exercised vision, and persistence. He willed himself to achieve. To dare greatly, to risk everything in order to achieve his prize. The prize was all that mattered. It was worth the effort, danger, thought, and planning to achieve. If the Eagle merely waited for a fish to offer itself up, it would starve. If the tiger just laid down and opened his mouth, would anyone believe that it would be fed? No.

Consider Alexander the Great. His Ambition was the perfect balance of Vision, Persistence, and Impatience. The prophecy surrounding Alexander made it apparent that he would die young, Imagewith great glory. He rose to the challenge, taking control of his fathers kingdom at age 20. Alexander won Battle of the Granicus River against Darius III of Persia at age 22. At the age of 25, he founded Alexandria.

“In the year 331 B.C. one of the greatest intellects whose influence the world has ever felt, saw, with his eagle glance, the unrivalled advantage of the spot which is now Alexandria; and conceived the mighty project of making it the point of union of two, or rather of three worlds. In a new city, named after himself, Europe, Asia, and Africa were to meet and to hold communion.”- Charles Kingsley on the founding of the city of Alexandria’s

He died at 33, after conquering the known world, and stretching his empire: “He starts in Greece, crosses over what is today Turkey, gets down into today’s Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Then he heads off into Iraq, which was just as dangerous then as it is today,” said Martin, the Jeremiah O’Connor Professor in Classics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. “Not only did he get past Iraq, he got into Iran, and he kept going.”He made it as far as the Indus River, in what is now Pakistan, before his troops demanded they turn back.

He died just before age 33. One thing is clear: ImageAlexander would have never stopped. His ambition was fueled by his vision. His unwavering stride and persistent dedication were entirely unstoppable. His impatience was borne of an acute understanding of his mortality. He could feel his sands draining through the opening into the bottom: his time running out. This impatience fueled his vision and the rapid rapacity with which he carried out his plan.

From Macedonia to India, Alexander understood exactly what he desired from life, and then he ordered his life around achieving his goals. His plans and visions were expansive, long reaching, and masterful. He would never have conquered the known world if he could not first have dreamed it, and then turned his dreams into actionable plans. That ability to see the prize in the distance and then carefully construct a plan of attack, designing a route to safely navigate the uncharted pitfalls, and unanticipated dangers are what make brilliant generals like Alexander able to achieve Greatness in a few short years.

ImageHis Vision was coupled with Persistence and Impatience, which was the construct of his Ambition founded upon the acute perception of mortality.

Patience is a luxury of the immortal. To us mortal souls, only so much time has been meted out, and we Imagemust make the most of our allotment, for we spend our time at a constant rate, and no matter what we do, we cannot plug the holes in our bag: we can only run from place to place, trying to achieve and see everything we can. Like a child at Disney World in the hour before it closes, we dash around attempting to do the impossible by riding every ride in the brief time span left.

It is this profound lack Time that fuels impatience. Let me then pose this question to you: Is Patience really a virtue?


6 thoughts on “The Virtue of Impatience?

  1. Pingback: Patience is a direct relative to fate | My Chronic Life

  2. I too enjoyed how you explored the concepts of passive and acting waiting. Too many people simply passively wait for things to get better; however, the people most people consider to be “great”, those that history remembers, actively planned and bettered themselves while “waiting” for opportunity to present itself, so that when opportunity did present itself they were ready to act.

  3. I’ll open with a dialogue from my favorite medium, comics:
    Hobbes: “How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions?”
    Calvin: “I didn’t make any. See, in order to improve oneself, one must have some idea of what’s ‘good.’ That implies certain values. But as we all know, values are relative. Every system of belief is equally valid and we need to tolerate diversity. Virtue isn’t ‘better’ than vice. It’s just different.”
    Hobbes: “I don’t know if I can tolerate that much tolerance.”
    Calvin: “I refuse to be victimized by notions of virtuous behavior.”
    — A Bill Watterson cartoon shows Calvin and Hobbes walking through the snow

    A difficult concept, indeed, is this “patience.” I, for one, regularly pay for convenience, and do so happily. In order to discuss virtue and vice, however, we have to establish something sadly lacking in this post-postmodern world (I posit “Neo-Medieval” as the name of the new age, especially because no one ever reads): a standard, a starting point, a commonly-agreed-upon “good” as distinct from “not good.” We can’t really engage in conversation until we agree on basic definitions. Thus, I ramble.

    Aristotle, in my severely simplistic understanding of him, always fascinates me with some of his ways of looking at things. He sometimes wrote of virtue as a balance between two extremes, of excess and deficiency. In this example, patience is a virtue because it is not the vice of the excess, acting too rashly, or the vice of the deficiency, being inactive. I think, then, you are at odds with society’s consideration of patience as a virtue because you have attributed to the more balanced patience the qualities of the vice of deficiency, sloth. I suppose that’s not too much of a stretch, as I can think of a few examples offhand of people engaging in laziness and labeling it patience.

    From a more recent (200 AD-ish?) Judeo-Christian perspective, patience is presented as part of the fruit of the Spirit, a series of qualities used in a metaphor as a single, unified, and non-contradictory fruit that would blossom in the lives of those who follow Biblical mandates in a manner considered to be “keeping in step with the Spirit.” It is difficult to see kindness, goodness, and faithfulness coexisting with your definitions of patience.

    Still more recently, in Machiavelli’s “The Prince” virtues and vices are discussed as they relate to ambition. In section XXV, “What Fortune Can Effect in Human Affairs, and How She May Be Withstood,” Machiavelli writes, “For if to one who conducts himself with caution and patience, time and circumstances are propitious, so that his method of acting is good, he goes on prospering; but if these change he is ruined, because he does not change his method of acting,” taking up the position that when patience is practical… patience is practical. I guess this doesn’t really address virtue and vice, as, I maintain, little that looks only to the temporal results of a man’s activity ever can. Greatness as a goal of man may be at odds with virtue; does that mean that greatness ought to be pursued at the cost of goodness? Teresa of Calcutta exemplified patient action, working her whole life against a problem that will never be solved, poverty.

    For an even more recent perspective,

    I think it all boils down to the fact that the same people who told me that patience is a virtue also advised that I strike while the iron is hot. Reading old proverbs the way that modern American media reads the Constitution can never be productive; living languages shift in meaning, and that combined with an eisegetical process leads to (sometimes intentional) misunderstandings so as to mock tradition. When one equates patience with sloth, it sounds a lot like the teacher who took away the “Smile, God loves you” change purse from a kid in my hometown because Separation of Church and State means that you cannot think or talk about God in a public school. Before decrying society’s paradigms, explore them. Each one of your victorious examples, the tiger and eagle who struck after patiently waiting for the proper moment, proves the virtue of patience as it is classically understood and intended in the cliché.

    Alexander was iconic of lateral thinking, but he would have hit Russia eventually, and no one beats Russia in a land war. One of the leading theories of the cause of his death was malaria – he died so young, in that case, because he failed to learn about the world around him before pressing through it.

    And if you are ever there for the last hour of Disney World, get an ice cream, bundle in your Donald Duck sweatshirt, and watch the fireworks. Nothing worth doing is worth dashing through.

  4. I like the seperation of active and passive waiting, it is a huge difference that people don’t grasp and that will seperate many people. It isn’t ambition for ambition sake, but it is really being active in your passions. Being active, and not sitting around waiting for the world to serve you.

    I have had conversations with people on the idea of being content. Does being content mean you aren’t active in becoming more… or does it mean that you are stopping. I am convinced that there are only to options in life. Life / Death. Active / Passive. Growing / or becoming stagnant.

    Does there need to be an overhaul on what contentment means… or has the idea of being content fallen victim to the problems of the english language, where one word or idea can mean a multitude of things, and it really depends on the worldview of the speaker, and less of a definition.

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