Patience – A Learned Virtue

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December 2020 – Blog 9

Working with the public for over 40 years, I have watched patience become the prey of instant demand. Patience is a marriage of trust and expectation. It is something learned; believed more difficult for children to comprehend and practice than adults. But this past decade has brought about a rethinking of that assumption. Like most learning endeavors, practice is key because when we don’t ‘use it’ (like a muscle) we ‘lose it’.   A little exercise of patience can go a long way to improving one’s health.  But equally acknowledged overtaxing patience (like muscles) can be detrimental.

Life presents endless opportunities to exercise this critical tool (especially lately), but as with other forms of exercise we’ve come up with many similar excuses:

  • “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed…”
  • “I’m running late…”
  • “I have a headache…”
  • “I’m stressed out…”
  • “I have no extra time…”  (what’s that?)
  • “I’m having a bad day…” 

(and, my personal favorite)

  • “I’m just not a patient person.” 

 (I’m ‘just not‘ a person that likes lima beans, but I’m not going to throw them up all over you)

PATIENCE – A PART OF EVERY CIVILIZED SOCIETY

  • CIVILIZED:“…at an advanced stage of social and cultural development (2) polite and well-mannered [Google.com].”
  • SOCIETY:  “a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests (As in, “One Nation, indivisible”?) [Webster’s Dictionary]

Personally speaking, I consider myself to be a patient person, however lately I’m finding one word is trying my patience unlike any other. That word being: “unprecedented”.  The repetitious over-use of this word for the better part of the past year has left me in an incarcerated mental state wondering surely some type or amount of ‘precedence’ must have been established by now?  Like so many physical and lifestyle changes caused by the Corona Virus, this over-used adjective has plunged me into a perpetual state of purgatory. “Unprecedented” has been used to fill interview gaps and make up, or explain away the lack of concrete information (any information) we all seek during these trying times.

“…the times that try men’s souls”

Yes, we are aware our souls are being tried. These times would be less trying if human nature could hear a bit of encouragement, a bit of information –even if it is ‘only’ someone’s ‘theory’. We just need a little reassurance that the tow driver is suiting up and will soon be on his way to pull us out of the mud and get us back on the road moving forward again.  As long as we know someone is working on this; someone is ‘in charge’, most of us will find the patience and confidence necessary to see it through.

Inaccurate phrases describing and justifying the use of the word “Unprecedented” are the other thing trying my patience:

  • “We’ve never seen anything like this before as a nation…”
  • “The world has never had such an experience…”
  •  “No other event like this has occurred in our recent history…”

I suppose that depends on the definition of ‘recent’. All these ‘unprecedented” claims got me thinking.  So, for those of you just as curious as me, here’s a brief listing of Past Outbreaks in U.S. History, but first a quick terminology clarification as defined by the CDC and Google.com.

EPIDEMIC: “…defined by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as, “a sudden increase in the number of cases of an infection or disease within a community or geographic area during a specific time period.”

OUTBREAK: “A spike in the number of cases of the same illness in an area beyond what health officials expect to see”(CDC).

PANDEMIC: Defined by Google.com as:  “a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world.”

UNPRECEDENTED: “Never done or known before” (Google.com)

“May I have the Historic Envelope… Please”  

And now, for your reading curiosity, a small snapshot of Epidemics, Outbreaks & Pandemics from 1900 (our ‘recent’ past) to 2020 (Info obtained from: Healthline.com).

I think this brief glance confirms that Pandemics (horrific as they are) are not “Unprecedented”; we have been ‘here’ before. Pandemics are an unfortunate ‘known evil’.  Granted, each pandemic or event had unique properties and impact upon society, however, the pandemic of 2019-2020 has many scientific, medical, and technological advantages that its predecessors didn’t. The more advanced understanding of vaccines in the medical/scientific community is a definite plus resulting in several vaccines (now we just have to be patient for our turn to get one). We know more today about the spread and transmission of virus and disease, and are told to stay at home to keep the contamination rates down so our neighbors (aka: the doctors, nurses, technicians, and support workers) will have enough resources and strength to care for the pandemic sick, as well as regular emergencies  (heart attacks, cancer, auto accidents, and other serious medical situations). 

So, we stay at home (and stream shows to fight bordom) but most can still connect, communicate and some can work from home via computers, pads and phones (a further argument for the importance of abundant band-width, high-speed internet and wireless connections available nationwide). We may not get out to the store, or our store may be out of what we need, but many can order items online (or ask someone to help them order online), and access various distribution centers across the USA and around the world.  We may not get the exact brand or item of preference, but there is usually some alternate option, and if not, we just need to be patient until hoarders quit panicking, profiteers quit making a buck off other’s misery and items are restocked.  Another area where patience comes into play is waiting four or five days for delivery instead of a two-day or same-day one.  Some items may even take months to come due to supply chains getting disrupted with Covid limits on production and staff (pretend you live in the old west and are waiting for the ‘Wells Fargo Wagon’ to deliver your Sears catalog order).  We have been asked to adapt and to help each other while we wait for better days.  But the good news is we now have vaccines, “…that tow truck driver is on the way!” 

“The last mile is the hardest”

In 2012 Matthew Hessing wrote about his high school track days: 

When running the 800meter (1/2mile), he adopted the strategy of dividing it into four, 200-meter races.  He states surprisingly, it wasn’t the last, or fourth section that was hardest for him, but the third:

“…that third 200m was ALWAYS the worst. You’re halfway done and you know it – but the finish line is actually right behind you, so you can’t see it even though it’s getting closer. You’ve burned up a ton of energy getting this far, so sprinting the entire next lap is damn near impossible. You’ve got to keep going now so you can get to that final 200m. You’ve got to ignore the pain, ignore the anxiety, ignore the uncertainty, and just keep on going until that last 200m. Then you can shut off your brain and just go all-out to the finish line. But right now there’s a little less than half a race left – a lot can happen in that time. The uncertainty will try to kill you (https://www.quora.com/Why-is-the-last-mile-always-the-hardest).”

In 2012 Alan Cohen commented on Matthew’s experience, comparing it to a race the Army Rangers run:

“Army Rangers have a race that is even worse than Matt’s middle-distance. They need to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. Problem is that they don’t know how far away point B really is. It might be 1 mile it might be 20. So they have to figure out a strategic method for moving forward that will cover a short distance reasonably quickly but still leave them capable of covering a middle distance or a long distance at a decent speed. This race seems more in line with life. You start out on a project and you really have no idea how to pace it. Actually, it’s life itself; you really have no idea where the finish line is.”

His conclusion is uncannily comparable to our 2020 experience with Covid: “…the last mile may be the worst in a foot race but in life, it’s the middle of the race that is worse (https://www.quora.com/Why-is-the-last-mile-always-the-hardest).”

Hollywood pandemic-themed movies show many people acting, but do not show society acting at its best. We tend to emulate many things we see; attitudes, fashions, lifestyles, etc.  The behaviors shown in movies of this genre should not be taken as a playbook or ‘how-to’ manual.  This is sensationalistic drama designed to keep us watching.   In times of crisis, Sanity and Common Sense confirm reason and reassurance. The next few months will be difficult for all physically and psychologically.  Our patience will be thin, our anxiety will be high.   We are in that “third” or “middle” part of our race.  We need to stay the course; wear our masks; socially distance and take care of our neighbors and fellow man. We’re not stuck in purgatory; not for eternity; we are getting through this, and the finish line is just ahead.

We have vaccines (more than one)

  • We ALL will be able to get them  (unlike concerts & sporting event tickets)
  • Those most vulnerable will receive them first (these are the people helping us or at higher risk).

To quote Ghandi: “A nation nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

  • When all are vaccinated, things will ‘begin’ to function as we expect. (Not a ‘Disney’ ending -it won’t be instantaneous- but getting better as we’re slowly pulled out of the mud).
  • Our economy will increase in momentum once all are healthy and back on solid ground. (Then we can commence with boasting about how well we all did during the Covid Pandemic).

“Patience is a Virtue”

(“A behavior showing high moral standards” –Google.com)

Patience is called upon more now than when we began this confusing, harsh, and unknown journey.  There’s nothing comparable to watching loved ones, friends, neighbors, and strangers become victims of something so cruel.  It is heartbreaking to feel the loss of their spirits; their hearts, their presence.  It is scary to experience our economy and livelihoods disappear. Pandemics are cruel; they are destructive, but we are resilient; we are the decedents of the “Can Do” generation.  History records our successes and failures; our goodness and evil. We move forward, even if only one inch at a time.  Each inch builds momentum. Hope helps propel us closer to better times.  We keep moving, not to forget, but to honor and remember all who aren’t able to move forward with us; to become better people for them; to have more patience for them; to be more compassionate towards others for them.

This Holiday Season, this year’s end, we hope and pray our leaders will acknowledge our pain; have the courage to take bold action, to supply the tools, finances, and means to help comfort and rebuild. But if –as history shows- they are neglectful in any of these endeavors ‘we’, as individuals and groups,  ‘we the people’ can still find ways to make our lives and the lives of our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers better.  Patience, endurance, striving, belief, and hope are the fuel that moves us closer to better days.

Happy Holidays

May Hope, and Patience renew their pre-pandemic precedence as we strive towards better days for everyone in the New Year.