I keep hearing it said that patience is some kind of virtue. Plautus (254-184 BCE) said it was the best remedy for every trouble. Francois Rabelais (1490-1553) said he that hath patience may compass anything.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, patience is the mean (meaning the virtue) between irascibility and lack of spirit.
In the Hebrew Testament, it’s only mentioned four times and two of them, Jeremiah (15:15) and Isaiah (7:13) the writers beg God to be patient with human limitations. Only in Ecclesiastes are humans advised that “patience of spirit is better than proudness of spirit.” (7:8), and in Proverbs (14:29; 15:18; 16:32) In the Proverbs sections, patience is seen as practical rather than a virtue for moralistic reasons.
It isn’t until you get to the New Testament, that we are admonished again and again, to practice patience. We are to endure in patience (Col. 1:11.) It is lauded along with compassion, kindness, humility and meekness (3:12).
We are told that Jesus exhibited perfect patience (1Tim. 1:16) though this seems assuredly wrong for there are plenty of instances when Christ seemed most impatient with fools and Pharisees. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
Definitionally speaking, patience denotes the capacity to endure hardship or inconvenience without complaint. It evidences calmness and self-control. Now we are getting somewhere.
Patience seemed laudatory because it keeps our passions under control, and to early Christians, like Paul, this was important. For hardships (being a follower of Jesus in a Hellenistic, thus polytheistic world) were difficult at best. Better to upset no apple carts but rather be quiet and at least seemingly “calm.”
Surely I have no quarrel with the notion that patience is a useful tool in one’s psychic repertoire. After all, picking fruit before it has matured will gain one little. It is surely not pleasant to eat. Being a “noisy gong” when you are in a minority can get you beaten or worse. Proceeding with speed in certain tasks often leads to ruin. Any crafter can tell you that. “Measure twice, cut once” is smart building.
So, prudence seems more to the point here. It’s simply more prudent to be patient with a lot of things than it is to hurry them along. They need time to season and develop much as a great wine.
Nothing virtuous in that, it’s simple good common sense. Avoid war, keep talking.
Unless virtue is a kind of prudence? Aristotle seemed to believe so, for most of his virtues are explained as the way to a happy life. The golden mean was the way to the good life, and the good society. He seemed not particularly into the morals of the whole thing.
Yet, when you examine the definition of virtue it definitely refers to morals. Virtue is defined as a moral excellence and an example of that is of all things, patience! It is a “good” or beneficial quality. It is the opposite of sin, depravity, a shortcoming.
According to evolutionary psychology, patience involves the pattern of decision making used–whether one goes for the short-term gain or is patient in seeking the longer term but greater reward.
In Islam, patience brings one closer to God and seems good for it’s own sake. In Buddhism, it is one of the “perfections.” The Bhagavad Gita lauds patience as well. Both Eastern faiths seemed tied to this quality being of use in attaining sound meditative states, again, a certain practical application seems assumed.
Famous quotes about patience:
- Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions. Rainer Maria Rilke
- Patience is the companion of wisdom. Augustine
- The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Leo Tolstoy
- Patience is the ability to idle the motor when you feel like stripping the gears. Barbara Johnson
It seems to me that there is little to patience as a virtue, or moral good as such. No explanation that somehow simple being patient is a good thing. Always, it seems tied to what it can accomplish, why it is prudent in any given circumstance. Christianity seems to push it mostly to account for the delay in the return of Christ and to bolster those who are being persecuted for their faith. It becomes a method of enduring what would otherwise be thought to difficult to endure. As if intellectual understanding of things are somehow not enough.
People tend to think of Job when they think of patience, but after stripping away the prologue and epilogue, written by others, the main sections of Job show anything but a patient man. He is impatient with “friends” who tell he is suffering for his sin of pride. He vehemently denies this and turns and loudly and profoundly demands that God give him answers NOW. No patience exhibited at all.
God, never graces Job with an answer as to why he’s been visited with such calamity by a good God. God pretty much instructs Job that he is impudent to even ask. Job in the end realizes that indeed he is mere creature and is in no position to demand a thing from God whose ways are so far above his understanding. He gives up, continues to praise God, and the wager is ended, and a happy ending is tacked on.
So, if you don’t mind, I’ll stick to patience when it makes good sense to, and forget about it as some virtue that I should seek merely for the seeking. I’m gonna get angry at incompetent check-out clerks and drivers who cut me off. I may however, be prudent enough not to voice my impatience too loudly or too violently–as common sense dictates.