Saturday, December 14, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 14, 2019 - Cultivating Patience

Patience is an interesting practice. Of course, it takes practice. But it also takes patience with oneself while practicing it. The irony is evident.

But patience is, in reality, a practice of nonresistance and forgiveness, even hospitality. Because, when we think about who and what frustrates us, we have to acknowledge it’s typically because, right or wrong, our expectations are not being met. The practice being recommended here is not so much about altering our expectations, as reframing them.

Long before I met him, my husband Jamie used to suffer from low-grade road rage. He wouldn’t get out of the car and punch someone’s windshield, but he’d scream and yell (and likely gesticulate colorfully through the window) whenever someone would demonstrate less-than-stellar driver courtesy.

A thought was suggested to him that when these moments occur he think of himself in the guise of the old Imperial margarine campaign, trumpet fanfare calling as a crown magically appears on his head. (Because the margarine was so good, you’d feel like royalty, apparently.) Who did he think he was, the Emperor?

That thought had the effect of humbling him in a way that was tinged with self-deprecating humor rather than shame or humiliation. Whenever he’d encounter an opportunity to lose his cool on the road, he’d hear the trumpet fanfare in his head, and as he got better at it, laugh to himself and continue on. Neither blue word nor finger displayed.

Jamie credits that tactical thought with completely eradicating his road rage over time. I know I have never personally seen it.

The old aphorism which declares ‘patience is a virtue’ has some merit. A virtue is something hard won in the face of deep biological and often emotional obstacles. It is a gold star of chosen behavioral standards. A well-chosen moral practice. It’s difficult to do and so it’s worth recognizing as a mark of good character.

So how do we accomplish it? Patience is easy to say but difficult to manage. Breathing helps. But so does imagination.

How often do we lose our patience with something because we don’t have all the information? How many gaps are you filling in with information you don’t possess? Quite a bit I’d guess most of the time. We almost never know the real story behind why people do or things occur the way they do.

I know I make stupid mistakes in traffic all the time. Everybody does it. It’s good to be a defensive driver, because we are all human.

Sometimes people tailgate because they really have to go to the bathroom and they might not realize they’re tailgating. Some people just want you to move so they creep up really close to dominate you out of the way. There’s a Massachusetts term for these people I won’t use here.

But how can I know which guess about their motivation is right? The need to go to the bathroom or the need to push aside? I can certainly empathize with the former. So why not fill the gaps in my understanding with that? Might that not make me immediately a little bit more patient with them?

I would certainly hope someone would fill in the information that I’m a scatterbrained rather than selfish when I forget to flip on my turn signal until the last minute. I would hope that other drivers are as patient with me as I try to be about them.

Use your imagination to fill in the gaps with things that make you feel better about others, especially when it doesn’t matter what the actual truth is. Why someone’s tailgating me, in the end, is actually of no consequence.

But sometimes you find out. I know there have been plenty of times where I decided to make a better assumption about people‘s motives only to find out that their motives weren’t so pure. The strange thing is, because of my patience with them, sometimes their motives changed.

The same goes for circumstances having nothing to do with other people but just life. But be patient anyway. Take a stance of patience with the flow of your life. Allow a bit of grace into the reasoning of your world. I think the math would bear it out that we’d feel far better far more often if we stopped assuming the worst in others and allowed people a bit of grace.

While you’re at it, allow some for yourself.

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