“The more you know yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others” (Erik Erikson)
We’ve looked at fear as a barrier to kindness, and the previous post explored time—or our lack of it—as a major obstacle to being kind. With lives that are overflowing with obligations, deadlines, and activities, making time to be kind may not always be a priority. Today, I want to ponder a subset of the time conundrum: impatience.
Sometimes impatience is the result of feeling one doesn’t have time for the chit-chat, or time to be kept on hold. And sometimes, we may have all the time in the world, but we don’t have much tolerance for the circumstances we find ourselves in.
When Time Is the Problem
If I am in a hurry, taking time to say kind words, offer assistance, or extend myself will just slow me down more. I’ll fall further behind. Sometimes it feels like the more rushed I am, the more things seem to be conspiring to get in my way: the slowest checker in the market, the driver who is stuck in first gear, the acquaintance who wants to tell me in great detail how she selected the yarn for the sweaters she is knitting for her dogs. Yikes, I don’t have time for this! I’m sure they’ll understand if I blow them off … after all, I’m busy!
But what is it I’m rushing to? Often, it’s my job, a meeting, the next obligation on my never-ending list. How many of us are so important or so overscheduled that we really haven’t time to be kind? And if we are that important or overscheduled, is it by our choice, or someone else’s, or maybe nobody’s—we just think that’s the way it’s supposed to be?
Perhaps if I change my perspective. Instead of allowing myself to get impatient because I have to go do my job, what if I decide my number one job is to be kind?
If being kind is my most important job, won’t it be easier to stand in line at the grocery story while the person in front of me fumbles for her checkbook and questions the cashier about the price of broccoli? Won’t it be easier to follow the car going 25 when the speed limit is 45? Won’t it be easier to wait through 15 minutes on hold for the next customer service representative? It’s all part of the job.
When Time Isn’t the Issue
Sometimes we may have the time we need to extend a kindness, but we may not have the tolerance.
I’m going to make a confession here: I was really late in learning to tie my shoes, really late. Most of my friends had that skill down when they were 4 or 5. I was still struggling at 7. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn, but my parents quickly discovered that teaching me wasn’t easy and it was a lot easier just to tie my shoes for me, or to buy me shoes that didn’t need tying. The problem was that I was left-handed and everyone else in my family was right-handed. They’d show me how they did it, but I couldn’t make my hands do what theirs did. Then they’d try to figure out how to do it from a left-handed perspective and they couldn’t do it. So, the hell with it, just tie the kid’s shoes for her and send her on her way.
Finally, my mom or my dad found someone who was left-handed and asked them to show me. Happily for all, the learning came easily and I’ve been tying my own shoes quite successfully for many decades.
My point here is that regardless of time issues, patience is required when it comes to teaching and to learning. The best parents, teachers, and managers know that they need to allow the learner to stumble, fumble, or even just sit and think about it—without jumping in to fix, show them how to “do it right,” or do it for them. My husband tutors kids in math and I see this patient kindness in his teaching. If one explanation doesn’t do the trick, Bill finds another, or asks just the right questions until the students get it themselves. He never rushes them, and when they finally get a concept, they own it.
Sometimes, we may think we’re being kind when we rush in to help, or to fix, or to get it just right, but what we may be doing is disempowering the person we think we’re helping. The truly kind response may be to stand by silently while they figure it out, or explain a concept again in a different way, or to be willing to show someone something for the tenth time. And that requires patience.
It takes patience to be kind and kindness to be patient. But if I can view being kind as my job, it will be much easier to patiently teach a child, or instruct a new employee in an unfamiliar skill, or refrain from jumping in and doing something myself, thus denying someone else a valuable growth lesson.
“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.” (Simone Weil)