Patience is a finite resource, and over-rated too
This week I lost my patience. By this I don’t mean I got a bit hot under the collar and spoke through clenched teeth in a special exasperated voice. I mean I lost it, and there’s no indication it’s coming back. I fear my lost patience has gone where lost virginities go, whence there is no return.
I can even recall the moment it happened. I was watching my five year old clean his father’s iPhone, with his tongue.
When I talk of patience, I refer to that quality of tolerance or forbearance that can enable a person to cruise through the day like a dodgem car, bouncing off life’s edges rather than colliding with them.
Patience along with chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, and humility constitute the seven heavenly virtues. In terms of the big seven, I was on a bare pass prior to the loss of my patience.
Accordingly, this event is disappointing at a personal level. However, it may also have significance at a more universal level. This is because it has prompted me to propose the declassification of patience as a virtue.
Before you object to a possible conflict of interests, let me be clear, this is not a simple case of sour grapes. I am not proposing the declassification of patience because I don’t have it. I am proposing it because patience is simply not akin to the other six.
For present purposes, let’s take virtue to mean a kind of moral excellence. We could have a healthy debate over the origins of such excellence: whether we are born kind or diligent; or whether, but for a schoolmaster’s conscientious beatings we would never have attained such qualities.
Yet we could probably more readily agree that like say a sense of humour, or a topspin forehand, virtues are things that once possessed are generally kept.
Accordingly, I don’t believe your average charitable, temperate person feels they carry their virtues like cats in a sack - just waiting to escape.
Peace Prizes aren’t regularly rescinded when the erstwhile virtuous recipients turn out to be right bastards. No, notwithstanding the occasional heavy weather, your virtues are with you for the long haul.
In contrast, it is proposed that patience is a finite substance, which by its nature, depletes; with the consequence that just because you have it now, you may well not have it for keeps.
The theory holds that one is born with a dose of patience, perhaps only enough to be a bouncer, perhaps sufficient to be a secondary teacher, but whatever you got, is not replenished.
Rather, when exposed to the aggravations of ordinary life, it drips, or gushes, as the case may be, away.
If patience is limited and non-renewable, perhaps one could still preserve it by living in a bubble. And some may be born so rich with patience that after a lifetime of spending it they still have a healthy store. But the key point is that patience inherently diminishes.
There are many other things destined to diminution. Some, such as radium, even have a set half-life: the time required for something to fall to half of its initial value. But whereas a load of radium will take 1600 years to halve its radioactivity, I estimate the half-life of patience to be around 15 years.
Accordingly, a 25 year old could expect his patience to have halved by the time he is 40.
Could this theory mean that “grumpy old man” isn’t just a stereotype but rather a recognized developmental stage in human biology? Might this also suggest that rather than having developed a short-temper, I am simply mature beyond my years?
Certainly, the ramifications of such a declassification are considerable. In any event, my appetite for virtuebusting is whetted. I think I’m coming after chastity next.
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