Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Courage to be Patient

Courage is being true to your values in the face of danger, fear, or other difficulty. Sometimes it is considered a willingness to undertake challenges others would not, but everyone in fact possesses the capacity to take such actions. Confidence in one’s abilities, cultivated over many years, is often a precondition of courage, as in the brave calmness exhibited by a performer standing before thousands of people and not revealing the slightest stage fright. Other times, courage is prompted spontaneously by the conviction of strongly held values, as in the case of a mother racing into a burning building to save her child. In either situation, action in the face of difficulty is the essence of courage. Inaction, nevertheless, in the form of patience is occasionally called for as an expression of courage. How can this manifest itself?

I am talking about a pause or mental inaction that calls for active thought before jumping to a conclusion. Quickness to condemn as dishonest, for example, when in fact ignorance may be the explanation, is a behavior that requires the courage to be patient, to search for evidence and examine arguments before speaking up to pass judgment. While temperament, no doubt, plays a role, it is psychology that determines whether or not one can be patient in a variety of situations. Just as a child caught in a burning building can trigger a mother’s strongly held values, stress of a hectic work schedule or a perceived attack on one’s child can trigger insecurities that unleash hasty actions or judgments.

The demands of work—urgent phone calls, deadlines for reports, disagreeable customers or colleagues, etc.—can sometimes fray the judgment and cause us to give hasty and incorrect approvals or disapprovals. The question is, why does this happen? Hecticness by itself is not the answer, since many successful business people can and do maintain their composure under pressure. Stress, as in the example of the mother racing into a burning building, taps deep-seated inner urges. Those urges may be solidly formed values or defenses built out of self-doubt caused by anxiety. The result of acting on a defense is an inappropriate response to the situation triggering the urge. Hence, the hasty and incorrect approval or disapproval. A pause to reflect before making the decision, that is, patience, can help us regain a more objective perspective by facing the anxiety and thereby allowing us to find the solidly formed values that normally guide our actions.

Perceived criticism, neglect, or other alleged negative treatment of our child by a teacher or other authority figure can also tap inappropriate inner urges. A parent in an attempt to right the apparent wrong may hastily lash out at the authority figure with anger or hostility. The key words here are “perceived” and “hastily.” The negative treatment may not be negative at all because the parent’s immediate response prevents a more considered—and patient—exploration of the facts leading up to the treatment. An appropriate inner urge that could be tapped here is protection of our child from harm, but another urge may also be tapped: distrust of authority figures built up over many years of experiences in which the conclusion “you treated me (or mine) unfairly” was repeatedly drawn. These conclusions may have thereby created expectations of being slighted and the expectations can easily be transferred to our child’s treatment. The alleged negative treatment may then trigger those expectations and cause rash judgment.

Courage to be patient in this instance is the courage not to act on what our psychology is prompting us to do, but to hold off and inquire about the facts of the situation. There are other reasons why parents may feel their child is slighted, such as accepting without question every negative word the child says, but this, too, requires patience to investigate before passing judgment.

Courage to be patient is the courage to face anxiety, to endure it, while calmly exploring a more rational response to the trigger. Courage to be patient means, when angry, counting to ten before speaking or acting.

No comments :