Patience: An overrated virtue

I am not a very patient person.

This is probably why, around the time that my kids turn 18 months old, when they’re in full-on toddler mode, and, therefore, unable to delay their gratification for even a minute, someone remarks that, “sooner or later, they all revert to Mommy’s personality.”

I mean, thanks.

But I usually say, when they’re screaming and kicking their feet on the floor, that that attitude will really serve them well, as advocates.

Because, when it comes to demanding justice, patience is not our friend.

I appreciated the colorful language of Raphael Lemkin, the crusader who coined the term ‘genocide’, who said, “Patience is a good word to be used when one expects an appointment, a budgetary allocation or the building of a road. But when the rope is already around the neck of the victim and strangulation is imminent, isn’t the word ‘patience’ an insult to reason and nature?” (p. 28).

Except I’d point out that, sometimes, a budget allocation–or the lack thereof–can be almost as damaging to an individual’s well-being as a figurative noose, and, so, when it comes to advocating for the resources that people need to live decently and justly, we aren’t necessarily well-served by an abundance of patience, either.

I have thought about this a lot lately, as our state wrestles with a budget that could see tremendous cuts to the programs that serve children in need, from before they’re born throughout their lives.

Because, the thing is, our children never get those years back.

The dire consequences we can expect for our children’s futures, if we eliminate their health care and their early childhood assessments and intervention, and increase their class sizes and squeeze out their best teachers, and strain their mental health safety nets and push their parents to the breaking point…we can’t delay those, urging patience, while we get our fiscal house in order.

And, so, maybe we all should be kicking our feet and screaming.

Maybe, indeed, the really unbelievable–and unreasonable–thing, is to take this all so calmly.

There’s a really haunting passage in A Problem from Hell that dramatically underscores this difference between what may be called for, and what we’re comfortable doing. In the story, a Jewish leader from Warsaw pleaded with Jews in Allied countries to take unreasonable action to raise world outrage about the unfolding genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. His proposals were called “bitter and unrealistic”, but he was unmoved. “…Let them crowd the offices of Churchill, of all the important English and American leaders and agencies. Let them proclaim a fast before the doors of the mightiest, not retreating until they will believe us, until they will undertake some action to rescue those of our people who are still alive. Let them die a slow death while the world is looking on. This may shake the conscience of the world” (p. 33).

When do we let patience, or reasonableness, excuse inaction and cowardice?

When do we dismiss as too radical the actions of conscience to which we are called?

And what price is paid for our self-defeat?

A Problem from Hell ends with a citation of George Bernard Shaw’s quote that “all progress depends on the unreasonable man”, and an exhortation that we have to “join and legitimate the ranks of the unreasonable” (p. 516).

Maybe we need more ‘screamers’, as those who protested Nazi abuses early on were known, but we have to keep screaming until it stops.

Maybe we need to stop listening to those who would counsel gradualism and urge patience.

Maybe we need more people acting like toddlers, in the advocacy context, refusing to be quieted until we have what we need.

I knew this temperament would come in handy.

One response to “Patience: An overrated virtue

  1. Pingback: Sunday Evening Share | Thinking like a social worker

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