I haven’t always been a patient person. In fact, for most of my life I’ve been pretty much the exact opposite. I was a teenager with a hot temper, prone to lashing out with the most creative swear words I could come up with, and I frequently yelled at people like my family who didn’t deserve it.
But over the last five years I’ve really made an effort to try and be more patient. Especially with people. When I disagree with someone or with the way I’ve been treated, I first try to put things into context. That was the first lesson I learned in patience.
At some point I realized that moods have context and that they don’t come from nowhere. Maybe someone is taking out a hard day’s work on their waiter at dinner. Maybe they spoke harshly to their roommate because of a bad grade on a university assignment. There are thousands of potential ways someone could react to what’s going on in their life and unfortunately not all of them are good ones.
So when I find myself in that type of situation, I try to understand where it comes from. I ask myself whether their lashing out is warranted or unwarranted? I evaluate my own behavior and think about anything I may have done to upset them. Sometimes I have and I take responsibility for it. But if I find that maybe the anger is coming from somewhere else, somewhere outside of myself or the situation, or that the anger has been misdirected, then I choose my battles.
As a teenager, I always fought back. Whether it was my fault or not, I stepped into the ring. I think part of me actually liked it, enjoyed being on the offensive whenever I could. I’m honestly not sure why that was, but now I put more thought into it. As calmly as I can, I confront any misdirected accusations or any unreasonable reactions to something I’ve accepted responsibility for. I fight only the battles that are truly worth fighting and that’s because of the second lesson I learned in patience.
The second lesson is that sometimes people don’t even know that they’re lashing out or why. They don’t hear themselves doing it or realize that something they’ve said was rude or was influenced more by outside stress than a current topic of conversation. It doesn’t make it right when it happens, but it makes fighting with them about it absolutely pointless. Nothing gets solved because you can’t convince someone of a crime they don’t understand they’ve committed.
I’m still not as reformed as I’d like to be. I still have a lot to learn about patience. I’ve realized over the last year or so that instead of eliminating all of it, I’ve reduced some and just redirected the remaining portion of my anger towards other things. The less frustrated I get with people over battles I can’t win, the angrier I get over inanimate things that I can’t fix. Like subway delays or my immune system letting me get sick. So I’m still working on it, but I’m also starting to accept that maybe we all just carry around a certain amount of rage no matter what, that maybe it’s more a matter of learning to put the last of it wherever it will do the least amount of damage.