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Patience was a virtue


I sat down in the breakfast room and waited for my full English order to be taken. I was on a reasonably tight time table and so was pleased to note two menu options. The express grill which promised to be delivered within 5 or the fresh cooked breakfast that would take 15 of my precious minutes.  Hmmm, I would definitely prefer the fresh cooked option, but this time speed was of the essence.  I still had to drive the short distance from the hotel to the clients premises and get the room set up for the day.  

But where were all the staff?  Minutes passed me by as my agitation level rose, "what's the point in a 5 minute delivery option when it takes longer than that to take my order!"  On this particular morning patience wasn't my strength, the pressures of the day seem to be bearing down on me. 

Twenty minutes later I was enroute, navigating a particularly tricky junction coupled with the complexity of road works and temporary traffic lights over a pelican crossing (why are they called that?), with cyclists and buses everywhere I looked.   It was after all one of those cycling towns, Cambridge.  I still have no idea who was at fault in the following seconds, but I eased forward just at the same time as a slightly more elderly gentleman proceeded to do the same across my path on his bicycle.  By the way he looked, he was no doubt a learned professor, or if not then definitely one of my course delegates for that day!

I’m pleased to report that no harm occurred accept for the penetrating scowl, quickly followed by a hand gesture cast in my direction.  The Prof proceeded to carry out (as he calculated the pressure that was needed to be applied to his braking system) something involving complex scientific algorithms, and pulled to a stop as I went past. 

"How rude, why are people so impatient" I piously muttered to myself!  

So is that it? Patience is something that we may expect much of in others, but exercise little ourselves?  I rather hope not.  

At least the mornings circumstances caused me to reflect on the worth of patience, whether it was still a virtue in our hectic world, while at the same time pondering whether or not I needed to increase my own forbearance with other people and things.  Have we forgotten to be patient? Would we do well to calm down and enjoy the moment a little more?

In the 1960’s Stanford University started what became known as the marshmallow study. In it, four and five year olds were brought into a room and sat in front of a marshmallow. They were told that if they could wait to eat it until the researcher returned, they would be given two marshmallows.  About a third of the kids couldn’t last the 15 minutes, some grabbing the sweet even before the researcher left the room.  A follow-up study done after the kids graduated high school found that the ones who delayed were happier and more successful in their lives.  The ones who grabbed the treat right away were “more troubled, stubborn and indecisive, mistrustful, less self-confident, and still could not put off gratification. They also had trouble subordinating immediate impulses to achieve long-range goals.  In short the study advocated that patience was a huge indicator of success.  

Stamford have recently extended the study to understand how the less patient can be taught to be more patient with some simple diversions.  They observed that success in resisting the marshmallow came when the child was less fixated on it.  Those that focused on the gooey blob were doomed to fail.  However those who diverted their attention from it  by playing with their hair, sitting under the table, running jumping around or exploring the inside of their noses to find their own gooey blob succeeded in resisting.  

William Penn the 15th century entrepreneur and philosopher wrote “patience and diligence, like faith, remove mountains”.  So having spent the last couple of weeks being more grateful for many good things around about me (and enjoying the result of my endeavors), this week I’ve determined I’m also going to work at learning patience.  

I’m hoping that the result will be calming, enabling me to enjoy more of the moment I’m in, making me someone others might appreciate being around more, and them someone I’m less quick to judge.  

Bob Bannister

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