When I wrote Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, I explored a number of virtues that people listed as the best qualities of human beings. The list I’d gathered was long, and I narrowed it down to ten. Fortunately, “patience” wasn’t in the top ten. I say fortunately because I wasn’t sure how I would write about a quality I possessed so little of.
I tend to be a rather reactive person, reacting quickly and sometimes fiercely to things, especially to injustice or cruelty. There are good aspects to this quality. I’m able to work passionately, speedily, and efficiently, to get a lot done, and often to get what I want (I mean that only in the best ways!). But sometimes, it’s not such a good quality. I can get angry too easily, lose perspective, and catastrophize. And because I don’t possess much patience, I too often fail to wait, compose myself, and respond wisely.
And so I surprised myself a few weeks ago when I was in Chicago. I’d flown there on a Friday afternoon with plans to fly home Sunday. I had rented a car, driven nearly two hours to Valparaiso University in Indiana, where I was keynoting a Peace and Justice Symposium and leading a workshop the next day. Following the symposium, I drove back to Chicago to perform my 1-woman show at Northwestern University.
Everything had gone beautifully, but it was an intense day, and after the show, as I was packing up my props, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. I must have left it in the car, I thought, but when I got to the car it was nowhere to be found. My wallet had everything in it: my I.D., money, credit cards, even my cell phone.
Yet, I found myself remaining so calm.
Although it wasn’t in the building’s lost and found, nor anywhere in the room where I’d performed (at least as far as I could see), I still didn’t find myself reacting very strongly. It would be a pain to lose my wallet, that’s for sure, and I’d have to figure out a lot of things in order to get home the next day, but I knew it would all resolve itself. Then, just as I was about to leave the room and abandon the search, a group of students began reorganizing the space for the next event. When a guy moved the table I’d used on the stage area, there was my wallet underneath. What a relief.
There were a few other mishaps that night, including having trouble finding the hotel where I’d be staying, not having change for the automated toll both (necessitating getting info from the car rental company about the car to pay the toll online the next day), leaving my phone in the rental car, and waiting for quite a long time to be checked in at the hotel; but I didn’t have big reactions to any of these things either.
The next morning, as I waited for my first flight to Philadelphia, I received an email. My plane from Philly to Bangor had been cancelled. I would not be getting home that night. Oh well. No big reaction then, either.
What had happened to me? Where was the impatient, reactive Zoe?
Over the years, I’ve tried quite hard to cultivate patience, calm, serenity, and perspective. I travel too often – with too many travel mishaps, including frequent overnights in cities that were supposed to serve only for connecting flights – to keep reacting as if these mishaps are a big deal. I’ve learned that they are not catastrophes.
I remind myself, over and over and over again, about how very privileged I am; that I will have food to eat and a place to lay my head and I have nothing – NOTHING – to complain about in the big scheme of things.
And this is something I think that those of us with food to eat and a home and enough money to meet our needs must keep reminding ourselves. Patience and perspective are qualities worth cultivating. Fortunately, like most virtues, they will not only serve us but everyone whose lives we impact.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm; Above All, Be Kind; and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach“
My TEDxConejo talk: “Solutionaries”
My TEDxYouth@CEHS “How to Be a Solutionary”
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Filed under: MOGO (Most Good) | Tagged: calm, mindfulness, Most Good Least Harm, patience, perspective, privilege, reactiveness, serenity, travel, values | Comments Off