Many years ago my friend Dane said I was too patient with people, let them get away with too much, gave them too many free swings at me. There were times he was spot on right. I recall one occasion in which I was, as it turned out, being far too patient with a problematic roommate. At the time I was living in the Lower East Side, East Second Street between avenues C and D. I did reach the end of my patience (a bit late in the game, truth be told) and found another roommate.
But, still, to this day I am patient with people and situations I care about. Why? Why the patience? The answer has more than one aspect. Usually I genuinely care about the person, group or situation. When it comes to people I truly care about (love even), who else should I be patient and forgiving with? (Those you are close too can inflict the deepest wounds, thus the need for forgiveness.) I would rather be too patient than not been patient enough. After all, people have been patient with me. That, and I’ve never known anyone, least of all me, who can claim the mantle of perfection. I have, like you, known some who think they can. (A sad lot to be sure.) If, at some point, I am going to sever ties with a person or group or situation I genuinely care about (or love) I want to know that I have given my all with all my heart, and soul – and might.
I suppose the question is how do you know when, exactly, you’ve been patient enough? How can you tell? It is not always easy and I am not going to pretend I have the singular answer. For me it revolves around respect and honesty. Am I being treated with respect? If not, when (if) addressed, does it get resolved in a healthy way? Are the people involved being honest? If not, do they own it? Without respect and honesty you are doing nothing more than trying to make uniform shapes out of smoke. If this is the case and those involved are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for their choices, it’s time to disengage.
As to whether I am too patient or not… I think we do more damage to each other with impatience and the absence of forgiveness than we do with patience and forgiveness. So, if I am going to overdo it, I’d rather overdo it on the patience and forgiveness fronts. It is what I would want from someone who cared about me. No one has the right to expect what they will not give.
It may be true that patience is a virtue, but not always. Sometimes it is pointless. Many years ago one of the people I love most in the world, Dane Arnold, told me there were times I was too patient with people. If memory serves, I was being patient with a rather problematic apartment mate at the time who, as it turned out, deserved anything but patience. Dane was right. I’d been too patient.
I am saying nothing unique when I say we are all works in progress. For a few years now I’ve used a kind of strategy to help me identify when I am either being too patient with someone, or allowing someone to treat me or behave towards me in a way I should reject, harshly if necessary. It might work for you too.
First, pick someone, alive or dead, who you love with all your heart and soul. Someone you know you would protect with your life if necessary. The person I picked is my father. My father was and is the greatest gift life has ever given me and even though he left the world when he was 55 and I was 15, he is with me every day.
Anyway, you choose someone you love with all your heart. Then you ask yourself if you saw this person being treated the way you are being treated what would you do? The answer is usually split-second obvious. And, if the treatment, meaning the respect that you would demand for this person is more than the respect you’ve been receiving, then you have successfully discovered an area where you are allowing yourself to be treated with less respect then you deserve. Then, make changes, disengage from the person or group if need be.
Having patience for people is a healthy thing, but not if it means you will get treated with disrespect or cruelty as a result. You can always accept an apology and re-connect with a person or group in life. In the meantime, you have the right to disengage from someone or cut someone off who has been treating you with disrespect. Don’t you think that is what the person you used to help you in this strategy would want you to do? I do.
Many years ago my friend Dane said to me, “You’re too fucking patient with people.” At the time I think he was referencing my patience with a roommate who was about as committed to the apartment we lived in as someone who lived on the opposite of the globe who’d never met me.
Many years ago my friend Michael said, “You gotta stop trying to help everyone, take care of yourself.”
We were driving up Sixth Avenue in the village at the time he said this. We were approaching 10th Street and were in heavy slow moving traffic. I looked to my right and the guy in the car slowly moving next to ours, Michael was driving, was riding on a flat rear tire. I looked at Michael. “One sec, bro.” Rolled down the window. Shouted to the other driver, “Hey! Your back tire’s flat!”
He shouted back, “Fuck you!”
Michael said, “See what I’m telling you?”
Both Michael and Dane were, and, I am beginning to realize, still are right. Patience is indeed a virtue, a beautiful character trait. It has its place as long as you, I mean me in this case, are not cutting of your nose to spite your face. And trying to help everyone is an impossible task. I think the litmus test for the latter is helping someone is something that lands in the sweet spot of my bat swing if the person is willing to help themselves. If not, it’s time to let go.
As for being too patient, it’s something I’m working on but frankly I don’t have time to think about it right now.
Hey! Maybe I’m learning!