Patience is a Powerful Force

Short-term thinking is pretty much the norm nowadays. Shareholders are much more interested in a company’s quarterly results than they are in its long-term sustainability strategy. Targets must be met as quickly as possible. Wishes must be satisfied at double quick time. Quick success, quick profits, everything as quick as possible. I call this the “Amazon Prime Principle”. Want it today, have it tomorrow. In the fast-paced life of the 21st century there’s little room for patience.

Collective impatience

As expectations rise, a growing collective impatience is becoming evident. Now obviously nobody likes sitting in a traffic jam or waiting in a long line at the supermarket check-out. Yet impatience in such situations is unhelpful. The invention of queueing in Anglo-Saxon countries has long put a curb on impatience.

In Germany the spread of impatience goes hand in hand with an increasing dissatisfaction when things take a bit longer than expected and don’t go quickly enough in the direction people want them to. Yet critically this also applies with equal force to many things you cannot buy – relationships, trust or recovery from a serious illness all need time to progress and develop.


The art of living

Yes, nowadays patience is often seen as a weakness, something synonymous with passivity, lack of engagement and even downright laziness. Yet true patience is anything but all that. True patience is a powerful force. It’s an expression of long-term thinking and the awareness that many things in life simply need to take their time. And when it’s paired the ability to recognise the right point in time to get moving and bring something to a successful conclusion, then it’s almost like an art – the art of living. .

A virtue in the young

There’s a saying that impatience is a prerogative of young people. And there’s some truth in this. Once more we have a young generation who are insistently giving a collective voice to their impatience. Even though I don’t agree with everything they’re saying and demanding, I still find their impatience fully justified. Without the zest and drive of young people who still have their whole life ahead of them and simply aren’t prepared to accept that everything is as it is and will stay as it is, no society can move forward. Such impatience in young people is like the force of spring that overcomes winter.


Thinking in processes

A glance into nature makes this clear: grass doesn’t grow any quicker if you pull and tweak it. It’s not overnight that a wine gets the maturity it needs to be a really good wine. And a new human life needs around nine months before it sees the light of day. Nature is no machine where all you have to do is step on the gas to makes things go quicker. It’s organised in processes interconnected with one another. And all these processes have their own rhythms and their own time. When the process is clear you can follow it and support it with patience.

The patience of nature

I know this might sound strange but in a certain way over the past one hundred and fifty years nature has shown a great deal of patience with us humans. Even though we ourselves are a part of nature, in our striving for prosperity we have disrupted natural cycles, and attacked and sometimes even decimated its valuable and limited resources. For a long time we have recklessly taken advantage of nature and for a long time the nature of this Earth has patiently tolerated our ignorant behaviour.

Yet the end of this patience is now in sight. The natural consequences of our behaviour are catching up on us. We are standing at the crossroads. Some of us want to continue just as before. This is ignorance, not patience.  Others succumb to blind activism – never mind what as long as something’s happening.

Smart action

We need to find intelligent solutions to the major problems and naturally must loose no time in finding them. And yet development of such solutions also takes time because the situation in which we find ourselves on this planet is complex. Activism doesn’t stand a chance against the complexity of such a system.


And even though activism often cuts a better figure in the public arena that the judicious weighing up of alternatives to find the best solution, it seldom leads to good results and frequently to the very reverse. Activism cannot offset the fact that for far too long we’ve neglected to do so much and have only started serious work on this or that issue at a very late hour. What we really need is smart and circumspect yet consistent action. And this requires both determination and patience. We must act quickly and effectively but also reasonably and patiently.

Perhaps you’re now thinking – how can that work? – what you’re saying is a blatant contradiction! And I’d agree that it does look like one. Only the whole point now is how to overcome such a contradiction. It’s a learning process of existential importance. And as we all know learning or relearning also takes time.


Being impatient won’t speed anything up

What applies to the macro level also applies here to the micro level, i.e. in our daily lives. Impatient striving for quick results gives no guarantee whatsoever of good results. Admittedly, sometimes it’s really important to be quick-off-the-mark. Yet impatience is anything but an acceleration factor. Impatience makes us hectic and nervous, it doesn’t make us quick.

How many mishaps and bad decisions happen simply because we haven‘t taken the time we need to sit back and make a well thought-through decision that also considers the long-term effects our decision will have. The really important things in life cannot be achieved on the quick and easy. There’s an old German proverb “Good things need time”. There’s a lot of truth in that, I find.



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