Returning from a long weekend away from the city, I came within centimetres of a fatal accident. An impatient driver sped past a string of cars behind us, crossing a solid white line, while we were turning right at a clearly marked exit. Had it not been for our driver’s vigilance, who at the last millisecond checked for cars on both sides behind him and then delayed our exit, we would have surely perished along with many others.
South African roads are renowned for their high accident toll, especially over long weekends like this past one. There are many reasons for this sad fact. However, underlying our high accident toll is one character trait: impatience. Or perhaps it is the lack of a desired character trait: patience.
The driver mentioned became impatient and risked passing all those vehicles, in a no-pass zone. It perplexes me that impatience can cause such risky behaviour.
The definition of patience is the capacity to tolerate delay, problems, or suffering, without becoming annoyed or anxious. It is, therefore, not only the ability to wait but also the ability to keep a pleasant attitude while waiting. How many of us can attest to having patience in the traffic?
Patience in traffic is not a factor in what others do to us but how we respond to traffic, including mistakes, and disappointing reactions, or lack of speed in others.
We are not a patient generation. We are too accustomed to immediate gratification. Everything is instant.
Our lack of patience is at the root of many evils. Instant fashion, for example, contributes to pollution, poor labour practices, climate concerns, and waste.
Patience, on the other hand, is required for most good things. We need the patience to create anything of value – relationships, careers, art, or gardens. Think of the patience required to watch a tree grow – decades of patience to see it fill out into the planned space in a majestic garden.
Patience is especially important when it comes to money. Good financial plans stretch over decades, if not a lifetime. Most people make small contributions over long periods to build meaningful portfolios. It may mean applying patience and delaying spending to save. Sometimes the growth of these savings is disappointing. Sometimes we may even experience setbacks. But eventually, those seemingly small contributions contribute to the compounding of capital. Eventually, patience is rewarded.
Impatience destroys. It can also be the cause of breaking down everything worth building. It can even cause death.
We’d all do well to remember the Chinese proverb: “One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”
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