3 Reasons to Be Patient When Patience is Hard

I am not good at patience. Neither is an elderly woman I encountered in the checkout line at Sears once. I, then in my early 20s, rifled through papers and pens in my purse until I found what I needed: my checkbook. The elderly woman sighed audibly. I ignored her and exercised my right to write a check. Then the cashier pointed out my mistake: distracted, I’d made the check out to myself.

I laughed. The elderly woman did not. That’s because nothing is funny when you’re the person behind the person who writes a check to herself at Sears. Because it’s hard to have patience. But here are 3 reasons you need to practice it.

1. People can’t read your mind.

We don’t lose our patience because people aren’t all-knowing. We lose our patience because we expect them to be. We want family, friends, and strangers to accommodate for our needs—including needs they can’t possibly know we have. When we accept that other people don’t know everything, a slow driver ahead looks less like a person who is trying to ruin your day and more like a person who isn’t aware of the speed limit. Passing that person when it’s safe to pass is more productive than calling him or her an idiot.

2. You aren’t a mind reader, either.

A lot of the patience we lose is lost because we attribute intentions to other people’s actions without proof that what we think is even true. When your teenage son doesn’t immediately respond to your text, we can guess it’s because he’s up to no good, or we can accept that we don’t know why he’s not responding. When we’re being tailgated, we can guess it’s because the driver behind us is a crazy person, or we can accept that we don’t know why he or she is in a hurry. Accepting that we don’t know everything opens us up to giving others the benefit of the doubt—a practice that makes it easier to have patience with people.

3. Everybody makes mistakes.

Sometimes, an employee misses a deadline. Other times, a chef overcooks your pasta or you get stuck behind a girl who wrote a check to herself at Sears. A lot of people who drop the ball drop it because they’re self-absorbed, ill-prepared, or otherwise at fault. But having patience with a person doesn’t mean we condone his or her bad behavior. It doesn’t mean we don’t seek justice. It means we don’t respond to bad behavior like we’ve never behaved badly, or like the entire world should cater to us constantly. When we accept that everybody drops the ball at some point, mercy becomes important. Patience, then, isn’t the ability to wait, or the ability to be unaffected; it’s the ability to suffer. And in a world where suffering is inevitable, we really ought to practice it.

In what part of your life could you use more patience lately?