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The Patience of Virtue

“She’s got it backwards.”

“You’re right. How odd. It should be the virtue of patience. You know, ‘patience is a virtue.’”


Well, this writer is the She in reference here, and she doesn’t have it wrong. Play along for a moment; imagine that Virtue is a living being. Say she is invisible, yet sentient. Like Diogenes searching with his lamp for one honest man, Virtue seeks someone resilient and forward thinking. This person can withstand a string of losses the way the itsy-bitsy spider can withstand the cascade of rain that washes him down the water spout. Virtue is herself patient, consistently. She is more than an ethereal, yearning for partnership with a fully human type. Her goal is to create the perfect metaphor: Virtue is Patience and Patience is Virtue.

Of course, there are many virtues, and perhaps the same abstraction might be made for all of them. Thinking of Virtue as Patience signals something to the writer who allows a tempest to add to the discouragement of a rejection letter. He or she is more than disappointed; a cauldron of anger may be too hot to touch, and blame may be the stick that stirs the anger till it threatens to overflow. At that moment, being virtuous is not what the dejected author craves. Having been patient through a couple dozen “no, thanks, but good luck” mails, there’s an urge toward retribution. This is understandable. It's not useful for more than a minute’s venting.

The chemistry of our bodies, as you have often heard, changes with our mental states. It is quite responsive to our thoughts and cannot react contrary to them. It floods the blood with hormone commensurate to what our minds tell us we are feeling. “You’re angry? No problem, I’ll pump the cortisol, says the adrenal gland. Happy? Swell, I’ll help sustain your good mood with some epinephrine (adrenaline). Have some endorphins to intensify either experience. We are hormones, front and center wanting to help.”

The writer has oversimplified the message that your immediate reaction to any kind of stress—welcome or loathed—is automatic. So, while you tear that rejection letter into the tiniest pieces possible, Virtue stands by crossing her arms and shaking her head. She will stick around if you give her a chance; she will leave you to continue looking for a patient person with whom to partner. If this sounds like gibberish to you, so be it. If, however, you think this leads to a point, you’ll be right.

When people say, “You just need to be patient,” they generally offer this advice because they mean well. If your nostrils flare and you snap back, “Just how do I do that? Anyway, I don’t feel like it,” people often don’t have an answer. They might choose to get away from your bad-mood-attitude because their flight or fight response, a gift of the amygdala, is kicked into gear. Sympathy is difficult to maintain when the object on the receiving end is having none of it. Now, read the next sentence more than once, if you would. In case your hormones are running your brain and your body, think one word: Virtue. She wants to bond with you. She is whom you want to be, a person of sterling character, not a tumbleweed in an arid wind. Has anyone taught you to think of Virtue when you’re in a messy state? More likely you’ve been told to be patient, calm down, get a grip, control yourself, chill, or take it easy.

So, here’s a simple tool to assist you with self-rescue. You may have reason to you it today. Even if you don’t, you can practice saying it to yourself out loud. “V, I C U” (Virtue, I choose you). Virtue will wait as long as it takes, and more than Patience will result. Remember, there exist many Virtues, all of them looking for someone to honor with their time. Virtue is patience when you need it most.


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