The Unvalued Virtue: Patience

Let me set the scene for you: you and a friend are playing a game of would you rather. Suppose you were given a choice between having one of two virtues: patience or courage. What would you choose?

I bet I can guess. You chose courage, and when presented with this choice, I believe most would respond by choosing the latter option. There is a reason for that. Overcoming one’s fears—whether it be mental, social, or physical—is a large part of succeeding in society, and that gives fear a large role in determining the value of these two virtues in our civilization. As we do not expect to depend on patience in any instance when one will have to face their fears, nor do we believe it to be a particularly useful defense in the face of subjugation, the virtue simply seems to silence. With it, one can only endure hardship, patiently awaiting the end to their injustice, while their counterpart eagerly—though also recklessly—fights back. In other words, our current perception of such virtues not only stigmatizes patience and glorifies courage, but suggests that the two are at odds—when in fact, one cannot, and should not, function without the other.

Now, speaking on the fragmentation of society’s philosophy of values is quite broad, so I shall narrow it down to somewhere we all know pretty well: Andover. We are told to seize the moment, to “eagerly take academic risks,” to “thirst for mastery.” While these are all noteworthy pieces of advice, it is generally true that this counsel operates under the assumption that all storms thrown in our paths can be—must be—weathered with strength, leaving little to no room to consider the long-term effects of such courageous actions. In the perpetuation of such values, we marginalize the virtue that is patience, equating it to complacency. I see this behavior ingrained into Andover as a whole. 

Picture this: It is the week of Add-Drop. You are coming back—or to—Andover from summer vacation, and maybe you aren’t satisfied with your current courses, so you decide to test out of your class(es). But contrary to what you envisioned, you fail, and must now throw away the little plan that you had concocted for your upcoming years. You must finally ground yourself in your reality. Of course, there is still the potential that you succeed in your original class placement, surrounded by teachers and peers who are more than happy to aid you on your journey. But you remain pessimistic, pained with a sadness that will not subside, and angry that you did not, or could not, meet your expectations. Why?

One possibility is that this student lacks the courage to face the fear of how their family, friends, and society will view them. They are too focused on how humiliated they feel in the face of their failure so they conceal their weakness by refusing to pursue this new way of life and once again failing. Though they are showered in reassurances and praise, they cannot seem to believe in their own capacity to succeed, which is less than what they wanted for themselves, and less than what they thought they deserved. 

On the other hand, let’s say for the sake of argument that this person is indifferent to the way others view them. In this version, it may not be their cowardice that prevents them from seizing the opportunities already on their plate, but instead, the lack of patience to accept their current options and thrive utilizing the good that is now available to them. Ascribing cowardice as the source of their grief suggests that their sadness originates from the way they deal with their grief when in truth, the hardship stems from why this person feels they need to grieve in the first place. With only courage, with only the core lessons that Andover instills within us, it is often hard to accept and work with that which is less than what we craved. It is hard to continue when you have no control or knowledge over where your path might lead you. But it is through patience that you learn to tackle and control these often unavoidable doubts, eventually opening yourself to that which you could have never imagined.

 So long as we, students, seek to outrun the chain and ball that is disappointment, so long as we are distraught by the idea of being accused of laxity, we will forever view such an advantageous attribute in a negative light, falling prey to the incomplete framework that compels us to presume that courage and patience operate on two different sides of a spectrum, when, truly, both act in accordance to nurture healthy success.