Social Change and Patience

“Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.”
– Guy Kawasaki


“What do we want?” (Insert your desired change here.) When do we want it? NOW. The universal call and response of protest is not an ode to patience.

The saying, “patience is a virtue” comes from a poem written in the 1300s, by William Langland, titled, Piers Plowman. Life was pretty horrible for a lot of people in the 1300s. I’m sure that the small, privileged, affluent class in countries throughout the world were keen on perpetuating myths that reinforced their own position when they said, “patience is a virtue,” or its twin sibling, “good things come to those who wait.”

I admit that there are times during a heated struggle, when taking a little time out for strategic reflection is necessary. There are also times when cooling down is the expedient thing to do. These should, however, be seen as equivalent to resting in the corner for a minute, between rounds of a boxing match. Patience must go hand-in-hand with perseverance.

Perseverance is the key to affecting change. Think about who is being served by patience. Who is patronizing you by suggesting that you should tolerate injustice and suffering? Perseverance implies commitment and determination.

“Why aren’t you doing anything?”

“Oh, I’m just being patient.”

Declarations in favor of patience might simply be serving as excuses for fear, or laziness. Where is the virtue in that? Fear may be rational and justified, but it doesn’t have to be an excuse for a lack of commitment, hiding behind a veil of patience. Change is not possible without risk, and risk-free virtue is of little value.