Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Developing Patience (When it is Not Your Strong Suit)

Ed Wang Photograph 2021

Somewhere along the way, I never developed patience. (The “whys” are a long story.) It is a virtue I lack that I am now trying to cultivate and it surely isn’t easy. But, I see the need for patience in a wide range of arenas and it would serve me (and others) well if I (we) could develop patience both personally and professionally.

Here are some examples of where patience would be an asset of real value…

At Work

I work in a world where I am seeking change within educational institutions. And, to be sure, change is hard. But, change is also not necessarily quick. It needs to gather strong roots if the change is to have durability. I know this and yet, a part of me wants to see change happen quickly. And, in education (my field), change even when recognized as sorely needed moves at a glacial pace. And, since change is often leader-dependent (another topic of value), when leaders change, the proverbial change ball slows down.

It is in this context that I have been reflecting on needed change in how we treat each other in schools. It is one thing to say we need to be respectful of others, whatever their gender or race or ethnicity or creed or customs. Yet, there are still too many opportunities for bullying and harassment and mistreatment. Across the pre-K — adult educational landscape, individuals are experiencing mistreatment by peers and adults alike. And remember, the feeling of mistreatment is in the heart and mind and body of the person being mistreated not the person who is doing the mistreating while often denying that what he/she/they did is offensive.

I feel a need to help schools/universities make change fast. Stop the misbehavior. Stop the hurt. Change the culture. Reform what is not acceptable. Eliminate bad behavior of others. I want systems and ideas to be put into place ASAP. Time is a wasting.

I know better. I know change takes time. And, I know pushing change will not make it stick. Kindness and understanding don’t just get pasted on us.

It is in this context that I am reflecting on how the North Shore of MA is responding to antisemitic and racist banners hung over bridges in the area. And, the banners were hung by masked people through an organization that has a pattern of discrimination that runs wide and deep in New England.

A part of me wanted to get a “reverse” banner up the next day, a banner that said something like: Everyone Belongs. But, of course, this isn’t a one person task and there are lots of steps and people and procedures involved. And, it is not just hanging reverse banners; it is changing a culture that messages loudly and clearly that discrimination has no home in our community.

So there were emails and a meeting and follow-on emails and now an event where we will march and hang a banner on the same bridge — unmasked — that will speak to harmony and equity and inclusion. And there will be signs too and hopefully media coverage. There was and hopefully will be widespread engagement among students, citizens, town leaders, town clergy, schools, organizations.

But, the hanging of a “reverse” banner and the accompanying march will not, in and of themselves, make change. Change takes longer and it needs to reach many people, even naysayers. And, we must exercise some patience. Change can’t be inoculated into us like a vaccine. It needs time.

And that’s where I need to apply patience. I need to accept that we cannot, overnight and unmasked, transform discrimination. If this were even possible, it would have succeeded long long ago. Instead, discrimination has persisted for centuries.

At Home

The absence of patience plays out in my personal arena as well. A close friend died in May, 2022 and a part of me wants to be over the pain already. I know grieving for her is not quick and I recognize that it comes and goes in waves. And, like real waves, they don’t stop. Someone joked recently that “I needed better friends,” since some of my closest friends had died. That isn’t the least bit funny and that person obviously doesn’t get it (although he certainly should have given his profession).

I also don’t have patience in the aftermath of my husband’s death from Alzheimer’s Disease two years ago. I want to restart my life. But it isn’t a quick process. I am trying to exercise patience, to appreciate people for who they are and what they carry with them, even if they aren’t the epitome of perfection. And, I would be wiser to suspend judgment and go slow and learn and enjoy what is before me rather than questing so mightily for something that is not yet there.

Patience is a virtue and I need to find a way to develop it.

I am reminded of Sam who often has played pickleball with me and has watched me play pickleball, a new sport for me. He’s in his late 80’s. And every single time he sees me play or plays with me, he says: Go slow, don’t rush, go easy. Basically, he is saying my game lacks patience. He’s right. At a recent pickleball clinic with amazing instructors, one said to me: Don’t swing so so hard; go slow and push the ball; hold the racket looser.

I think, at least in some instances, patience would help my art. It certainly would have prevented undried yellow paint splattering on the wall where I hung a new piece (too soon). Letting paint dry generally could be my metaphor.

So, I am on a slow quest to try out patience as a virtue and that isn’t a quick process (ironic, eh what?). But, this I know: to move forward, to make change, to improve one’s situation, the path isn’t linear or quick or easy. And, rushing doesn’t help. Slow down I say to myself. It is ok not to be where you ultimately want to be. Find ways to enjoy the process and the people and the purpose. Find patience and what it can afford us — time and space and peace.

Easier said than done to be sure. But, if you see me any time soon and I am “playing slower,” it isn’t because I am older; it is because I am getting wiser.

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Karen Gross

Karen Gross

962 Followers

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor