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Selective Impatience

By nature, I’m an impatient person. (I know that some of you who know me think that I’m calm and laid-back and that nothing disturbs me, but what you don’t know is that inside that calm exterior is brewing a frustrated, impatient turmoil!) Part of that trait, I think, was instilled in me by my parents, who taught us kids to obey those in authority; to be on time for everything; to reply promptly whenever an adult spoke to us; and, when something had to be done, to “just do it” rather than “dilly-dally” around about it.

Whenever Mother or Daddy told us kids to do (or not to do) something, we learned that theirs was the final word on the matter. We’d better “hop to it,” or else! And that principle carried over to every other authority figure in our lives. If a teacher told us to do (or not to do) something, we obeyed. We knew that if we didn’t, we’d not only get into trouble at school but also face greater repercussions when we got home. They taught us that the policeman who directed us to do something was the boss in that situation, and we’d better obey him.

So whenever I see kids disobeying their parents’ instructions today (and apparently getting away with it), I quickly become impatient with the situation. It frustrates me. I want to shake the parents and tell them, “Don’t you realize what you’re doing here?” I also think of

this principle whenever I hear on the news of someone who was shot by a policeman and learn that the “victim” had disregarded numerous orders to stop or to put up his hands or whatever else the policeman might have instructed. How much better it is simply to obey!

My parents also taught us kids to be on time. Actually, if we were merely “on time,” we were late! Being late, they taught, was showing disrespect for the people who were running the meeting (who were at least distracted by our late arrival or, worse, had to repeat themselves for our benefit but others’ boredom). It also was disrespectful of the other attendees whom we were disrupting by our entering the meeting late. Therefore, whenever I attend a meeting or a function that doesn’t start on time, I get impatient. I’ve often thought that it seems that the people who live closest to the venue tend to be the ones who are always late.

Another lesson my parents taught us was that whenever something was to be done, we were to do it right then, not later. And their word was the law. When they said, “Jump,” they expected us to jump. And we didn’t dilly-dally about details of how high. We just did whatever they said. That was not just for their convenience; it was, in the long run, for our own safety. Suppose that we’d habitually ignored their instructions until we got good and ready to obey and then one day they told us to get away from a certain area of the yard. Rather than obeying, we might have argued or questioned why–and then stepped on a yellow jacket nest and been stung.

I learned early in life that whenever an adult spoke to me, to reply courteously and promptly. (That was hard for me because I was so shy, and I still struggle with it, but good habits are hard to break.) If I was introduced to someone, or if someone approached me and I was seated, I was taught to stand and address them politely. It’s a sign of respect for the other person. And I get impatient with kids today who ignore adults who address them, remaining slouched over their electronic gadgets and apparently ignoring or disregarding the person who is approaching them.

These lessons and others (e.g., giving up one’s seat to a lady and taking off one’s hat or cap inside a building) have stayed with me throughout my life, and people sometimes express surprise when I act accordingly. Whenever a job is completed before its deadline. Whenever I stand when approached by someone. Whenever I get started on a job right away.

“Oh, but that’s so old-fashioned,” some people might object. “We live in a more laid-back society today.” That’s certainly true, but good habits and proper etiquette never go out of style. And that’s why I get so impatient with people who weren’t brought up that way. They cause a lot of inconvenience and problems and sometimes even harm for the rest of us–and themselves. Society might be more laid-back today, but it’s also less polite, less friendly, less civil. Part of the reason is that everything is about self today rather than about others. The surprising and seemingly oxymoronic fact is that whenever we show respect for and put others first, we are actually respecting and helping ourselves.

There’s a difference, however, between mere impatience and selective impatience. Impatience might manifest itself when I become frustrated at the immature behavior by a child who knows no better or by the delays of someone who isn’t getting started on their project because they don’t know how to go about it. But selective impatience is that which manifests itself when confronted by inappropriate behavior by those who should know better. By disrespect. By lack of common courtesy. By total selfishness.

May God give me grace and wisdom to be more selective in my impatience. I dare say that I’m not the only one who needs such divine help. You, too? 

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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