Ask Yourself This Question the Next Time You're Feeling FranticNone By Piero Ferrucci
We have all met difficult people, and have all somehow been difficult ourselves for others—perhaps without even realizing it. But some people are champions. They get first prize for pushing our buttons. Our reaction when faced with them is to feel irritated. And we either express our annoyance or suffer in silence. It is also possible, however, to practice the art of patience and help these people feel better about themselves.
I had proof of this once on an airplane. To start with, a plane is, for many of us, an extremely frustrating place. It is hard to endure the time, crammed with others for hours in a noisy, unstable contraption. But what happens if our neighbors are a nuisance? Well, behind me on this flight was seated a man who was clearly drunk—and growing louder and more aggressive the more he drank. At one point, he dropped his meal tray: French fries, mushrooms, and macaroni went rolling down the aisle. Then suddenly I was shocked to realize he had brought a huge toad in a box. (Don’t ask me how he got past the security check.) Soon the stewardesses stepped in. But instead of reproaching him, as I secretly hoped they would, they began to talk with him, joke, pour him a little more wine, admire the toad; and they cleaned the mess without a word. The drunk calmed down and soon fell asleep.
This is one of the hardest criteria for testing our patience: having to deal with someone insufferable. Those stewardesses get full marks. It seems to me that what works is not to react to the annoyance, but instead to treat the person with skill and kindness. Difficult people are not used to that type of treatment—they are usually neither liked nor tolerated. And what happens if you continually meet with irritation? They end up falling into their role of nuisance. With our own reactions, we all unwittingly help reinforce their role. They are often unhappy people who—believe it or not—awkwardly and desperately try to be accepted.
Patience is also the skill of understanding and respecting your own rhythms and those of others. We have all been victims of impatience: the pressure of deadlines, the aggressive driver on the freeway who suddenly appears in our rearview mirror flashing his headlights, the bus passenger who pushes past everyone to get off first, even when it is clear we are all getting off.
All these situations cause us discomfort. When someone imposes on us a rhythm that is not ours, we feel violated. We have all been on the other side of the fence as well. We have to make an urgent call, while the man inside the telephone booth nonchalantly continues to chatter. Famished, we sit for ages in a restaurant waiting to be noticed by a sour waiter. At the post office, a talkative woman asks a lot of pointless questions, wasting everyone’s time.
I am convinced that if we practice patience, we come to understand profound aspects of other people’s lives. We understand their rhythms and their weaknesses, thereby knowing their nature intimately. Also, patience is the virtue of all good teachers, who know how to wait for the pupil slowly to mature, instead of pushing him before he is ready. If we rush, we may lose ourselves. But we are so used to hurrying that we do not notice the loss.
A group of scientists had to carry out research in a faraway, almost inaccessible place. A group of Mexican carriers were transporting their equipment by hand. Along the way, all the carriers inexplicably stopped at once. The scientists were astonished, then became irritated, finally furious. Why did they not go on? They were wasting time. The Mexicans seemed to be waiting. Then all at once, they started moving again. One of them explained to the scientists what had happened: “Because we had been going so fast, we had left our souls behind. We stopped to wait for our souls.”
We too often leave our souls behind. Caught up in urgency, we forget what is truly important in life. Pushed on by the demon of haste, we forget our souls—our dreams, our warmth, our wonder. From this viewpoint, it is clear how patience is part of kindness, for how can we be kind if we do not respect the rhythm of others? We forget the soul—theirs and ours.
The next time you surprise yourself while hurrying your child, or pacing up and down waiting for a late train, or forgetting to breathe in your haste, ask yourself where you left your soul.
Excerpted from The Power of Kindness: 10th Anniversary Edition by Piero Ferrucci with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2016 by Piero Ferrucci.
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