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“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient* with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

–Lao Tzu

*Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset.

I didn’t understand the true meaning of patience until I had kids.

Not only is patience paramount in parenting, but it’s also most critical at precisely the moment you have none left. Take bedtime. By 7:30, I’ve been through a full day of work, cooked a meal my kids won’t eat, run a few frustrating virtual errands, and sunken into a hazy food and stress-induced coma.

Right when the patience-meter is almost zero, James refuses to brush his teeth, Sam asks for a different dinner, and they both pick my least favorite, 30-page book for storytime. At this moment, although I have the “capacity to tolerate (this) trouble,” it’s really hard to do so “without getting upset.”

So by the definition I gave at the beginning, by the end of the day I am not a patient person.

As much as I marvel at the patience of adults in the current school setting–watching my wife breathe deeply as she re-teaches 25 4th-graders how to mute their mics for the 60th time, for example–because I interface mostly with students, they’re the ones who have me in awe right now.

Students are learning Calculus while watching their siblings. They’re rewriting assignments when their wifi dies. They’re teaching their parents how to use Canvas. They’re respectfully emailing teachers when they need extra help. They’re showing up on Fridays at voluntary study groups. All of this with a global pandemic and a historic election in the backdrop. Like our own children, students can certainly be frustrating, they can be absent-minded, they can be obstinant, they can even be ungrateful. But we cannot call them impatient.

With the pandemic and the election dragging on indefinitely, we’ll have to go deep in our reservoir for patience, not only as we wait for the outcomes, but as we relate to our opponents. Let’s turn to our students for inspiration on how to be patient at such a difficult time. In fact, let’s turn to them more often in general.

We may as well get used to the young people leading us. Soon enough, we’ll have no other choice.


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