Philosophically Speaking: What is Patience?

What is patience? Patience is an essential human attributes that is vital to better relationships among individuals, families, friends, societies, and nations.

Why is it necessary to be patient (longsuffering)? What are the characteristics of a patient person? In Biblical literature, The Sermon on the Mount, referred to as the Beatitudes is perhaps a complete commentary for humanity covering every aspect of patient and peaceful living (Matthew 5:1–12). The Beatitudes are more than words; they are insightful and spiritual keys to the daily practice of patience.

The powerful words can break down barriers such as religious, racial, color, social, and cultural. Collectively, the Beatitudes constitute the most important call to the attention of the need for patience. Patience is probably the most lacking of the positive human virtues such as courage, commitment, compassion, generosity, loyalty, and tenacity in our challenging and fast-paced postmodern era. Ironically, patience is one of the most necessary virtues; yet, we often display impatience with fellow human beings during interactions in our homes, our workplaces, our religious institutions, our educational institutions, and our corporate boardrooms.

Contrarily, those most closely related to us present the most significant test of our patience. They are our children, our husbands, our wives, our parents, our grandparents, and our friends. How should we respond to the testing of our endurance? Imagine for a moment that our husband or wife is late picking up the other upon arrival at an airport, and he or she has not called. We may become impatient, and conjure up in our minds negative reasons for their lateness without knowing the cause, or we may act on yesterday’s memories, which might distort the reality of the current situation.

Our busy lifestyles underpin the reason why some of us grow apart and grow impatient, lacking in tolerance and self–control. We hurry through our lives with a rush of anticipation. The demands of our children, husbands, wives, friends, employees, and employers overwhelm us. We are overwhelmed by Common, everyday activities that have become a stressful experience as we hurry to and from work on busy, overcrowded highways to pick up our children from school or babysitters, and then rush back home to prepare supper. The human genius, however, over the past century, has come to the aid of the family with science and technology in the form of cellular telephones, digital banking, high–speed transportation, drive-through car washes, and microwave ovens, to name a few technological advances.

These advancements have, over the past several generations have fostered a mindset of instant gratification. We demand immediate relief from illnesses; cosmetic surgery to obtain instant youthful looks; drugs to enhance athletic abilities; quick weight loss diets, body sculpturing, diets to lose pounds, and national lotteries to acquire instant wealth. We expect immediate responses to our needs and wants. Our wants reflect our impatience, and our desire to alleviate the suffering that causes us to seek instant healing and miracle cures for our ailments or legal drugs to mask physical and psychological ailments.


People rarely think of suffering as good, healthy, or essential to our well-being. Interestingly, some religious individuals view suffering as God’s response to human behavior that violates His will for our lives. Indeed, suffering may help to perfect us, though many understand that one can be in the perfect will of God, according to Biblical literature, yet, like Job of the Biblical Old Testament, suffering can come upon us suddenly. Notwithstanding, some individuals may consider that pain and suffering will bring them closer to the perfect will of God.

For many, human nature inclines us to disregard the existence of God when everything is going well regarding physical and mental health, and material possessions. Suffering then becomes a “double-edged sword.” On the one hand, the diagnosis of a catastrophic illness brings fear, anxiety, and looming uncertainty, as people call upon God to alleviate their suffering. On the other hand, people with financial means rely on their wealth, as they travel to distant lands to specialized medical facilities for healing. They hope that they can purchase an instant cure for their illnesses without a clear understanding of why they suffer, or the lessons and rewards inherent in their suffering.

Regardless of the path, that one takes to alleviate suffering, some level of impatience underpins the desire for instant healing. It is noteworthy that St. Paul, the Apostle, original name Saul of Tarsus, (born 4 BCE? Tarsus in Cilicia [now in Turkey] ―died c. 62-64 CE, Rome [Italy]), counseled the Romans to be patient in suffering: “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Romans 12:12–13) (

Does God cause the suffering that occurs throughout the world? Does God bring trials upon us to make us suffer for wrongdoings? Do the seeds of impatience result in the harvest of the “fruits of suffering?” Human suffering can draw us closer to others, as they empathize with our pain and contemplate on human vulnerability. It is also noteworthy that from a global perspective, those who are the most vulnerable, and most deserving of the exercise of patience towards them, have the most suffering inflicted upon them by those who have power and authority over them.


How does one rise beyond the condition of suffering and deep despair, and the state of absolutism that is pervasive in some developed, developing, and underdeveloped nations? First, we must sit quietly and contemplate the positive path of patience versus the negative path of impatience. We must then clear our minds of all unhealthy thoughts, all negativism, all preconceptions, all racism, all prejudice, all gender bias, all classism, all judgments, and all fears. Fear of other cultures is a barrier to our ability to listen, learn, understand, and respond to human needs, wants, priorities, and emergencies.

We must exercise patience in tribulation to achieve victory over spiritual depression and gloom. Patience is not static. Patience requires endurance. We may exhibit patience for a time, and then our patience wanes under oppression by the impatient. When others offend us, our natural inclination is to react with impatience and anger. We may not be aware that the conflict within us is between the spirit and the flesh. With deep anxiety, we nurture an attitude of hostility (consciously or subconsciously). We might shut out the calm voice that urges us to (1) adopt a positive attitude; (2) develop a calm, patient spirit; and (3) be ready to forgive, regardless of the circumstances.


Most of us, if not all of us, have displayed impatience, and some of us still struggle with impatience ―daily. Many give in to impatience and inadvertently plunge themselves into a state of chaos, as we bear witness in the postmodern age of social and economic inequity. In a broader sense, patience is one of the most indispensable requirements for peace and stability in the “global village(

Instead, humanity has been ushered into the global village, observably unprepared to manage past challenges, present challenges, and impending challenges of the twenty-first century. Some of these challenges include political apathy, natural and “humanly inspired” and “humanly caused” disasters, global warming, economic collapse, population explosion, civil unrest, genocide, terrorism, wars, war refugees, illegal immigration, global hunger, unemployment, youth unrest, mental illness, and medical care crises.

Paradoxically, the “global village” is a misnomer. “Village” connotes community–not an accidental grouping of people who happen to share proximity to each other, but a unit which works together for the common good, helping when needed and sharing in resources, love, and opportunities. Without the exercise of patience, the lack of tolerance for our neighbor can translate into catastrophic events in the world, such as World War I (1914–1918), and World War II (1939–1945). Could the impatience of human beings inspire the emergence of World War III? Can the world afford the outcomes of yet another great war?  (

The permanent records of six thousand years of history could better inform the leaders of nations to consider attributes such as patience (longsuffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as fundamental to the progress of nations. Challenges that face countries in the global village in the postmodern era are no different from internal problems faced by individual nations with great cultural diversity. Many challenges that confront leaders in the global village that demand nation and international attention. Following are fifteen areas of conflicting interests that face countries in the emerging global village.


  1. International trade barriers
  2. Communication barriers
  3. Religious indifference
  4. Ideological differences
  5. Diminishing resources
  6. Technological apathy
  7. Immigration barriers
  8. Culture indifference
  9. National insecurity
  10. Education inequity
  11. Political differences
  12. Racial disharmony
  13. Economy inequity
  14. Social exclusion
  15. Gender bias

The casual observer can comprehend that any one of these fifteen challenges of our postmodern era can lead to impatience. Impatience and lack of self–control can potentially lead to family, societal, national, and international conflict. The human genius of the postmodern age has engendered great scientific and material achievements, which underlie great prosperity and human comforts, but why do human beings still live in fear, anxiety, and depression? Fear of each other has paralyzed the nations of the world, and this fear has its roots in our fragile human nature.


Observing the conflict among nations over the past six thousand years provides credible evidence that world nations, reacting to fear of each other, will bring humanity to the brink of catastrophe with the horrors of greater wars than those experienced in World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945). Despite scientific progress, nations struggle to find a path to social and economic equity and peaceful coexistence, but without the exercise of patience, tolerance and self–control will diminish in light of increasing global competition for dominance of the world’s finite resources.

Without patience, any vision of a peaceful global village could become another fleeting illusion and diminish the capacity to forestall the emergence of World War III ( Can a repeat of the failed approaches of the past to govern ourselves produce different results in the present and the future? The failings of the past are not a result of some quality of leadership, lacking back then that has now reached greater heights today. The weaknesses of the leaders of the past are also not due to ignorance about the physical world or sociology, psychology, or economics, now understood better in the twenty-first century.

Leaders have failed to exercise love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such, there is no human law (Galatians 5:22–23). When we think of the ancient empires and their leadership, we can only imagine the awesome power they once exercised. Why did these great empires collapse? Could it be the result of an unexplained phenomenon? Can nations learn from the past? History is a roadmap with insights into past civilizations and how they lived. More importantly, how the great empires collapsed, guided or miss-guided by leaders who believed that their leadership was supreme, and how they overstepped the natural limits of their leadership and authority. Moreover, their impatience in their dealings with weaker peoples and nations.


How can leaders learn from the past when they consider only the symptoms of the collapse of past civilizations, rather than the root causes? Can we learn from history when we misinterpret human weakness as greatness? Scholars in our twenty-first century will describe the human legacy as one of indifference toward our neighbors, exacerbated by impatience and intolerance. Can world nations afford the present and future cost of indifference to each other? Impatience can result in genocide within countries and between nations, and consummated by nations.

Postmodern life may be more fulfilling than the premodern and the modern eras, but arguably, the postmodern era is beginning to reflect some troubling aspects of a new sophisticated “Dark Age” ( Our immediate choice, therefore, is either to continue along the path of indifference toward our neighbors or to direct our efforts toward building a legacy of neighborly love. Many in our postmodern age stand in awe at the impatient nature of leaders. In our mortal weakness, people cry to God for the assurance to help us to maintain patience and endurance.

Without such spiritual and mental help, we lose the capacity to endure as we face a complex world of undulating states of acceptance and rejection; caring and uncaring; hope and hopelessness; fortune and misfortune; faith and fear, and patience and impatience. These challenges to our patience occur within marriages and the family unit, within the workplace, the community, and among peer groups. Ironically, it is within these environments that we seek acceptance and solace, and the patience of others. We live in an age in which culture teaches that the great virtues are self–awareness, self–esteem, and self–actualization. In the pursuit of our self–rewarding behavior, we diminish the value of selflessness and the virtues of patience, self–control, and endurance.

We must recognize that each one of us is responsible for the suffering of others, for the genocide, the wars, the hunger, and the brutality in the world, underpinned by impatience. We are rational, yet irrational; we are happy, yet unhappy; we are peaceful, yet violent; we are calm, yet, we erupt like volcanoes, sometimes with the least provocation. Often uncontrollably, we are a strange mixture of pleasure, hate, fear, aggression, and domination. We are also capable of exhibiting “the fruit of the Spirit” ― love, joy, peace, patience (longsuffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).

Conversely, with God’s enabling power, we have the potential to create a better world with peace and happiness, not just for ourselves, but also for our neighbors.

Each one of us is both individual and society. It is not by the exclusion of others but by including more of others, that we broaden the narrow sphere of self and set out on the path of understanding the need for patience. This new paradigm helps to engender better relationships between individuals and nations.


In 2002, Errol Gibbs relinquished his technical career to research, study, and write about the betterment of humanity, enabled by spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical growth and development. Errol hopes that this article will shed light on another path that will better inform the mutual survival of humankind as a viable species.


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