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A Virtue Once But No More

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Wait - Matthew Sweet (mp3)
Hurry Up and Wait - Stereophonics (mp3)

“Good things come to those who wait.” Right? The tortoise wins the race, right?

Do we believe that? Do we, in our words and actions, teach this to our children? Do we expect this of others? Do we model this behavior in our daily lives? How could we? Most of us don’t really believe it.

Correction: We believe that good things come to those who wait... but very, very few things are worth waiting for. 

TIME may call the new crop “The Me Me Me Generation,” but I call them “The Now Now Now Generation.” They’re no more self-involved or self-obsessed, but they’re a lot more impatient. If you want to know why TIME also referred to them as "The Most Stressed-Out Generation" (not even six months ago), you really need go no further than the fact that they expected to be fully-realized human beings in half the time it took the rest of us.

A recent Washington Post blog about increasing impatience wisely observes that “kids these days” aren’t so much incapable of patience or remaining focused as they are unaccustomed to choosing boredom: "Students today have so many options that being mildly bored can be successfully avoided most of the time." 

This generationally-declining ability to remain focused in the face of boredom, to stick with a mind-numbing task, to wait for the reward, cannot possibly be as old as the hills, but it’s at least true since the Industrial Revolution. (At some point in our past, 50 years wasn’t sufficient to change the game enough, right? Jacob and Esau didn’t have a different world of options and entertainment than Isaac. I doubt Plato was offered a vastly wider buffet of distractions than Socrates.)

The decline in patience is a product of technology, and patience is increasingly a sign of weakness or ignorance. Why drive to the library, search through the Dewey Decimal system and eventually flip through thousands of pages for information that can be found in five minutes via Google? My wife and I just bought a 96-count box of K-cups online at great discount. We searched five sites and ordered at the lowest price in minutes. To be economically judicious for such an item 20 years ago would have required hours of drive time or, at the least, half a dozen calls to annoyed customer reps expected to hoof it down the aisles to find their prices.

We consistently prefer speed even at the expense of quality (see: The News Media, 5 Hour Energy). Our modern motto: Slow Kills.

Aren’t we losing something when we lose our ability to wait, to drudge through, to hold a seemingly-dull course?
And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land...
Is the Millennial Generation capable of a Moses or a Martin Luther King, leaders who spent their entire lifetimes fighting for and seeking a finish line that neither saw fully realized, yet without whom the goal could never be reached? Perhaps, but I fear not. Who wants to risk a whole life without the trophy when dudes have started three or four businesses by the time they’re 30?

Teachers might be the rare bird who must be patient to see the genuine fruits of their labor. Sure, you see them pass or fail your class and move them on, but the real reward comes years, sometimes decades, later, when a former student acknowledges what she could not at the time; that the teacher played a pivotal role in shaping the direction of her life. Even then, I’m not sure the longview reward is the reason teachers do what they do.

I’ve used it before, but the John Adams quote feels so very relevant and so easily overlooked.
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
Is the newest crop of up-and-coming adults going to be capable of such far-sightedness? I’m not even sure my generation has much patience in us, yet as impatient as we can be, the current crop of 20-somethings far less so. But they're still young. Maybe they’ll grow up. Maybe patience will develop in them with time and wisdom.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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