Home » EMPRSocialWork » Patience: Empowering or Not?

Patience: Empowering or Not?

Sasha Kondrashov and Ani Dingamtar

Wikipedia defines patience as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. After reading such a definition, ask yourself a question, is it empowering? Internet is full of advice on how to be patient: “The Skill of Patience“, “The Quality of Patience“, “Compassionate Patience“, “5 Tips for Teaching Patience“, “The Importance of Patience in Every Area of Life“, “How To Master Patience – 20 Powerful Tips“, “The Three P’s to Success: Patience, Persistence and Positivity“, “Becoming a more patience leader“, “15 Tips for Becoming as Patient as Job“, “35 Inspirational Quotes On Patience” and even more quotes about patience.

One can also listen to the “Patience” song by American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, which appears on the album G N’ R Lies and is released as a single in 1989 and then Chris Cornell’s tribute to Guns N’ Roses classic song “Patience“. When one study psychology, patience is seen as a decision-making problem involving either a small reward in the short-term versus a more valuable reward in the long-term. Religions all over the world will have some reminders on why patience is essential in life. Sandilya Upanishad of Hinduism identifies ten sources of patience and forbearances: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Daya, Arjava, Kshama, Dhriti, Mitahara and Saucha. In each of these ten forbearances, the virtuous implicit belief is that our current spirit and the future for everyone, including oneself, will be stronger if these forbearances are one’s guide.

Motivational videos, speeches, TED talks remind us of the importance of being patient. However, is it such a fantastic skill, virtue, ability and capacity that we always need to practice? Let’s go back to patience’s original definition as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Now let’s stop for a minute and think about bullying, harassment, violence, abuse, neglect, genocide, and many other suffering processes. Are we saying to the victim, please be patient and practice tolerance> It can be extremely disempowering.

Social workers need to be critical of using concept patience when working with their clients. We need to know what patience means to the person. Social workers do not offer advice, so saying please be patient to the victim of violence without explaining what we mean by patience can be perceived as keeping experience violence.

Patience has multiple meanings, and depending on someone’s experiences with patience, the use of the concept in social work practice needs to be adequately assessed. Saying be patient without discussing what it means to be patient and not learning about experiences people had with practicing patience can be damaging. Victims of violence can stay in violent relationships when they are reminded to be patient. Abuse and neglect will continue as a person is reminded that patience is a virtue and suffering needs to be tolerated.

Patience also can be seen as a way to move in a direction that can be positive as the change process can be slow with many ups and downs, setbacks and slow step by step progressions. In such a way, patience becomes the ability to assiduously wait out the change process, allowing time to bring the needed changes.

The process of practicing patience needs to come from within the person. Each person have their plan to navigate challenges. Saying to someone to be patient is not a solution. Asking someone to find ways to alleviate suffering can be an opportunity to discuss patience from inner-self. When people describe what they do to stop abuse, it allows them to uncover humility, strength, capacity and define patience. In such a way, patience can be empowering. If the social worker uses it without a proper assessment of the situation, patience can be very disempowering.

Patience is the ability to find a balance that only can be seen from the inner self. Social workers can explore the balance on individual, cultural and structural levels and ask clients about their capacity on each level. Patience is experienced very differently by many people. One learning journey about being patient is very different too. Many people learn about patience associated with childhood experiences. For some people, positive change can happen when they practice patience, while others are kept waiting for any positive changes to come.

The discussion on privilege and oppression is essential when the concept of patience is explored as a person might have a lot of individual capacity, but culturally and structurally, being patient is challenging. For example, a person who is unemployed, living in an abusive relationship might have more challenges in leaving the relationship than one who has stable employment and has the more structural and cultural capacity to stop tolerating abuse.

To practice patience, some people need to demonstrate impatience. It is more evident on structural and cultural levels. Protests are examples of when patience is not enough and impatience is critical to make positive changes. If they kept patiently waiting for including vacation benefits in their employment contract, workers might never get them from the employer. People who experience violence in abusive relationships might never be able to receive adequate services if the funding was not allocated to create such services.  Impatience is a much more critical concept for social workers to discuss with clients than being patient. Many abusers and those who want to maintain the status quo will use the phrase; please be patient to keep oppression going. Such ways of seeing patience should not be tolerated, and social workers need to question why patience is used to silence victims of abuse. Patiently experiencing harassment is not okay. Patiently being bullied, neglected should never be accepted.

Social workers need to promote critical patience when change is explained, and people are not forever waiting and tolerating their suffering. Patience needs to be appropriately taught when it is okay to tolerate suffering and how to do it. When suffering destroys your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health it is not okay to be reminded to stay patient. Patience needs to be seen on different levels: individual, cultural and structural, and lenses of privilege and oppression need to be applied in practicing patience. Each person has a unique experience with patience on each level, and it needs to be explored, and proper actions are taken to be patient and achieve the change that is consistent with social work values.

Practice patience critically and explore when patience can be empowering and promote it. When patience is disempowering, practicing impatience is a better course of action.


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