Patience is a Virtue Redux

This transition to retirement has me looking back at times to an earlier transition in my life—college. I wrote a blog post 8 years or so ago about a few of my experiences at Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University, a private, historically African American school) in Austin, Texas. We called it H-T for short. The post was entitled “Patience is a Virtue.”

You have to remember, this was in the ‘70s. A lot has changed, including me. The blog post is going to be different now.

I’m not what you’d call a patient person by nature although I’m much older and patience comes easier nowadays. Patience is arguably the physician’s most valuable asset, so it was worthwhile for me to work at cultivating it. We’ve all heard that doctors start yapping almost before patients are through talking.

I’m still learning to be patient. I think I first realized that people thought I was impatient when I was a freshman at H-T. They were right; I just didn’t know it then.

I remember a day when I was pretty annoyed about some remarks a peer made during a class in Black History (we were still “black” in those days). After class, I vented about it with the teacher, Dr. Lamar Kirven, who was also a Major in the military. We called him Major Kirven.

We loved Major Kirven. He had a wonderful sense of humor and laughed along with us when we had to tell him we just could not read his indecipherable scrawls on the blackboard. We didn’t have PowerPoint—and I don’t think it would have helped him.

Anyway, Major Kirven listened without saying a word during my long diatribe. I’ll never remember what that nonsense was all about; it doesn’t matter now.

He listened deeply and, at the time it didn’t occur to me to be surprised about that. I was too busy liking the sound of my own opinions. Several times he could have interrupted and justifiably corrected me.

He didn’t. He waited until I was finished.

And then, very gently he said, “Brother Amos, patience is a virtue”.  It suddenly struck me that he had been very patiently listening to a very impatient young man’s philippic about the shortcomings of everyone but himself for almost a half hour before he made that brief observation.

I’ve been trying to be more patient. Along the way, I’ve discovered and rediscovered the truth of a statement that has often been attributed to Stephen Covey,

“With people, if you want to save time, don’t be efficient. Slow is fast and fast is slow.”

Stephen Covey

There’s a lot that goes into being an effective psychiatric consultant, not the least of which is the skill of transforming “That’s all I can do” into “I will do all I can.” That’s usually a lot easier if I listen patiently to what my colleagues, my trainees, and my patients want.

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