October 24th, 2010 10:33 EST
A Perfect Calamity: Impatience Plus Disaster
Nothing is more likely to occur than the negative results of a hasty decision. The swiftly passing events we observe taking place in our lives threaten to leave us behind in their dust. Too often pressure is brought to bear on us from all directions to attain quick results, short term profits, and immediate success. We rush off to "take action" promising to do something we know will only achieve an uncertain outcome.
There is never enough time to do things "right" the first time, but there always seems to be additional time to repair or to correct the things that were poorly done initially. No one can accurately predict the amount of time it will take to do something for the first time. From years of experience I`ve found that whenever we let impatience guide us in establishing a completion date, we are dangerously adding unnecessary fire to the feet of the person who has the ultimate responsibility to accomplish that difficult task.
Most political action seems hastily enacted due to the fact that it is very difficult to build a consensus and form a coalition that will hold still long enough to approve some important bill. Legislatures which have procrastinated, filibustered, and prolonged the legislative process until they can no longer avoid taking some kind of action always find some serious "unintended consequences" resulting. Patience on the part of the public in these cases isn`t a virtue. Our elected officials are just trying to satisfy their financial backers and placate impetuous lobbyists. Besides, the ambitious young lawyers responsible for drafting the new laws and regulations need time to design the loop holes and to edit the numerous wordy paragraphs authorizing all the ambiguous exceptions.
"Haste makes waste" is a familiar proverb, and one few leaders acknowledge. They sense that their lives are short and their job security is always in peril. Consequently, they must launch something as soon as possible. Failure is not anticipated. After all, how did they obtain their present opportunities if they hadn`t "pushed the envelope" and taken major risks by accepting assignments with unpredictable results that involved significant unknowns and a tight schedule. My hat`s off to them and their break-through achievements. But what about all the unsuccessful attempts where the daring end up losers and soon forgotten? Let the dead bury the dead, right?
We learn that waiting for inspiration is folly. Writers are told, "Sit down and start typing words until they make a coherent sentence." We find out that the early bird may suffer indigestion after eating his breakfast worm, but that impetuous bird is certainly not going to die from hunger.
In Venezuela there is a saying: "He who hits first, hits twice." All this sage advice encourages taking some kind of action before a plan of action is conceived and thoroughly evaluated. Time, money, and energy are wasted to please an impatient boss, editor, or president. Let`s dash off to wage war on drugs, poverty, and terrorism. "Good idea, boss, can I volunteer to go first?" you may ask. "Haven`t you already volunteered?" is your leader`s obvious answer!
There is evidence of impatience everywhere you look. The inexperienced musician usual "rushes the beat" and hurries through difficult passages playing his instrument poorly. The athlete, diagnosed by a sports commentator to be full of adrenaline, shoots the basketball too quickly or when he or she isn`t properly set for the shot.
We all take exams and rarely take the time to review our answers for some obvious mistakes. The majority of traffic accidents not involving DUI drivers are caused by inattentive drivers making hasty evaluations of the situations they encounter, such as changing lanes without checking their rear view mirrors carefully or looking over their shoulders.
Our eating routines demonstrate our lack of patience. We go to "fast food" joints or order a pizza delivered. We "speed up" the lengthy preparation of our food by opening cans, defrosting frozen dinners, or using the microwave oven to warm up or cook the food. Then we rush to eat, because we are late for school or work or some social commitment. We gulp our drinks and hardly chew our food. Or we take our meal to the family room to watch our favorite TV shows as we eat and spill. Finally, after eating more than is necessary, we rush to the bathroom when we get the urge.
Nothing in this food consumption process is calmly done, with the peace that should accompany the joy of digesting a savory meal. Frequently, we skip meals entirely or settle for a cup of coffee or tea. And if you think we rush things in our family kitchens, go watch a short order cook hustling to assemble a quick meal on a greasy hot plate in a small diner at lunch hour!
I didn`t realize how much we tear around after nonsense until I retired for the third time and had no more things to accomplish on my retirement "must do and see" list. Then the quiet and solitude crept up on me and whispered in my ear, "Isn`t it much more enjoyable to take things a little bit easier, one day at a time?" Now I see just how driven everyone is chasing rainbows and doing whatever it takes to acquire the money to pay for the dreams they conjure up.
Today there is no fun in just "getting there." Driving to work or to school. Flying on a business trip. Or taking the train to the city to avoid the traffic. All these travel experiences are hassles that we cannot enjoy anymore even when we are listening to our favorite music on the radio or on a CD player. What can you see from the window seat on a jumbo jet when the curtain is drawn for an on-board movie? What catches your eye from the express lane of a four lane Interstate Highway? What words of wisdom do you learn from the bumper sticker of the car that abruptly stops in front of you after choosing your lane and cutting you off without signaling?
Regular mail is too slow, so we have overnight, express delivery. That service is expensive and sometimes not fast enough, either. The telephone, the Fax machine, and the Internet each have accelerated the communication and data transfer processes, but one problem still remains. The information transferred may not be complete, accurate, pertinent, or reliable. The interpretation of facts and figures provided by fast computers still requires qualified human beings to review and evaluate what is printed on screens and paper. This takes time and requires patience from those who need the supposedly valuable information, in spite of pressing deadlines.
Saving time is a noble objective when you calculate just how few minutes the average person lives in a waking state. Nevertheless, if the effort to reduce the time involved creates tension, stress, inharmony, conflict, and other undesirable consequences just because a boss is impatient, wouldn`t it be better in the long run to allow a little more time to accomplish the task?
I worked for an international corporation whose executives fixed impossible due dates to achieve their objectives. They made ten year business plans that would not accurately predict the first year. Their local subordinates were accustomed to this management style. They knew that new due dates would be assigned once the first ones proved impossible, and that it was unlikely that anyone would be fired for failing to meet the initial schedule. Eventually the company reduced their long term plans to cover the current year and the following one only.
I am finally learning how to be patient. Of course, it is much easier to be patient when you have no due dates, no priorities, and no ambitious bosses with agendas. It merely requires me to be satisfied with what happens each day by honestly comparing that with the worst days of my past life and the best days of someone`s life who lived 100 years ago. Faster transportation, communication, and computation wouldn`t improve my life style much. More ubiquitous TV coverage would likely be more depressing. More sound would definitely be unwelcome. And more selfish people cannot but lower the quality of my retirement.
If I lived elsewhere among the poor and disadvantaged, I could understand why impatience might drive them to take action to accelerate improvement. But impatience on the part of everyone in our country, who insist that their dreams be fulfilled, won`t resolve the problems of the deserving and ignored members of our society. The impatience of the have-nots aggravates the have-a-lots.
The lack of a proper balance between patience and impatience exacerbates the conflict between the two. Progress demands schedules, critical path analysis, and PERT charts. But these must reflect reality and the likelihood of accomplishing objectives in a timely manner at a reasonable cost. Any serious plan should include a contingency to cover the extra time, money, and effort necessary to achieve the quality outcome originally sought.
Being patient doesn`t mean waiting forever while tolerating the ugliness in our lives that circumstances often present. We must understand what has gone before and what it takes to bring about change in a peaceful manner. Hopefully, we will eschew violence and adopt some form of Gandhi`s philosophy of passive resistance to confront social injustice and evil. One of those evils is impatience. Hastiness ignores common sense in evaluating the real possibilities of achieving our dreams through peaceful means. We should never be in a hurry to bring disaster into our lives just because we humans tend to be impatient with the behavior of others.
So chill out, think twice, enjoy the moment, smell the roses, and when all else fails to convince you to take it easy and be less ambitious, remember that Hitler decided to wage war on too many fronts and the Japanese recklessly decided to attack Pearl Harbor. Such decisions are usually taken by impatient and imprudent humans to their later regret.
Don`t be in a hurry to light up a cigarette, hoist a beer, sample some "cool" drug, or follow the in-crowd. Such acts may not be in your best interests over the long haul. But don`t take my word for it, talk to any successful fisherman.
Chic Hollis lived on four continents, speaks seven languages and had five children, all of which helped him gain a unique perspective on life.