My son asked me today, “How do you teach patience and perseverence?” Apparently he knew someone who needed to learn and my son wanted to teach them.
I said, “Those qualities cannot be taught.”
So then he asked, “Then how did I learn them?”
Mind you, he is 22 years old, and I thought of the witty retort: “it takes time and effort to teach patience and perseverence”, but the truth is that he had learned these things by the time he was he was 5. I tried to remember teaching my children. I realized that what I taught them were the attributes that are required before patience and perseverence can be developed. Then they developed those skills by themselves. I was raised in a military family, so I learned early on never to shirk responsibility or shift blame. Those were shameful behaviors that my parents snuffed out pretty darn quick.
My kids were taught that they are responsible for what happens to them. This cause-and-effect lesson can be painful, but is necessary. When they fell down or hurt themselves my first reaction was to say, “Slow down and watch where you are going.” They put their own band-aids on. When they were sick they were put to bed with juice and told to sleep. There was absolutely no coddling. Nowadays this would be considered child abuse by parents who think their children need to be worshipped as gods. I am thinking now of parents whose children see a doctor when their noses run, or who call their teachers to complain when their child fails a test.
After some years of this training, my kids rarely sported skinned knees or colds lasting more than a day. They never played illness or injury as if it were an advantage. Even now when they are all adults they watch where they are going and go to bed uncomplaining with juice if they are sick.
Disappointments were handled the same way. I never told them that the disapointment was caused by someone or some circumstance. I always said, “Why didn’t you do X?” or “Why didn’t you try harder?” and “You will get it next time if you work at it.”
So by emphasizing that they were responsible for what happens to them, they learned patience and perseverence all by themselves.
I reminded my son of the opening 10 minutes of Kung Fu. I told him that Caine came to the monastery as a child, not with a clean slate, but having already learned patience and perseverence. The boys who were dismissed had not. Caine waited outside the gates for a week, then longer, then in the rain…and then the important clincher: “After you, honorable sir.”
I told him to show his friend that film and perhaps it might help. Those who are extremely self-centered cannot think beyond their personal space. They cannot be patient because they want what they want right now. They cannot persevere because if they can’t get what they want, they abandon the goal or try to get someone else to get it for them. And…they seem to be always whining.
How to teach them to release the ego? How do you teach someone he or she is not the center of the universe? Hard to do if they have been taught that they ARE since birth.
When there is so much to overcome, there is an “aha” moment when folks do “get it”. There is a moment like that in Kung Fu as well. The child Caine asks the blind monk Po, “Old man, how is it that you hear these things?” and Po replies, “Young man…how is it that you do not?”
You can see the “aha” in Caine’s eyes.
I told my son to give the DVD to his friend and cross his fingers.