Patience is a virtue, especially in this election

October 27, 2020 8:00 am

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With allegations about mail-in ballots, rigged elections and voter intimidation, Americans likely will not know the victor of the 2020 presidential race on the morning of Nov. 4.

That’s why we should embrace patience as a virtue. Given partisan views, we will need it.

President Trump has made dozens of attacks on the integrity of voting. Democratic challenger Joe Biden has raised concerns that Trump intends to steal the election via voter suppression.

On election night, the one thing we can count on, in addition to votes, are more allegations of fraud and suppression.

Unless there is an overwhelming mandate for Trump or Biden, it may take days or even weeks to sort out the final result.

That is why patience will be a virtue.

No one knows for sure who coined that phrase. Literary critics cite two 14th Century allegorical poems. In “Piers Plowman” by William Langland, “Patience” is a character that associates with “Conscience,” making it a virtue. In “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, patience is said to be a “high virtue.”

Many philosophers trace the maxim to Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Elder, a Roman soldier, senator and historian, who wrote: “Of human virtues, patience is most great.”

Unfortunately, in modern times, patience is undervalued as a virtue.

Paul Corcoran, professor of politics at the University of Adelaide, Australia, acknowledges political theory favors action over patience. Patience is perceived to be “a weakness, a lack of assertive confidence and the sign of a broken spirit.” He writes that patience, the moral opposite of anger, involves our notions about time and community.

People value time as a zero-sum commodity and feel ire when others deprive us of any of it due to their behavior or interactions with us.

Consider tailgating, not at football games but on interstates. Drivers ride bumpers even when others travel over the speed limit in the fast lane. Aggressive drivers denigrate slower ones because they perceive the theft of their time.

Conversely, the driver being tailgated can slow down to increase the other’s irritation or move angrily into another lane. We also can refuse to look in rearview mirrors and stay in our lane on cruise control. That’s not patience; that’s ignoring the other driver and merely waiting out the disturbance.

Patience asks us not to pass judgment when others want to pass us on the highway. Rather, we should seek the safest solution and continue without judgment on our journey.

Life is journey, and we are all fellow travelers.

Nevertheless, Americans are growing increasingly impatient and intolerant of each other. The Pew Research Center reports that 55% of social media users are exhausted by the incivility and content of political posts.

In my own research, associated with technology, I have documented how digital communication has accelerated our concept of time and altered our appreciation of community. We expect others to reply instantaneously to our emails and texts and relegate community to social media affinity groups. Anyone else can be disinvited or unfriended.

In his book “On Patience,” Professor Matthew Pianalto, Eastern Kentucky University, puts patience into moral context, especially as it relates to anger, which results of the Nov. 3 election are bound to illicit in millions of voters.

Patience, he believes, is the capacity to endure the frustration of our hopes, wishes and desires without our lapsing into anger or despair. To overcome disappointments, we should acknowledge outcomes over which we have limited or no control. Finally, we can choose how to respond to discontent. Patience is a matter of choosing our battles wisely and accepting what is beyond our control.

I asked Pianalto about the role patience may play in the upcoming election.

“Due to the ways the coronavirus pandemic will change how many of us vote, we will have to be patient in getting the results,” Pianalto says. “We will have to wait for all of the mail-in ballots to come in and be counted. If the election is close or contested, we may have to wait even longer for recounts that follow a fair process.

“Given the current circumstances,” he adds, “I don’t see how we won’t have to wait until after the 4th to know the results even if they are not close.”

Pianalto doesn’t associate patience as it relates to a candidate who refuses to concede, “except that it seems fair to do so if a recount is justified due to an exceedingly close margin.

“On the other hand,” he notes, “I don’t think we need to have much sympathy for a candidate who refuses to concede for irrational reasons.”

That last scenario is bound to elicit anger in the electorate. “However,” Pianalto cautions, “even if a sore loser can’t move on, the rest of us can. And so will the process.”

That observation affirms both patience and the Constitution, in which we as voters have placed our trust.

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Michael Bugeja
Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja is the author of "Living Media Ethics" (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and "Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine" (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of "Living Ethics." Views expressed here are his own.