Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Patience = Tolerance - Love

I was out to brunch last Sunday with a dear friend of mine and her parents. I brought along my 4 1/2 year old daughter, Sasha because this day was our day together. The restaurant was crowded and noisy and we could barely hear each other talk. There were lots of people which meant lots of distractions for little Sasha to enjoy as she watched the waiters go by and occasionally slipped out of her seat to explore the restaurant and go met new people. When she was at our table, she would from time to time demand my attention or come over to me and start whispering special secrets into my ear. My friend's parents were thoroughly charmed by Sasha and commented to me that they so enjoyed watching me and my daughter relate to each other. Intending to pay me a high compliment they said " You are such a good father, you are so incredibly patient with your daughter!" In a spasm of inauthenticity thanked them for the compliment and smiled demurely. But what I was thinking was "How strange they should think of me as patient. I am truly enjoying being here with Sasha and don't particularly feel that I am putting up with anything. Quite the contrary - I feel lucky to be here and that she is spending time with me." Now, Sasha is my typically developing child. I also have a son, Andy, who is on the spectrum. Andy will be 11 in July. More than once I have gotten similar compliments from friends who marvel at my "patience" when interacting with my son, at how I will happily answer him even though he has asked the same question now seven times in a row over the last five minutes. And once again it seems strange to me to garner accolades for this as my friends are simply describing how Andy and I are together. I feel as if I were getting a pat on the back for being so "patient" with the air every time I breathe.

So I got to thinking: If I accept that fact that my children's behavior would sometimes seem irritating to some people, what is different about how I look at them that leaves me feeling joyful and serene? It's really very simple - I love them. I enjoy my son's inquisitiveness, even if his curiosity is looping around exactly the same question umpty-ump times. I love it that my daughter is exuberantly outgoing and looking to have a blast wherever she is, that she is so intent on enjoying a little chat with me that she doesn't care who she has to interrupt to do it.

I notice that there are times when I do feel that I am being patient with my children (or other grown ups for that matter) and that those are times when I am choosing to feel frustrated. I also notice that at those times I am much more distanced form feeling love for whomever I am being "patient" with. In fact, the best way I know of to get past that feeling of frustration is to focus on really loving that person. When I connect with my love for them, the tension disappears and I no longer feel to need to be "patient", I simply enjoy them for who they are being in the moment.

There is an interesting corollary to this phenomenon. If I change my mind and decide that I no longer want to go along with what a person is doing, I don't have to "lose patience" with them. I can simply decide to do something else than join them in what they are doing. I can tell my son that I don't feel like answering his questions right now or tell my daughter that I am no longer allowing her to wander freely around the restaurant and even tell her that if she doesn't want to abide by my decision we will leave the restaurant. But since I wasn't being patient with them I don't need to get angry to change directions, I simply act upon my new desire.

So, dear readers, what do you think?

Love always,



  1. I love it, Mark! Perfectly expressed; the equation (in the blog title) really clarified the situation for me.

    I've heard the term 'religious tolerance' used very often (in India) to describe getting along with others in a pluralistic society. Only much later did somebody come along to point out that we usually tolerate pests and annoyances, like mosquitoes or excessive heat,and that 'inclusion' or 'acceptance' would be a better description of what we would do if we indeed welcomed and loved people subscribing to different religious beliefs.

  2. Hmmm... as I review the comment I dashed off a second ago, I see that the way I have interpreted 'tolerance' would actually require the equation to be re-written the other way:

    Tolerance = patience - love

    which would not jive with Mark's interpretation of 'patience'.

    Ah well, I guess words only mean what we want them to mean. Maybe this equation will cover everything

    Love = acceptance + anything :-)!

  3. Sree, I loved your comments and want to change my title to
    " Patience = Acceptance - Love"


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