Impatience

The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016

Impatience

It was the upholsterer of the cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman who first noticed how the chairs in the waiting room were fraying. There were strange patches of threadbare material on the arms (suggesting drumming fingers) and on the front edges (suggesting antsy wriggling), while the back was as good as new. No one relaxed in these chairs. No one reclined while they waited. The patients, mostly successful, busy middle-aged men with blocked arteries and soaring blood pressures, were intolerant of the unproductive time they were made to spend there.

It was these waiting-room chairs that eventually led Friedman and Rosenman to the idea of the Type A personality in the 1950s. Type As were patients whose sense of “time urgency” was a constant pressure. They were always successful, ambitious and (literally) on the edges of their seats—and they were also much more likely to die of heart disease or strokes. (As it turned out, it was an immensely unhelpful nomenclature: despite the disadvantages, everyone ended up wanting to be Type A, especially the Type As…)

With its rushing and tutting and issuing of impossible demands, impatience might seem an inevitable consequence of our time-poor, irritant-rich lifestyles. The line in the supermarket or the stubborn elevator that won’t arrive however many times we jab at the button seems only to mock the insistent demand that we use each moment productively, and live life to the max. Truth is, waiting has never been easy. This is why, wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, “the greatest poets did not disdain to make the inability to wait the theme of their poetry.” From the Latin pati (to suffer), impatience means a “failure to bear suffering.” It was a cliché in the sixteenth century as now that time slows down when we are waiting (“Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites,” says the smug Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing). But as everyone knows, this hiatus before our desires are granted can also be a delicious kind of torment (see: ANTICIPATION).

The impatient patients in Friedman and Rosenman’s office remind us that a “failure to bear suffering” is more than being unable to wait for gratification in this instant-hit world of ours. Those men in Friedman and Rosenman’s waiting room were struggling with the part of themselves forced to be the patient—the weakened, uncertain part, temporarily required to cede control to another’s expertise and schedule, and brought face to face with the UNCERTAINTY of their future in the process.

See also: ANTICIPATION; TORSCHLUSSPANIK.