\Pa"tience\, n. [F. patience, fr. L. patientia. See Patient.]
1. The state or quality of being patient; the power of suffering with fortitude; uncomplaining endurance of evils or wrongs, as toil, pain, poverty, insult, oppression, calamity, etc.
2. The act or power of calmly or contentedly waiting for something due or hoped for; forbearance.
3. Constancy in labor or application; perseverance.
4. Sufferance; permission. [Obs.]
5. (Bot.) A kind of dock (Rumex Patientia), less common in America than in Europe; monk's rhubarb.
6. (Card Playing) Solitaire.
Syn: Patience, Resignation.
Usage: Patience implies the quietness or self-possession of one's own spirit under sufferings, provocations, etc.; resignation implies submission to the will of another. The Stoic may have patience; the Christian should have both patience and resignation.
Why this theme today? It converged upon me unavoidably after a boozy, stimulating lunch with a new friend in a cosy brasserie, Chez Gladines, in the 13 arrondissement in Paris (30, rue Cinq Diamants.) We agreed that patience is what we both needed as we waited for the context supporting our "next thing" to emerge; for our ideas to coalesce, form and germinate in productive ways. As George Polya, a mathematican once joked, “The first rule of discovery is to have brains and good luck. The second rule of discovery is to sit tight and wait till you get a bright idea.” Of course, we are not passively waiting, but we are in the incubation and preparation phase of the creative renewal cycle, with all of its trials and tribulations... And then, as it often happens, when I got home I got bombarded again with the patience theme from two different places, both of which, funnily enough, were two English music icons. Yes, I'm talking about George Michael and Brian Eno. When something is your Dharma, your current lesson, it's amazing how your perceptual filters work!
First, the easy bit. George Michael has come out with his latest album called Patience. Interviewed on BBC Radio 1, he called it this because "this is exactly what the world needs the most right now." It was also a self-reference, an inside joke, alluding to the length of time it took him to produce this album. But the most interesting headline? George won't be producing any more commercial albums. He's "Through" (which is also a title of one of his new songs.) The pop star is tired of the pressure of working under the creative strictures of a record label, and wants more artistic freedom—another small sign that the current cultural production model in the entertainment industry is broken. Instead, George will be using the Internet as his distribution channel, and will donate any proceeds to his charities. As he frankly put it, he clearly doesn't need any more money. Rich enough, thanks very much. So we'll see what happens there. Could be interesting... or not!
Second, I tripped upon Brian Eno's fantastic lecture from the Long Term Thinking Series produced by the Long Now Foundation. (I mentioned the Long Now briefly in my "Getting into the Dirt" blog, an organization Brian was part of creating.) The goal of the series: to build a coherent, compelling body of ideas about long-term thinking, to help nudge civilization toward Long Now's goal of making long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare." Confirmed Speakers so far include: Brian Eno, Peter Schwartz, George Dyson, James Dewar, Rusty Schweikart, Daniel Janzen, David Rumsey, Paul Hawken, Laurie Anderson, and Danny Hillis. These lectures are highly, highly recommended.
Brian's thoughts, as usual, were deep and profound. His lecture is about why the Long Now Foundation exists, and why they are building a 10,000 year clock. At first glance, this seems like a wildly eccentric gesture. Why build a clock that will live inside a mountain in Nevada and chime just once every year for ten millenia? But there is a deep message and method behind this madness. The objective is to create a new form of thinking about time. As everyone knows, things are getting faster and faster, the existensial costs of which are looking increasingly dire. For most people, "now" is next week and the future is next year (at the most). There is very little encouragement, especially in business these days, to set long term objectives and ambitions. Even in academia, research is being driven by short term metrics and intellectual fashions. Serendipitous research is in decline. But those slower-moving layers in a healthy civilization—infrastructure, governance, culture, ecological systems— need long term investments to function well, investments that often take generations. So we are discounting our future, reducing our intergenerational equity, and thus the number of options available through this narrow sense of time. We need a Longer Now, a extended sense of the present. First Nations bands in parts of North America do this: when they make decisions they think backwards 7 generations and forward 7 generations. This kind of practice is rare today. Most people and institutions reflexively dismiss long term, "blue sky" projects as being silly, futile and not very practical. So the Long Now foundation has emerged to celebrate this kind of long term thinking. A key part of this strategy is to build this 10,000 year clock. By building something real—something beautiful, functional, durable for 10,000 years—they hope to create an icon that makes people think differently. Charismatic ideas and icons have done this in the past. Think about Notre Dame, the pyramids of Giza, the temples in Ankor Wat; they helped humans see themselves as being part of something much bigger than themselves. The Clock of the Long Now is their contemporary answer to such consciousness-expanding artifacts.
[From The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand]
As Brian and Brand stress—and this is a strong theme in my work —the critical thing we need is to understand the difference between the things that need to be done slowly, and the things that need to be done quickly. In short, we need to recapture some civilizational patience. We need to slow down, on some fronts, to go faster and further as a species.
The same could be said at a micro scale as well. At an individual level, in response to question, "how has working on a 10,000 clock changed your perception of your own life-span?", Brian said some things that helped explain my attraction to this project. He said when you spend part of your day to include living 10,000 years into the future, the rest of your day is quite different. Your perspective is quite changed, and indeed, this is the whole point of this exercise. Changing scale makes a difference. He also said that it takes the pressure off a little when you feel like you are part of a more longer continuum of human life. This reduces the pressure to be constantly performing, to be in action all the time. Amen to that! I've been looking for some rationale for relief!
There is also something profoundly inspirational and deeply moving to work on these long term projects. Brian tells the story of when he was in a garden in England just recently, a garden that was reaching the peak of its beauty. This was a garden, however, that must have been planted over 200 years ago, with its creators knowing full well that they would never reap the full benefits of their efforts. Brain, however, muses that they must have died happy knowing that they had created something beautiful, something that would outlast them and benefit future generations.
The Long Now is something I've signed up for in the choice of my career. I find it inspiring, challenging, important and fulfilling to work on projects much larger than myself. It puts my ego in proper check and allows me to be patient, but not passively so. It gives me permission to think big but within perspective. So expand your Long Now and contribute to something that your children's grandchildren might benefit from. You might find it quite satisfying.Posted by nicole at March 13, 2004 12:20 PM