behaviour, compliments, friendship, kindness, labels, patience, personality, self-control, self-perception
“It always amazes me how patient you are,” an old friend told me last night. I gaped at her, completely floored by the unexpected compliment.
It’s not that my friend rarely compliments me (although we’re at that stage of friendship where mutual affection is taken so for granted that insults are as loving as kisses, so compliments are totally unnecessary).
No, the surprise was in the particular quality of the compliment. I don’t expect to be complimented on patience any more than Hitler should expect to be complimented on his ethics.
On a self-made list of personal traits, “patience” would only appear under the title: Things I DON’T Have.
When I was a kid living abroad, I had a friend with whom I constantly lost patience. This was especially poor forethought on my behalf, because for the last two years that I lived there, she was my only friend, because the other two moved away.
I just couldn’t help myself.
“Can you sleep over tonight?” she asked once, when we were in grade 5. I told her that I had no idea; I would have to ask my mother, who could be unpredictable.
“What does ‘unpredictable’ mean?” my friend replied, and I waxed eloquent on her ignorance of what I perceived to be a basic word.
Another time she asked me “what is 11 X 2?”
And I spent five minutes trying to make her work out one of the simplest mathematical problems after 1 X 2, because I believed that a 12 year old should be capable of doing it.
“I don’t remember, Carol, why can’t you just tell me?” she would say with an injured expression every time I tried to force her to think for herself, and then found her wanting.
It was a good question.
Why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t I deliver a simple answer with good grace, rather than point out to my friend exactly how stupid I thought she was being?
I didn’t know. All I knew was that if I didn’t learn to control my irritation, I would lose an otherwise excellent friend.
So for New Years, I wrote down my number one resolution: BE NICE TO MY ONLY FRIEND!
I hung it on my bedroom door, where I saw it every day. Over time I began to learn to swallow some of the smart-ass responses, and turn a snappish answer into a kinder one.
When I moved back to Canada, though, I still had a long way to go.
In the international school I was accustomed to recieving letter grades. In Canada, though, tests and quizzes were graded as fractions. 10/15, 23/30. I didn’t know what any of this meant. I had always had difficulty with fractions.
Then one of my new friends announced her grade as a percentage. I asked her how she knew. She explained that all you had to do was divide the top number by the bottom number on your calculator, and multiply by 100. Thus 8/10 = 0.80 = 80%.
So when, a year later, we learned fractions again (my Canadian school was rather behind my old international school), you can imagine my frustration when the exact same friend turned around and said, “I don’t understand. How do I turn a fraction into a percentage?”
“It’s just like you do with a test,” I reminded her. “If you got a 5/7 on a test, what would you do?”
“I dunno,” said the girl.
Could I accept this with good grace, and explain it to her as she had explained it to me? Nooooooo.
I spent ten minutes irritably trying to get her to think for herself. I knew she knew it, and I didn’t understand why she couldn’t apply her knowledge to new situations as easily as I could.
Meanwhile she got more and more frustrated and upset, protesting, “I don’t know, Carol.”
Only once I had thoroughly humiliated the poor girl did I finally condescend to explain it to her.
She received her lecture with a bowed head and I knew that I was doing it again.
This impatience with perceived stupidity has been one of my greatest faults, and I still strive to restrain myself. Snarky comments and irritable responses still bubble to the surface, although it’s rare for me to express them now. Perhaps this is why a verbally abusive dog training blog appeals to me – I can say the things I normally NEVER say any more.
Yet here was a friend who knew me of old, admiring my patience.
If this were a more recent acquaintance, I would have laughed in her face, much as I did to a new friend who called me “laid-back” (which, by the way, happened again on the plane – I’m glad I hide my anxiety well).
But this friend knows me. She even correctly identified my tree drawing.
Smart and always good at school, she rarely received my ‘boy-you’re-stupid” snark, but she often found herself in the position of defending some of our other friends, and explaining what I would not.
I pointed all of this out to her. She pondered it for a moment.
“Maybe there are different kinds of patience,” she said. “All I know is, when I see the patience you bring to training a dog… I wouldn’t have that patience. And the patience you have with Babby when he’s crying or being difficult is the same.”
This may totally redefine my self concept.
What compliments have you received that blew you out of the water?
I am not patient by nature. My kids have taught me to cultivate patience. You’ve seen me in action now. I think I could probably fool people who didn’t know me for a long time. 🙂
I am told I’m a good cook. I take this with a smile because I work at it, and I enjoy it, and I know that I am. I am also told I’m a good mother. For some reason I find this harder to accept. Rather than congratulating myself for my parenting successes, I’m far more likely to berate myself for my parenting failures. And when people say how polite & fun & well-behaved my kids are, I tend to brush them off by saying the kids are just ‘good’ by nature rather than nurture. It still surprises me every time someone says I’m a good mom.
I think the people who fret about being good parents… tend to be good parents. Except for the exceptions we discussed the other day, and you KNOW you aren’t one of those.
i was told once that i “really knew how to fill a bladder”.
i just figured, if i’m told to come with a full bladder and I have to drive 2.5 hours to get the ultrasound in the first place, I’m going to FILL my bladder:)
Yeah, I had to empty mine a bit, to my infinite relief. I was not complimented on the necessity.
This isn’t quite the same sort of thing, but someone (not someone romantically interested in me) once told me I was the most feminine person he knew. I’m still not sure whether he thought this was a compliment or not, but it certainly made me think.
That’s a rather lovely compliment!
A gay man I did not know once told me I was so pretty, he thought at first that I was a boy.
Also, the first (and even the second time) someone told me I was smart, I didn’t quite believe them. Hannah was the smart one. I figured I was of strictly average intelligence. As it turned out, the average was a lot lower than I thought it was…
Sadly, that’s very true. I mean, it’s sad that average is so low, not that your IQ is so high, which it clearly IS and that is one of the reasons I like you.
I wish I were pretty enough to be a boy.
You are to me.
As your evil doppelganger, I certify that you are definitely pretty enough to be a boy.
You’re both the two prettiest pretty-boys-that-aren’t-boys I’ve ever met!
Aw, you’re so sweet! 😀
I have been told by various people that I have an “aura of calm about me,” that I was “the most issue-free person they know” and that I’m “one of the strongest people they’ve ever met.” All of these earned a look of surprised confusion. 🙂
That’s how I felt when I was told that I was “very relaxed” on the plane!
I remember being told I was stubborn (not a compliment, I know), and was very, very surprised. I think deep down I knew, but thought I hid it really well and was good at pretending I was more laid-back than I was. I was definitely wrong. I actually remember asking you if YOU thought I was stubborn, and you said “yes” and when I responded with “what? why didn’t you tell me!?” you said “I thought that was obvious. I mean, it’s like someone telling me I worry too much.”
LOL. I don’t remember that. Nowadays I wouldn’t say “stubborn”. I’d say “strong willed” :-p
I think you’re right, there are different kinds of patience. I too am very bad at being patient when people are stupid (your examples would’ve had me blow a fuse – groaned just reading about them!), but in other cases, I might be perfectly fine and patient as ever. Funny that. 🙂
Maybe there should be a different word for tolerance of stupidity.
I’m sure I’ve had compliments like that, but I can’t remember any at the moment, for the life of me! (Obviously, they weren’t on my memory or brains. :P)