The Christians say, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, … See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” (James 5:7-11)
The Jews say, “The patient man shows much good sense, but the quick-tempered man displays folly at its height.” (Proverbs 14:29)
The Muslims say, “Verily man is in loss, except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual enjoining of truth, and of patience and constancy.” (103:2-3)
The Chinese say, “In the struggle between the stone and the water, in time, the water wins.”
In Buddhism patience is essential to realize perfect enlightenment (bodhi) and in Hinduism patience is recognized by the Sri Krishna in the Bhagavd Gita ( Sanskrit Hindu Scripture)
Nietzsche said, “Passion will not wait. The tragedy in the lives of great men often lies not in their conflict with the times and the baseness of their fellow men, but rather in their inability to postpone their work for a year or two. They cannot wait.”
And maybe my favorite: Thomas Edison said, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.”
I used to go to church on New Year’s Day. Which church didn’t matter. I love to bring in the new year listening to a great Gospel choir and an uplifting sermon. As the hour approached midnight, I would sit there in the pew, hands clasped, head bowed, eyes closed and pray for good health and prosperity for friends and family. Yet, I am not Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Buddhist, nor Hindu, nor even Shinto for that matter (though I ain’t above tossing a few coins, clapping, bowing and giving some kamisama a shout out at a Shinto shrine). I’m not a Nietzche disciple, either. I’m just your friendly neighborhood agnostic, who loves to read and write and learn new things. One of the things I’ve learned in Japan is that the Japanese have turned #9 Being patient into practically a religion in and of itself. The whole society is a church founded on patience. And my tip to you is if you’re gonna live here, whether you have a religious background or not, and if you are serious about remaining sane: consider converting.
In the US many people say Patience is a virtue. It’s been hammered into the collective American skull alongside other dubious tenets like distance makes the heart grow fonder (tell that to the girl I was seeing when I left NY…umm whatshername again? Starts with a K, I think,) two wrongs don’t make a right (but revenge is sooooo sweet,) and communism and Socialism are evil (I think the French, the Spanish and the Cubans might take issue with that though). Whether people believe it or not is another story. But, to the Japanese, it is beyond a virtue. The Japanese call patience, Gaman 我慢which basically means they endeavor to endure what seems to be unbearable or adverse circumstances beyond their control and somehow manage to retain an expression of calm forbearance in the face of it.
In other words, Patience 5.0
I know I said tip #1: Don’t be you is the most difficult. But, being patient is the most difficult part of not being me. I was shamelessly impatient before I came to Japan and therefore I was not being me when I was trying to be patient with the Japanese. I was lying through my teeth. I was the biggest fraud on this tiny island and felt so every breathing moment. In fact, I felt that way up until relatively recently.
I also briefly mentioned Honne and Tatamae in an earlier posting. I have no problem with Honne…Honne is my forte. But, Tatamae arguably, requires a great deal of patience to attain. Well, I realized recently that I had basically acquired, through the ins and outs of life here, a modified Western version of tatamae. I think the Japanese (those who bother to even notice) can see right through my tatamae but, like they must do for one another from time to time, they pretend not to see the seething impatience beneath my plastic smile, and they send me some plastic cheese in return. God love ‘em! 9-:
They say the first step to solving a problem is knowing of its existence (another one of those Western maxims reeking of l’air du cliche.) Well, the biggest problem for me was acknowledging that impatience is indeed a problem. In my life, impatience had been rewarded almost as often as patience; at least enough so that I knew it was often useful and not to be discarded out of hand. I was reared in an environment where in order to get ahead you needed to not only adapt yourself to the chaos around you but thrive within it. And, if you were able to feign patience, that feint was often enough to achieve whatever goals your impatience would have proven inexpedient in achieving. In other words, breaking rules was in the rule book much to an honest person’s chagrin. Cleverly breaking the rules was praised. Flagrantly breaking the rules was respected.
Patience was an ideal. Something people admired and when they happen to stumble across it within themselves say to themselves, “wow, it’s nice to know I’m capable of both.”
I guess I should make it clear what I mean when I talk about patience. After all, there are several senses of the word, aren’t there? The first definition that comes to mind is the ability and willingness to tolerate delay. Tolerate delay, hrmph. I don’t tolerate delay well. Not at all. At least I didn’t until after I’d been here for a spell . For instance, here in Japan, when there’s an announcement on the train platform that the train that would have gotten me to a time sensitive appointment in a timely fashion will be delayed because someone decided to take his revenge out on his family, and the society at-large that had made his life a living hell, by jumping in front of MY train. I know I should take a deep breath, call ahead to inform my party I will be delayed unavoidably and apologize profusely (though I’m not responsible at all) and then resume playing Tetris on my cellphone. And, nowadays I am likely to do just that. But up until recently that has not been the case. I would immediately audibly disparage this psychotic tendency of suicidal Japanese people to splatter their fellow commuters with their guts and brain matter into the ears of every Japanese person within earshot, while trying to figure out if there is an alternative route that will get me where I need to be when I need to be there. (This might seem like a strange scenario to use as an example but only to those of you who don’t live here. What I call Splattercide, or suicide by leaping in front of a speeding locomotive, may not be the number one method of doing oneself in in Japan but it is definitely the most sensational and in my experience the most common cause of rail delays on what is reputed to be the most efficient rail system in the world. The reason it is a way to take revenge out on one’s family is, believe it or not, the family must compensate the rail company, sometimes as much as a million dollars, as a delay fee.)
In NY, we try to make everything happen ASAP. There are whole industries built around ASAP. Delay is not expected nor is it in many cases tolerated. It either has to be there ASAP or it doesn’t matter when it happens. For example, the product my client just ordered either has to be there, like Paulie said to Adrian in Rocky, instamatically (via teleportation/beaming), by that day Close Of Business (via Bike messenger), the following day first thing (via Fed-Ex), or it isn’t important so whenever it gets there it gets there (via USPS/Snail Mail).
Even suggesting to a client that they need to be patient is the equivalent of telling them that their business is not important to you and better left in the hands of someone who shares their impetuous values. Telling a customer outright to be patient is like telling them to shut the hell up! (“Sir, please be patient.” “Who you think you talking to like that? I wanna see the manager! Be patient. I got your patience right here!”) Telling someone patience is a virtue is an insult. (Patience is a what?? Yo’ Mama’s a virtue!) Telling someone good things come to those who wait begs for a sarcastic response. (“Listen…what’s this? Our second date? I’ve been patient enough. When you get ready to part with summadat good thing, you give me a call, alright? Cuz I ain’t about to spend another dime on wine and dine! I’m out, peace!”)
Moreover, I was easily provoked, easily annoyed, misfortune or pain were only tolerated if necessary and always with complaint, my temper was short, I could become irritable at the drop of a hat, etc, etc…I was a goddamn case study in impatience. I had worked out some of it before I came to Japan. At least I thought I had. But, life here exposed the truth about me. I realized that I came to Gaman-Land with very little Gaman and was unaccustomed to and fairly intolerant of Gaman from others as well.
But, what do I encounter here: perhaps the most patient people I’ve ever met in my entire life. Eerily patient. Creeped me out, actually. They’d give that bible guy, Job, a run for his money. So, naturally, I found it confounding and a little freightening. Patient people scare me. They can endure what I can’t for some secret reason. Maybe they’re aliens or part of some Cult of Patrience waiting for Hale-Bopp to come around again cuz their mothership is hiding in its tail. Patience is borderline foolishness in my neck of the woods, so I felt like I had arrived in the land of Suckers. Why wait for a green light when the coast is clear for blocks? Why stand on line on a train platform when the odds of your boarding the next jam-packed train that arrives improve considerably if you rush the door? Why not elbow that asshole who pushes you on the train? Why smile when your English teacher is clearly trying to provoke you with his line of questioning?
Why ask why? The answer is simple: They are Japanese and that’s how they get down and if you’re gonna live here I suggest you forego your own way of getting down in favor of their way. Why, you ask? because the only thing you’ll accomplish with your impatience is more frustration on your part.
I’ll try to illustrate this using computer terminology (though I know squat about computers, I have enough general knowledge to make this modest analogy.) Think of Japan as an operating system. An OS written in the Gaman language. Sure, their OS was inspired by Western operating systems, so on the surface it might look a lot like your own OS. Has many of the same features and principles, like the difference between a MAC and a PC, or a Toyota Camry and a Ford Taurus. But, when you come to Japan and try to run your software in their OS, forget it! You’ll get all kinds of system errors. Keep it up and at some point you’ll get that Blue Screen of Death error and you’ll know you really fucked up! I know. I’ve gotten it at least once!
So, that leaves you with two options, metaphorically: Bring your own software and live defiantly among others who refuse to switch OS and exist virtually outside the Gaman system by choice (There really is no complete escape from it but I certainly don’t fault the people who try…the Japanese level of patience is not for everyone, and besides there’s a whole industry in Japan waiting to cater to you if you do, but you had better be rich cause it can get pretty expensive to live in Japan that way,) or you can replace your Western OS with the Gaman Operating System.
I chose the latter.
I mentioned in #3 Learn that Japanese some words and phrases I think any foreigner living in Japan should be familiar with. But, I neglected to mention a very important one, and what an oversight!!! The phrase is: Syouganai. I guess the best English equivalents of this is: Whatchagonnado. Life’s a bitch! Can’t catch a break! It’s in the cards! My Mama told me there’d be days like this. Gotta take the bad with the good. It’s useless to complain about it, etc, etc… Only, in Japan, syouganai is almost a spiritual proclamation of hopelessness and an utter acceptance of the issue before them. It is a phrase born out of Japanese patience. Like a mantra against impatience that fuels the spirit and keeps their tolerance strong.
I found a post on the net written by a British bloat a couple of years back that captures syouganai so well I’m gonna refer you guys to him. SYOUGANAI! After you read his posts you will understand the level of patience Syouganai captures and the necessity of patience if a foreigner wants to survive here.
I’m still not a whole hearted convert. Japanese society proselytizes about patience and yet I’ve still managed to retain my impatience. Patience avoids me way too often to claim myself to be converted. I’m not even sure I want to be cured. I have to go home at some point and if at that time I’ve taken to being patient I’m afraid I might not be able to adjust back to life in the impatient city I call home. I have a hard time believing that patience would behoove me there. I suspect the spirit of Syouganai will turn me into a pinata in New York.
One of the most important things I learned through my interaction with Japanese culture that I think will benefit me wherever I might find myself in the future (as well as those of you who live here or intend to live here) is that the reason Syouganai is so prevalent is because it consummately compliments Ganbaru or ganbatte (which I also discussed in #3 Learn that Japanese.) In other words, in theory, you can find solace in accepting the things that are out of your control if you are constantly doing your very best. You attain a certain amount of solace in knowing that there’s absolutely nothing you could have done to change the results or that the result is directly related to some flaw in your effort. It’s usually when you don’t strive for, at a minimum, competence and, at best, perfection that you feel intolerant of incompetence or imperfection. In Japan, the vast majority of the people around you are pouring their life’s blood into accomplishing something they deem valuable to their society and to the quality of their lives. And in this they feel (I suspect) a certain camaraderie with one another which binds them in a way you might find in groups and cliques in NY but rarely in the culture at-large. It warrants and supports the respect for and patience with one another they all seem to possess. This is virtually impossible not to admire or at least stand in awe of. And, of all the things I’ve learned about Japanese people, this is the quality I wish to emulate and partake of the most.
Accepting Japanese tenets like Ganbatte and Syouganai and converting to the The Church of Japanese Patience feels like you’ve joined AA. Like that serenity prayer says:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, (syouganai)
courage to change the things we can, (ganbatte)
and wisdom to know the difference.” (Gaman)
God help me stay on the wagon.
Next up, last but not least, #10 Be you and have fun