Friday Afternoon Confessional: Impatience
I confess that my biggest moral failing is impatience. A slow computer or a waiter who just won’t bring the damn check already both fill me with that familiar sensation — not quite murderous rage, but certainly manslaughterous. I confess that on Monday I’ll be teaching book 10 of Augustine’s Confessions, where he details all the faults that he still has even all these years after his conversion, and impatience would be at the top of my list if I were compiling such a list. Thankfully, it rarely comes up in actual interpersonal situations.
Frustration is a related failing. The lock for our back door suddenly started working differently this summer, and that caused several scenes of frustration before I figured it out, particularly if I urgently had to use the bathroom. I also become frustrated when, as often happens, the dishwasher fails to wash a particular item.
Again, though, I’ve had remarkable success in not redirecting that frustration onto others, for instance by blaming The Girlfriend for somehow loading the dishwasher incorrectly. In fact, I now find that having another person around when these situations arise is really beneficial, as The Girlfriend and I have adopted a system where the other person simply takes over if one of us seems to be stuck on some physical process.
I confess that I’m not entirely sure how much these propensities are related to my tendency to become excessively invested in online arguments. I have gradually come to indulge this impulse less often, but honestly, sometimes it’s fun to let myself get wound up. I think there’s a certain justice to it, as it normally emerges in the course of a given exchange that my interlocutor and I are displaying character flaws such as stubbornness in roughly equal measure — hence we both deserve each other’s rhetorical punishment.
I confess, however, that part of my problem with debates is a tendency to take ideas a little too seriously, so that I’m not willing to make some bullshit concession just to smooth over a situation, for instance, and I’m probably too slow to try to find mutually face-saving ways out of an argument. I try to make it a kind of moral principle that we should be able to have no-holds-barred debates without being so squeamish about people’s feelings — and I really do think that Americans are pathologically afraid of disagreement or debate, particularly among friends and relatives — but that’s easy for me to say because I fundamentally just care less about those kinds of concerns than about the ideas themselves.
This over-seriousness about ideas is one of several alarming parallels I’ve begun to find between myself and Augustine — both of us are reluctant to start a family, for instance, primarily because it presents too many obstacles to the life of the mind. Indeed, when I was reading book 4, where Augustine is beginning his teaching career while living in the biggest city in the region of his birth and living with a woman out of wedlock, I became a little creeped out.
The timelines are sure to diverge soon, though, because I don’t think my mom is going to push me to become engaged to an upper-class ten-year-old.
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