“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century.”
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Americans are an impatient people. It seems it is a characteristic we’ve borne since the very founding of this nation. When the Europeans first set foot upon the land, driven here by several factors, impatience for change played a major part.
The original colonists sought tolerance for their differences in religious tenets. They were impatient with a government unwilling to change and accommodate them. Their impatience with conditions in Europe took hold in America. They grew impatient with Native American resistance to their usurping of traditional tribal lands.
This impatience grew under the boot heel of English domination, erupting in open rebellion to the crown. It led to the creation of a new experiment in self-governing, disdain of royalty, and loathing the concept of divine ascension to the throne.
Our impatience drove us to ignore many of the founding principles—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—as we exterminated Native Americans in a quest to seize their land to satisfy our impatience with the status quo.
Yet, over time, despite sometimes violent changes, we came to tame our impatience and learn to direct it toward the common good.
When our impatience clashed with the resistance to abolishing slavery and the secession of those who refused to release their fellow humans from bondage, we went to war.
Our impatience with the continuous bloodshed faced an ever more powerful force in the commitment and dedication of one of the greatest Presidents we have ever had, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln understood our impatience and turned it to accomplish the goal. It was our most costly war, yet we survived.
In 1939, the world plunged into a global conflagration. Our impatience with the last vestiges of the depression caused us to turn away from the battle as something outside our concern. Roosevelt understood this and sought to help those affected European nations without coming up against our intransigence to get involved.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Axis powers declared war on the United States, Americans put aside their impatience. For four long years, we fought and died to save the world.
Yet, an element of our impatience drove us to victory—and set the stage for our potential destruction. Seeking an end to the war ignited an effort to develop a weapon so terrible no one would want to use it.
And we succeeded and failed. We built the weapon and, in our impatience with waiting for the inevitable fall of Japan, became the only nation to use atomic weapons.
By July 1945, the defeat of the Axis powers was inevitable. Germany had surrendered, the Japanese were starving, surrounded, and running out of oil. When the Japanese refused to believe we had such a devastating weapon, despite efforts to convince them, our impatience compelled us to grant them a view of Armageddon.
Thus came the destruction of Hiroshima, followed by the obliteration of Nagasaki. Our impatience had ended the war and opened a new chapter in world history. Soon, the atomic bomb gave way to ICBMs—missiles equipped with thermonuclear warheads.
The dawn of MAD—Mutually Assured Destruction — was upon us.
This same impatience has accomplished much good. It drove us to put a man on the moon. To be the first people to leave the planet in the dawn of a new age, the age of exploring the universe. The directing of our impatience into a defined goal should have shown us the power within ourselves.
Instead, we grew impatient with the slow progress and turned away. We turned our efforts inward to more self-gratifying pursuits. Our drive for the moon ended with Apollo 17. While we have the ISS, and Americans are in orbit almost all the time, we are just now recapturing the ability to launch our own astronauts.
Youth have always been impatient, wanting each day to come sooner, to flyby, and then move on to the future they view as both destiny and a better place. Impatience fueled by the mistaken belief they have all the time in the world.
The folly of youth unfettered by the inevitability of death.
With age comes the desire to slow down time, savor the moment, fend off the rapidity with which it passes. Yet when confronted with a challenge, we’ve forgotten all the lessons of history. We ignore the benefit of tempering impatience despite the hard lessons of our history.
America’s impatience is a dual-edged sword. Driving us to achieve when others urged caution or sending us on fool’s missions toward disasters.
We are living in a time of a pandemic—a time that tests our mettle. Our impatience may kill us if we do not choose our path with care. We forget we are people capable of patient determination in the face of adversity. We forget the legacy of two World Wars, lost to the fog of the past. We forget the fallacy of our mistakes, lost in the noise of our loathing any inconvenience.
We may have the right to pursue happiness, but often that path is paved with challenges requiring patience.
In a time when the simplest actions—wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, minimizing the risk to our fellow Americans—are all that is needed to ride out the storm, we can’t manage even a few months of patience and determination.
Our impatience as Americans drives us to accomplish many things. Yet if we fail to temper that impatience with rationality, it will be our demise. It has already caused the death of 131,509 Americans. If we want to be impatient, be impatient with those who refuse to perform such simple acts out of pure selfishness.
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