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The Difference Between Passive Patience vs. Active Patience (Keep Calm and Carry On)


On Monday, I wrote about how “Patience is Persistence” – meaning that the definition of patience shouldn’t only be limited to our common understanding of the term:

patience: the ability to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting upset

In fact, we really ought to expand our understanding and definition of the word patience to include:

patience: the ability to carry on while tolerating delay, trouble, or suffering without getting upset

I don’t know about you, but for the majority of my life, whenever I’ve thought about patience, I’ve thought – “Sigh, I just have to WAIT.” And I hate waiting!

In fact, it’s probably my hatred of waiting for something that has sparked this idea of passive patience in my brain. It seems like every time I express my frustration with how long something is taking, someone always tells me to, “be patient.” And as soon as I hear those two little words, it immediately sends my brain into “shut-down mode.” 

They said, “be patient.” Patience means I have to wait. Waiting is boring. You can’t do anything while you wait. Guess I’ll just shut down, be bored, and… just… wait…

Active vs. Passive Patience

There’s absolutely a huge difference between active and passive patience. I used to live with passive patience.

  • Passive patience says: “Wait. Be bored. Sit down. Don’t look excited. Don’t express frustration. Just sit. And wait. And be bored. And do nothing.
  • Active patience says: “Slow down. Don’t go over-the-top. But don’t give up. Never, ever, ever give up. Keep going. Baby steps. But don’t let your frustration at the timing derail your current course of action.”

If Life is a train and Patience the conductor…


Think of it this way. If Life is a train (your life has a course, a purpose, a direction  – it is moving toward some destination), Patience is the conductor. When your train gets running too fast down the track, if you’re getting frustrated and becoming dangerous, someone will tell the conductor, “Be patient!” Patience then applies the brakes to your train.

  • Passive Patience brings your train to a full stop. You sit. You wait. You do nothing.
  • Active Patience slows the train down to prevent it from jumping the tracks or getting out of control. But the train never stops. It keeps right on going, albeit at a slower pace.

How this looks practically

Let me give you a few examples from my own life about what the difference between active and passive patience looks like:

OccasionPassive PatienceActive Patience
Dating my wifeMy wife (then "friend") refused to "date" me for 3 months. Passive patience would have said, "She's not into you. Hang up the towel. Find another."Active Patience said, "Yet she constantly hangs out with you exclusively. Just because she doesn't CALL these things 'dates' doesn't mean they aren't. Hang in there. Keep moving. Take it slow."
Studying KoreanAfter I'd been in Korea for 6 months or so, I joined a class - and it went MUCH slower than I could handle. Passive Patience said, "Just sit there. Wait for your turn. Let the slow students try. Don't study ahead." I listened. And that sent me on a "no-Korean-study" hiatus for about 5 years.Active Patience would have said, "So they're slower than you. That doesn't mean you have to stop and wait here. Study ahead. Find a language exchange partner to practice with. Advance your level enough to move to a higher level."
Design careerMy goal is to someday have a career in graphic and/or web design. Passive patience says, "Look. You're an English teacher now. That's WHO YOU ARE. Focus on that. Don't get caught up in these wild ambitions until you're ready. And you're obviously not ready until you get a different job."Active Patience says, "You need to maintain your skills. You know the computer technology is changing at such a rate that if you don't keep up, you'll have a lot of CATCHING up to do. Maintain your skills. Develop your ability. Get ready now so that when opportunity comes, it doesn't pass you by."

And so you see, Passive Patience not only stops your train, it also tells you that it’s useless to carry on:

  • Passive Patience: “The timing’s not right – just stop and wait. You’re not ready yet – just stop and wait. Don’t work hard – just stop and wait.”
  • Active Patience: “Keep calm and carry on.”

Keep Calm and Carry On


Keep Calm and Carry On is a slogan found on a:

motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 several months before the beginning of the Second World War[. It was] intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.

And it is a perfect descriptor of what Active Patience should look like.

A lot of the time when things are out of our control, or the timing is not quite right yet, or we expect something to happen that hasn’t yet, we are told to “be patient.” But can you imagine that kind of slogan on this British War poster? “Keep Calm and Have Patience.” Imagine seeing that image in the face of an upcoming war. The people may well have practiced Passive patience – by putting normal lives on hold to wait for the “inevitable.”

So much more than “waiting”

So you see, Active Patience is so much more than merely “waiting” for something. With Active Patience we continue striving toward our goal with anticipation of what’s to come, but without fear or frustration. 

Active Patience may very well mean “slowing down” but it never means “stop what you’re doing.” Because if you stop midway along your million-mile journey, you’ll never reach your destination no matter how “patient” you are. Keep moving forward. Keep striving. But take it one step at a time. Baby steps.

Are you practicing Active or Passive patience? For more info about “Keep Calm and Carry On” watch the video below:

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