All Commentary
Friday, October 1, 1965

Impatience Undermines Freedom

Mr. Sparks is a business executive of Canton, Ohio.

The Typical American of the 1960′s enjoys a level of living, health, and comfort unimaginable to those who struggled twice as hard a half century earlier. The increased leisure of a shorter work week and longer life span might be expected to yield an air of pa­tience and relaxation. Yet, some future historian is likely to re­classify our age of speed as the era of impatience, marked by lack of time, annoyance at delay, intoler­ance of those held responsible. Ours definitely is not a time of great patience among men.

Sports and Recreation

One by-product of our extra time has been the rapid growth of sports and recreation. Here, surely, one might expect to find relaxation—and patience. Ama­teur and professional sports have always been popular in this coun­try, but never before have there been so many organized activities—from Little League baseball to professional football, from small girls vying for victory for their swim club to the women’s profes­sional golf tour. Spectator interest also has grown along with in­creased knowledge of the tech­niques of the games. Televised broadcasts, with statistics sup­plied by commentators, afford the average fan enough knowledge of the game to be well aware and highly impatient when the players or the coaches err ever so little.

A coach’s every move is pub­lic knowledge, including the meth­ods he employs to teach young athletes. If coaches seem to lack patience with their charges, it is not difficult to understand why. Most fans will not tolerate a loser. No one talks of a losing season—certainly not a coach whose career is at stake. His teams must have won substantially more games than they lost. Such pressure is often reflected in severe impatience with the players and by tantrum-like antics along the side lines in re­sponse to decisions by officials. Other student activities are frowned upon by the coach and sometimes absolutely prohibited—such as participation in choir, speech, or another sport. No time can be allowed for rounding out a student; the coach must win. It is his livelihood.

Other Areas

Nor is such impatience confined to the playing field. Owners of business are impatient with a management that does not set sales-and-profit records each year. The political officeholder must promise prosperity to his constitu­ents, and take steps to deliver, or he is quickly turned out of office for another whose promises are more convincing. People who enjoy the highest level of living in his­tory are impatient for more, even when their savings have been spent. They seek short cuts to greater comforts than they can af­ford by contracting heavy debts and demanding political privi­leges.

The political opportunist sees the chance to vault himself into power by leading the impatient poor to believe it is unfair that others should enjoy a greater prosperity than themselves. Thus do impatient politicians seek easy advancement without the requisite patience, wisdom, and effort of true statesmanship.

Various professional church leaders would convert mankind, not by age-old methods of patient education and persuasion, but by the short cut of legislation to force “proper behavior” as they define it.

Parents ignore the responsi­bility of providing their children with a basic understanding and fundamental philosophy of life, ab­dicating to others who either have no time or ability to teach such wisdom or who have been re­stricted by public authority from doing so. Parents then become im­patient because the results are not what they expected.

Impatience with Others

Other people are the most likely objects of our impatience, includ­ing persons we may never have seen before. A courteous, polite person may change personalities completely when he stations himself at the wheel of an automobile, acting rudely toward other driv­ers who, he feels, are unnecessarily delaying him. This will add neither to his happiness nor to the safety of himself and others along his route.

Sometimes our impatience is more closely directed, as when a mother frets about her daughter-in-law’s housekeeping, or so criti­cally supervises a small daughter’s piano practice as to destroy any aptitude for music the child might have had. An anxious and impa­tient father may cause his budding young athlete to err on otherwise routine plays. Impatience with others is no more the key to suc­cessful teaching than to self-satis­faction or to pleasant human rela­tions.

The Root of Impatience

It is not unusual to find that impatience with others originates in anger at oneself. Recently, I played golf with an acquaintance who was having one of his better rounds, until a poorly executed shot on the fifteenth hole led to trouble. After that, he pressed succeeding shots, each worse than before. By the end of the round, his wild swings and displays of temper were in sharp contrast to the smooth, calm excellence of his earlier play. His final score was not as good as usual; yet nothing had occurred to alter the condition of the game except his mounting impatience with himself.

Just as every golfer would like to break par on each round, so perhaps does everyone dream a life of perfection, with health, marital bliss, a well-paying job, friends, travel, the respect of one’s contemporaries, and the like. But few golf games or human lives are perfect dreams-come-true; the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” are bound to take their toll along the line despite all our foresight and planning. If one dreams unduly of perfection, any disturbance, however slight or un­important, may be more than he can take—with patience. And oth­ers will be found to blame—one’s children, spouse, employer, em­ployee, neighbor—everyone else in general. The possibility of poor ex­ecution on his own part seldom will occur to him.

Many of today’s most difficult social problems doubtless can be traced to the man who faults ev­eryone but himself and then, in his impatience, lashes out against oth­ers. Leonard E. Read refers to such persons as “know-it-alls.” Their worst affliction is their ig­norance, “which they must inflict on the rest of us if they can find the means to do so. But there is no way… without employing com­pulsion. The know-it-alls, by themselves, do not possess enough com­pulsive force to inflict their ignor­ance on the rest of us. What to do? They seek and often obtain posi­tions in society’s agency of organ­ized force: government. In short—we obey their edicts, or we take the consequences.”

Government Planner’s Salesmanship

The government planner is prone to seek out particular activi­ties of private citizens—peaceful though they are—that seem to be poorly coordinated, or without overall plan. He then proposes a program to control or restrict pri­vate decisions or to prohibit them altogether. If the planner can per­suade legislators to approve his idea, he need not bother selling the idea to the numerous private citi­zens affected. Political planning thus differs from the patient mar­ket effort to serve consumers to their personal satisfaction.

Furthermore, the government planner does not stand personally accountable for any weaknesses in his plan. And if he should gain the monopoly power he seeks, it will not be possible to compare the re­sults with alternatives. Subcon­sciously the government planner rationalizes: “My plan, my dream,

See The Free Market and Its Enemy (Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: Foun­dation for Economic Education, Inc., 1965.)is superior. The government pro­vides a short cut to its accomplish­ment. I am impatient to see my dream come true. Why not?” He never realizes that his own short­comings are in this manner adver­tised for all to see.

Effect on Private Owner

Government planning also has important consequences to owners whose property may be involved. When the government proposes to seize property, directly or indi­rectly, the owner’s only recourse is costly, often ineffective, appeal to courts likely to be biased toward the governmental plan. In contrast, property owners are fully free to accept or to reject any private plan offered in the market place, and at no greater cost than the effort of studying its pros and cons. No great defensive effort is needed to protect property against such peaceful planning. The private planner must be a good salesman, and his plans must be efficiently executed, if he is to remain in busi­ness. Patient persuasion and pre­paredness are the hallmarks of the successful private planner; impa­tience repels prospective custom­ers.

The objective of freedom also can be thwarted by lack of pa­tience. Persons newly aware that individual rights of ownership and choice are being sacrificed in the name of the collective good are tempted to lash out at “the com­munists” without the necessary self-preparation in the under­standing and practice of freedom. Patient study is required to prop­erly answer false charges that the free market system neglects the poor and favors the rich. Identify­ing and denouncing communists before unwilling listeners gains no friends for freedom, and such im­patience may only arouse sympa­thy for those so disparaged. Com­munists are not really to blame for the lack of preparation and under­standing that leads the impatient champion of freedom to deal in personalities rather than with the ideas and ideals of his own worthy cause.

Ideas vs. Persons

Though impatience with other people is never to be commended, there is nothing to be gained by patience toward wrong ideas or practices. Theft, for instance, is wrong and should be impatiently rejected in all its guises. Laws that deny liberty are to be rejected summarily. Nor is murder to be patiently accepted. But to reject impatiently such evil practices does not deny the virtue of pa­tience toward persons who harbor such mistaken ideas. To displace another persons’ wrong ideas with those that seem more proper to us is the challenge each of us faces—and patience is the key.

By our intolerance, we deny the dignity of man. Or, as Emerson said in his essay on Self-Reliance, “society everywhere is in conspir­acy against the manhood of every one of its members.” Each man has his own destiny, his obstacles to overcome, his deepest purpose to fulfill. Interference by others not only delays that man’s achieve­ment but also deprives those oth­ers of the patience and will power to reach their own respective des­tinies.

Nor does such interference stem entirely from evil intent. Impa­tience may be the peculiar vice of those otherwise nobly endowed with the virtues and qualities of leadership; those who could lead toward freedom, if only they would leave others free to choose and to follow. Embittered lives, split com­munities, devastated homes, broken employees, spiritless chil­dren result from the tyrannical power of otherwise virtuous lead­ers who allow their impatience to destroy the spirit of independence.

Any person who would fully share the God-given right of every individual to be free must pa­tiently content himself with over­coming his own weaknesses—not those of others.

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.