On being ... heads or tails

By Ingrid Sapona

The other day I was complaining to a friend about something that happened that morning that had especially irritated me. As I was relaying the story behind the irritation, I mentioned that, though I see myself as a patient person, sometimes it seems that the fates conspire to make things so frustrating that I lose my patience. I was going to continue on to explain that, given that I’m a patient person, on those relatively infrequent occasions when I lose patience, I probably get even more upset than others might in the same circumstance because there’s an element of getting angry with myself for allowing something to alter my normal -- and preferred -- patient nature.

As I said, I was going to go on with the explanation but I didn’t have the chance to because my friend interrupted me, saying, “I’m not sure I see you as patient.” I was shocked -- and hurt -- because I really thought (and would hope) my friends see me as patient.

Mind you, I don’t think my friend meant anything by the comment. Indeed, I don’t think she realized how important a quality I think patience is. (How could she realize it? After all, she has no way of knowing that I’ve prized patience ever since someone gave me a book called “Little Bits of Wisdom” for my eighth birthday. Many of the sayings in the book were cute, but my favorite was: “Patience is a virtue. Virtue is a grace. Put them together for a very pretty face.” Hokey, I know -- but at that impressionable age, rightly or wrongly, a saying from a book produced by the Hallmark card people can weigh just as heavy on the mind as something learned in Sunday school.)

Anyway, since I’d already been sidetracked in terms of my original complaint about what was going on that day, I figure I should at least try to set the record straight with my friend about whether I’m patient. Rather than site chapter and verse of times when I’ve exhibited patience, I took a different tack. I argued that if I weren’t patient, I wouldn’t be as tenacious as I am. (I was quite sure she’d have no problem agreeing as to my tenacity.)

Unfortunately, the connection between tenacity and patience wasn’t as clear in my friend’s mind as it was in mine, so further explanation was required. That’s when I set forth the argument that patience and tenacity are flip sides of the same coin. As I see it, because tenacity requires a high degree of stick-to-itiveness, someone who is tenacious is, by definition, patient.

Therefore, if personality traits are represented by coins and tenacity is a coin found in my personality change purse, all you had to do is look on the flip side of that coin and -- voilà -- you’d find patience. To this, my friend (tactfully avoiding the underlying question of whether I’m patient or not) argued that if patience is one side of a coin, the flip side of it would be impatience.

By the end of our conversation we didn’t end up agreeing on much, but we both walked away thinking. In my case, I thought about whether the flip sides of a given personality coin are different, but related or intertwined traits (as I see the relationship between patience and tenacity), or whether flip sides represent opposite traits (patience and impatience). I have to admit, my friend’s argument was compelling. Better still, it provides a great way of justifying those rare bouts of impatience: they’re simply occasions when that particular coin landed “wrong side up”.

Indeed, the more I think of coins being personality traits and the two sides of each coin being opposite manifestations of the trait, the more I like it. After all, that means that if, on any given day or at any given time, you find certain personality traits rising to the surface that you’re not too proud of, or that you find discomforting, all you have to do is pick up those coins and toss them again (and again) until they land in whatever way you’d like to be thought of as being -- you know, “right side up”.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona