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Mr Francis Foo
As we begin a new year, many people would have made resolutions to ''do better'' in the coming year. Among the resolutions, I wonder how many would have asked for the virtue of patience? We live in an ''instant'' society that has got used to having things done or given to us quickly, whether for example it is our food, entertainment or news. We get it so quickly that sometimes we forget that this isn't true of everything, especially of things that are of value or need to stand the test of time. Patience, like a muscle, becomes underdeveloped with the lack of practice. The famous Italian artist and sculptor Michaelangelo, who took 4 years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, said, ''Genius is eternal patience''.
About 170 years ago, another person also discovered the value of patience. An engineer by the name of Charles Ellet wanted to build a bridge across the Niagara River, which is a raging flow of water connected to the Niagara Falls. One of the problems was ''How to stretch the first cable across the raging river?'' If a boat tried to cross the river, it would be swept over the Falls, as many an impatient builder would have learnt.
Ellen thought of an idea - he offered a $5 prize for the first child who could fly a kite across the river. When other engineers heard of his idea, they laughed at Ellet! How was this going to help build the bridge? But Ellet had the last laugh. A boy named Homan Walsh succeeded in flying his kite across the river. Behind Ellet's idea was a simple solution that relied on patience. Once the kite string was stretched across the river, he tied it to a thin cable and pulled that over. This in turn was then tied to a stronger cable to be pulled over. So cable by stronger cable, the first real cable needed for the bridge was stretched across the river. In 1848, Ellet built the first suspension bridge across the 240-metre width of the river.
Charles Ellet certainly practised many of the Habits. He was proactive in looking for other solutions when the obvious ones did not work. He clearly had an end in mind and knew the first thing he had to do. He sought a win-win solution with children by turning his own challenge into a fun competition for them. If the other engineers had sought first to understand Ellet's idea, they might have been more helpful than critical of him. Certainly it required the synergy of many different workers to build the bridge once the first cable was laid. However, underlying the exercise of the Habits was the conscious practice of patience throughout. You can't build the bridge without waiting for the first cable to be laid. You can't lay the cable without the slow tedious process of pulling other thinner cables in succession. If you do it quickly or with the wrong cable, you might snap the line and have to start all over again. You can't have the kite line across the river without patiently waiting for someone wanting to do it. You can't solve your problem if you are not prepared to go through various ideas and work on them until one appears feasible. That will take time and patience.
So it is too if we want to help our children grow holistically and build their own bridge of character. We have to teach them to be patient with themselves and others, and we also need to exercise patience ourselves. Sometimes we may want the boat to cross the difficulty, but it is really the kite we need, because what we or they want for themselves is not always what they need. This poem by an unknown author reminds us of that:
Patience is truly genius.
Wishing you all a wonderful new year ahead!