Most of us seek to develop into better human beings during our lifetimes. But sometimes, in the face of pain, we forget that difficult situations in daily living – like rude co-workers, fear of the unknown, or tricky family dynamics – are opportunities to grow.
As Aristotle put it,
"By doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing acts that we do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly.... Thus, in one word, states arise out of like activities."
In other words, what we are arises from what we consistently do. And we can only develop a type of virtue/excellence like courage or gentleness when we habitually act that way in each small and large situation we encounter. So, if you want to be more patient with people, don't sit back contemplating abstract Patience.
Instead, go out and put yourself in situations where you can practice patience: waiting in a long line at a store, or finally having that hard conversation. Then reflect on whether you responded in the right way. Start small, and then work your way up.
I'm not this wise on my own, so I'd like to give credit where it's due: to my philosophy professor.
Let me be clear though – don't purposely put yourself through suffering or danger to gain these opportunities. And I'm also not saying that all the bad things we face happen for a reason – sometimes horrific evils have no explanation. But there are ordinary happenings in our lives that we can choose to gripe about as annoyances and setbacks or that we can consider as chances to develop excellence or virtue. When we set out to make one certain response a habit, that is when it really sticks.
And for those of us who are Christians, this attitude is biblical as well:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5
When we persevere, we become more mature, more Christlike, and more hopeful. And the Holy Spirit helps us in this, since we cannot be transformed for the better without Him.
I know I make it sound too easy, but even a simple change in attitude can make a profound difference in how we face hardships. And I hope that's the case for you!