The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne, is an early 20th century British novel that was thrice made into a movie, two of them in the era before “talkies.” Midway through the book the eponymous main character, frustrated with how easily he gives in to the whims and wishes of his future wife, sees himself as a fool and states: “I suffer fools gladly, as a general rule, but if I see much of this one I shall do him some injury.”
The fictional Marcus feels about this aspect of himself the way that most people feel about those in their lives for whom they have no patience – these fools cannot be suffered gladly, if at all. Comedian Jim Gaffigan puts this into food-related terms (shock!) when he claims that the real tradition of Thanksgiving is not in the overeating – we do that every day (or at least Jim does) – but in overeating with a lot of people “that annoy the hell out of us.”
To take that viewpoint to its logical conclusion is to use the famous, yet almost universally misunderstood, words of existentialist philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre from his most famous work, No Exit: “Hell is other people.” Unknown to most, Sartre’s words were meant to focus on the burden that each of us bears when confronted with the realization that others see us in ways that we have no control over. But, to be in a hurry and to be standing in a long line at the grocery store is a situation that might elicit the more common interpretation of Sartre’s words, especially if someone in front of you wants to write a check.
The Spiritual Work of Mercy known as Bearing Wrongs Patiently could just as easily be called Suffering Fools Gladly. For most people, the wrongs that need to be borne with patience are small and ultimately insignificant, yet way too often they elicit an emotional response far beyond their import. For example, most of us are not sitting at a lunch counter in the Deep South in the 1960s as people scream insults at us and threaten us because we are taking a stand against racial segregation.
Those young people in places like Greensboro, North Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama, who sat for days and weeks without ever lashing out at their vocal and violent critics taught America a lesson in peaceful protest, and sparked a movement that not only challenged racial inequality, but helped to change the attitudes of millions of people. At its best the Civil Rights Movement was a living lesson in Bearing Wrongs Patiently.
And it is no coincidence that these young people were rooted in the values passed to them from their parents and grandparents, in the strong traditions of their churches, and in the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. Ministers like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., were their leaders and it wasn’t called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for nothing.
Ted Turner, media mogul and billionaire founder of CNN, once famously called Christianity “a religion for losers.” I dare say that Jesus would agree with him if by “loser” Turner meant someone who sat at a lunch counter fearing for her or his life yet who neither said nor did anything to defend themselves in the face of those who hated them.
It is doubtful that these brave young people were in any kind of mood to suffer fools gladly, especially when those fools were threatening them with bodily harm and screaming insults at them. But suffer them they did, and in doing so they embodied the Spiritual Work of Bearing Wrongs Patiently. A good thing to remember when the person in front of us in line is searching through every pocket for that all important $0.25-off coupon. And even more important to remember when the cashier says, “Sorry, that’s expired.”