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The Hammer of the Most Heroic Virtue

The Hammer of the Most Heroic Virtue | IE Building Resilience

In recent years, behavioral economics has revolutionized our understanding of economic decision-making and human behavior in general.

By Olga Broto, Professor of Information Systems and Technology at IE Business School.



The importance of behavioral economics has been recognized by science and academia, as evidenced by the numerous prizes—including Nobels—awarded to experts in this branch of economics. The practical utility of behavioral economics has also been amply demonstrated through applications in fields as diverse as marketing, public policymaking, and the development of algorithms for artificial intelligence.

One of the issues of interest to behavioral economists is patience. From an economic point of view, patience is measured as the rate of time preference, calculated by a function reflecting the amount of present consumption that a person would be willing to give up in order to increase future consumption by a certain amount.

Shortsightedness vs. patience

Our society is often described as the society of instant gratification and shortsightedness. In fact, some business models are built to satisfy our short-term desires. However, patience can be seen as a modern concept, generally affordable only to the societies and, consequently, the individuals with the most favorable socioeconomic conditions.

Obviously, socioeconomic status is not the only factor. Research shows that people vary greatly in how they make decisions for the future—i.e. in their patience or impatience—and we still have much to learn about the underlying causes. Nevertheless, several studies have found that socioeconomic conditions are a differential factor in individual patience levels.

Technology and socialization

Under our current circumstances, technology may be one of the key socioeconomic conditions. Technology is helping us become more patient as we give up certain things during the COVID-19 crisis, including one of the capacities that make us human: socialization.

The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Socialization—interacting with other people—is a key factor in human health. Without it, we are impoverished and deprived of a basic source of satisfaction for mental development and balance, as various studies have demonstrated.

Thanks to technology—telephones, instant messaging, video calls, e-commerce, online content, etc.—we can all give up a certain amount of present consumption, while suffering a smaller health impact than we otherwise would. If you have access to a good Internet connection, modern computers with up-to-date operating systems and good capabilities, and devices for all members of your household, you can afford to be much more patient because you can maintain all sorts of relationships remotely: from telecommuting to online education, including yoga and childbirth classes. Thus, technology has been incorporated into human relationships in ways that go beyond pure entertainment.

Human strength

Patience is generally defined as the capacity to suffer or endure something without becoming upset, the ability to perform boring or painstaking tasks, or tolerance and forbearance in the face of an affront to one’s honor.

If there is one thing COVID-19 demands of billions of people, it is patience—even in the latter sense of the word, since many of us are seeing our civil rights curtailed in societies accustomed to living in freedom. Thus, as Giacomo Leopardi supposedly said: “Patience is the most heroic of virtues, precisely because it lacks any semblance of heroism.” Let’s use technology, as Thor uses his hammer, to build on our human strength and become more patient.