Haste is a form of violence.

I stumbled upon this quote – often attributed to Gandhi – several years ago while reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh. It has stuck with me ever since. Whenever I find myself acting impatiently or in a hurry to get somewhere, I often think of this quote. Somehow it makes its way forward from the shadowy recesses of my mind, then just hangs out for a while. Perhaps it’s the sheer boldness of the claim, the extreme emotion it evokes. I’m still unsure, but it works.

Haste is a form of violence.

What does it even mean? Years later, I still find myself contemplating this quote, dissecting its language, pondering its intentions.

What is haste? I believe haste to be a kind of rashness, an undue eagerness to act without contemplating ramifications. Haste is mindless speed. We act in haste when we don’t pay attention. And because of this haste can, and often does, lead to recklessness. But does that make it a form of violence?

What is violence? Violence is, in essence, the use of force to cause harm. The term is often associated with physical force, with beatings, with assault, and even with murder. Violence, though, need not be physical. By most standards, verbal abuse qualifies as a form of violence.

Certainly, when we act in haste we can easily cause unintentional physical harm. The most obvious example of this is the speeding driver who, in a hurry to get to an appointment, inadvertently causes an accident. But even those with intentions to help, when acting in a hasty way, can also cause damage. Consider the doctor who, in a hurry to move treat a long line of waiting patients, hastily examines them all, missing important symptoms of life-threatening disease. Or consider the hasty airplane mechanic, who in a hurry to leave for lunch, makes a faulty repair that later leads to a devastating crash.

And certainly, when we act in haste, we can be lead to say harmful things to others we may not have otherwise said. We may hastily judge others and call them names before we have a chance to get to know them. Or, in fits of impatience, we may lash out at those who stand in the way of us getting what we want or doing what we need to do in a timely manner. Pity the slow, inexperienced, newly-hired barista at your local Starbucks. It’s easy to be hasty with a temper.

In Buddhism, there is a set of six virtues, also known as “perfections,” called the Six Paramitas. The third of these virtues is “patience” (in Sanskrit: kshanti). Haste and patience co-exist as oppositional forces. When we lack patience, we use force to bend others against their will to our egotistical needs. This is force causing harm. This is, in a sense, a kind of violence.

Haste is a form of violence.

We can all use a little more practice in cultivating patience. We can all use a little more practice in cultivating mindfulness. For those of us who subscribe to non-violence, remembering this simple quote may help. Certainly, with a little more patience and a little less haste the world would be a more pleasant place.