Let’s take a look at how our perception of time plays a significant part in many of the actions, thoughts and beliefs in our lives.
How long will it take for the gazillions of out-of-control forest fires currently raging in California and in Canada’s western provinces to wake up those decision-makers who could begin a reversal of global warming and climate change?
How long will it take for the employers of many workers for to wake up to the fundamental truth that happy and engaged workers are more productive and also a better investment than “starved” workers?
How long have human beings inhabited this planet?
How long have men and women fought over their respective gender “rights” and “responsibilities”?
How long has racism plagued the species, with little or no bending of the curve of remediation?
There is apparently a direct co-relation between our perception of time and many of our urgencies. How urgent do we need changes in specific situations, in order to continue to engage in those situations? For example, if there is a persistent theme in the negative manner in which another speaks to us, how long do we “take” such treatment before we push-back, and how forceful is that push-back? If we belong to a church or another civil organization, and there are issues that are especially evident and persistent, issues that really matter to us, how long do we take to express our discomfort, to propose alternatives, or even to withdraw?
When we are children of parents whose behaviour is abusive, for example, how long can/do we tolerate the abuse, before ‘reporting’ our situation? If we are in a marriage in which our needs are not being met, and we have expressed those needs to our partner without noticing much change, are we equipped with the necessary skills to negotiate the changes we seek? Or do we consider, after “some time”, that we have waited long enough for those changes to take effect, without inquiring as to how together those changes might be accomplished, and make a complete break?
When someone asks us for something, some help or an opinion or an answer to a question, and we are deeply occupied in another activity, and we know that whatever response we offer will be token at best, do we have the courtesy to inform our ‘seeker’ that while we would like to oblige his/her request, we need a little more time to get to a place in our current activity when we can stop without impairing the success of our project? When our new baby cries, for the first six months, as parents we are all trained or programmed to respond to the cry, without knowing fully the degree of discomfort of the child. As time passes, we relax a little, consider the situation adn the pitch and volume of the cry before rushing to respond. Similarly, when our new born falls the first time, we cannot respond quickly enough, believing that our response will pay dividends over the next several months when we know there will be other falls.
When we are at work, perhaps in retail, have we been trained, role modelled, or just extra-committed as a sign of our motivation to impress either the customer or the boss by our prompt and courteous response time. Time is one of the currencies all workers trade in, just as it is also a “commodity” in which the employer trades, depending on the need and the capacity to pay especially when overtime is required and if the contract calls for time-and-a half or double-time.
How precise are we when it comes time to estimate the size of a job or project we have to complete? Here is a skill required by those who estimate construction jobs for prospective clients, for doctors, dentists and lawyers who have to bill by the hour and quote for scheduling purposes. Operating rooms, emergency rooms, clinics, court cases and court rooms depend on some estimate of the length of the procedure prior to its beginning. In fact, some of our professionals are so adept and precise in their “guestimates” that they can be relied upon by those executing the schedule.
And then there are those who long ago threw time and their watch out the window, preferring to take as long as it takes to study a client’s problem, research the issue deeply, comprehensively and thoroughly, without regard to the cost, because they have utterly rejected the maxim “time is money” that so plagues businesses and most professional organizations.
Have you also noticed that some people use estrangement over a long period of time as punishment or revenge for a betrayal they consider inappropriate, unwarranted, or even unacceptable, and their silent and presumably inconspicuous punishment will go unnoticed by their peers while the target of their abuse will presumably suffer immeasurably. That is, after all, their intent, and the duration into permanency and even until death is their payback?
In diplomatic theatre, for example, America has remained estranged from Cuba for a half-century-plus, until the recent ‘thaw’ initiated by the Obama administration, initiated under the Kennedy administration for the Bay of Pigs and for the Castro revolution. Similarly, Iran was put in the deep freeze for several decades by the United Satess, a freeze that included economic sanctions and a ‘red card’ from engagement in international markets where she could sell her crude. Individuals in the military or quasi-military organizations who cross the rules of their hierarchy, are often court-martialled, or dismissed, terminated, fired, excommunicated or merely trashed, often for the remained of their lives, with or without due process, given the tyrannical authority and the expected absolute compliance of the minions with that authority. Frequently, such sentences do nto match the infraction, yet incur the wrath of the commanding officer(s) whose reputation for a “trim ship” without a blemish on his/her watch is required for any potential promotion. Of course, prison sentences are also “time-sensitive” depending on the considered severity of the crime, and the cultural conditions extant at the time of the occurrence. “Lifers” are those prisoners who have committed what society considers the most heinous offences, up to and including murder, in those jurisdictions where the death penalty has been abolished.
And then there are the romantic flavours, applications and connotations of time: “I feel as if I have known you for a century!” is an expression from one who has just met the one s/he considers a potential soul-mate. Another phrase in the romantic vernacular goes this way: “Time flies when I’m with you!”
A similar “fleeting time” experience attends those people, among them athletes, artists, musicians, writers, composers, laboratory scientists, philosophers who simply lose track of time, given them deep entry into an activity so engrossing and so consuming that it seems to literally “take over” their consciousness. On the other side of this part of the coin, are those students, audiences, and congregations who experience what they consider interminable lectures, speeches, homilies respectively and they cannot wait until the pain and discomfort comes to an end. In these situations, time has replaced the content as the focus of the listener, and has literally taken over the experience.
In the broadcasting business, time is measured in seconds, 10, 15, 30, 60 or even 90 seconds of time sold to a prospective marketing client, seeking to sell a product or service. Similarly, in the news business, the length of a story, and its place in the order of the newcast, are both signs of its considered importance, by those editors responsible for the preparation of the “program.” Television programs, too, have a “time-slot” to fill, given the half-hour or one hour allotted to is, minus the time needed for commercials.
Digital communication has taken this measurement of time to another level: given the instant transmission of data, whether voice or text, from anywhere to everywhere. Again, time is measured and sold sometimes to re-sellers and sometimes directly to the consumer/digital device user.
We have become so enmeshed in the tick-tock of the clock that our lives are measured out by its numbers, its demands and the discipline it requires.
Of course the classical music composers, (as well as those in the contemporary arena) build their notes, arpeggios, chords and scales around the beat of a metronome, complete with a time signature, bar lines, a range of notes all of them symbols of lengths of time (a thirty-second note is half as long as a sixteenth note, a sixteenth note is half as long as an eighth note, which is half as long as a quarter note, a quarter is half as long as a half note, which is half as long as a whole note).
And of course, we are all on a timed-thread from birth to death, the length of which is unknown, except in the higher end when statistical data can usually predict an upper limit to our time here.
Is time a master or are we its master? Is our attitude, perception and concept of time one of the more important characteristics that define our interactions with other. Those of us who seem to be always in a hurry are very annoying to those who prefer and adopt a more leisurely pace, for themselves and for any changes they wish to integrate into their lives. (I once worked for a supervisor who said he would sent me to any graduate school where they would teach me patience, so much in a hurry was I for change in a public bureaucracy!) Governments traditionally, like huge aircraft carriers, move very slowly when considering change; corporations, on the other hand, have to adapt to changing market conditions, or cease to operate. Entrepreneurs, naturally, have to be even more adept in the timing of the changes they implement in their operation, given their size and ability to move quickly. Field generals, in the middle of conflict, have to integrate all the signals of the enemy’s next moves, adapt and deploy his resources in q manner that is timely and tactically and strategically optimal. Baseball pitchers who have a range of “speeds” in the quiver of their pitches, knuckle-ball slow, change-up, fastball, breaking ball have a considerable advantage over the hitters they face, given the element of surprise in the timing of their choice of pitch and the timing of its trajectory to home plate. Hockey players, too, who can move from one end of the rink to the other in the shortest time rank high in their coaches’ evaluation, as do those who shoot the puck at a very high rate of speed, thereby making it more difficult for the goalie to block the shot. Once again, time is the critical factor in the exchange.
What kind of sense of time are we leaving with our children and grandchildren, if in all aspects of our lives, we are hurried, harassed, exhausted, incessantly moving and constantly complaining about the speed of time’s passing. Are we telling them that our lives are normal and even exemplary, as models for their future? Are we capable and willing to take “time out” from our busy schedules and our imposition of excruciating demands on our time, to smell the roses, to play with the dog, to take a casual walk or bike ride? In our conversations, are we intent upon fixing things as quickly as possible, or are we willing to explore the relationships without having to impose a result on those conversations? When we read a book, are we determined to “learn” something we can apply to our lives, or is helping to satisfy our general interest and curiosity, while gaining some new perspective enough for our time and effort?
Are we using our “time” here to work our way into some heaven, in an inexhaustible penitential process, paying for our many sins? Or do we see a deity as our friend, ally and even advocate who seeks our optimal engagement with time and others, based not on some deficit imposed by some external authority, but rather on an authentic and trustworthy acceptance and generosity? These questions may not be the subject of the next homily or holy book reflection. They are, however, cogent to how we reconnoitre with our time here.