Webster’s Dictionary defines time as, “the measured or measurable period during which and action, process, or condition exists or continues.” What does that mean? Why is it important? St Augustine that stated, “what then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” Time is an exact meaning of measure as well as an indicator of an event that took place, is taking place, or will take place in the future. I decided to look at what time has meant to me over the years.
As a child punctuality was important in my house. It was an indicator of whether I could follow instructions and was a measure of discipline and structure. Dinner was always at an established time. And as I grew into my formative years I had a set, strict curfew. That time was an indicator of reliability. If I was in the door at the established curfew time, everything was alright. If not, I faced some sort of retribution. Consequently, I have been conditioned to value time. Still to this day, when I travel to my parent’s home I view time differently.
I have had the pleasure of traveling to different countries and I have made observations about time. Culturally time means different things to different customs. In Germany, for instance, time is more structured. I can remember standing at a train station waiting for a train to arrive. When the train was to be considered to be on time the people waiting for the train seemed at ease. When the train was announced to be running late you could feel the change in body language. Germans tend to be more time conscious and are “clock time” oriented. It can be stated that the Germans, not unlike the US, are monochronic which means people like to complete one task at a time. In other words there is a time to play and a time to work. Punctuality, completing tasks, and keeping schedule are important. This is attributed to the uneasiness when the train was running late.
On the contrary, when I was in Ireland waiting for a train with an Irish friend he noticed that I was getting uneasy with the train’s tardiness for the scheduled stop. Thus creating a delay in our our departure and potentially delaying a meeting. My friend laughed at me and explained that there was U.S. time and there was Irish time. He followed with the statement, “Tom, when God made time he made a lot of it.” In the Irish culture like many Latin American and Middle East cultures, society is more polychromic and flexible about time. For these cultures maintaining relationships and socializing are more important than accomplishing an individual task. Although I was uneasy about being late for the appointment due to the train’s delay, my Irish counterpart was unfazed by my late arrival.
I appreciate that every culture values time differently as I currently live and work in a task oriented society and conduct business and enjoy friendships in cultures that are more flexible regarding time. Time is something that constantly needs to be managed. There is either too much time but more likely not enough time. But now, it is quitting time.