Of Different Time Constructs and R-E-S-P-E-C-T

multiple clock faces seeming to melt or otherwise fall away

Last week I wrote about a story I heard on NPR regarding the different ways people use or react to time. While most people are not wholly one way or another in their relation to time, people do have habits regarding how they regulate their lives in relation to time.

Research suggests that there are clock-timers and event-timers. Clock-timers adhere to a schedule or clock when deciding to move from one activity to another while event-timers move when they “feel” it’s time. In last week’s blog, I shared that in view of this brief definition, I am a clock-timer.

As such, in listening to the story, I felt as if it was making a point that being on time was not a positive characteristic and that this general habit in the United States and Europe “unnecessarily weeded out people who have different talents.”

Though there was a nod to clock-timers—about our being “highly organized doers who get things done when we say we will” —being on time seemed to be problematized in several instances and contrasted negatively with being habitually late.

For example, a comment was made that those of us who are on time view this characteristic to be “clearly and in every way superior.” While I’ve not thought this, I do like to think that I have some characteristic that might be seen as positive while not necessarily superior, thank you very much.

Having a habit of being where I say I will be at a certain time I do not believe causes me to have, as indicated in the story, “a short-sighted view of history and a narrow view of world cultures.” I was also particularly interested in what was meant by one’s time orientation shaping “the way you think about the world and the way you make decisions.”

The conclusion of a couple of researchers quoted was that if one is a clock-timer “you’re basically surrendering control of your life to an external mechanism.” And event-timers “feel some control over the flow of their days, even if they can’t control everything that happens to them.”

On the contrary, I feel more in control of my life when I use the clock to regulate how I spend precious time. By using the clock, I accomplish what I plan to accomplish during a particular time period. To say that event-timers feel some control of the flow of their days seems counterintuitive: How can you have control over the flow when you have no plan on where you’re going and when you’ll get there?

Event-timers are described as being “more attuned to their emotions.” We clock-timers are said to be “more likely to compartmentalize tasks and distance [ourselves] emotionally from situations.” In my case, I wish I could distance more emotionally, especially when an event-timer is so late that the planned activity must be rescheduled or cancelled—often with no excuse given for being late. After all, more than one person’s feelings are involved with this meeting. And I am most definitely ‘in my feelings’ when I say that it feels like the event-timer’s feelings always seem to matter more.

Having gotten that out, rest assured that I’m smiling as I write these comments because the gist of the report is for all of us to have flexibility in accommodating people in our lives who have a different construct of time than we do. As I reflect on when I’ve been annoyed waiting or disappointed with the performance of an event-timer, it has depended on whether or not the other person and I have a trusting and amiable relationship. If there is distrust or friction between us, the difference in time-orientation causes negative feelings in me that go deeper than annoyance. It finds a place within me that smells like disrespect.

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