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Let This Moment Be The Time to Remember Time

Dave Gordon - Thursday, 15 January, 2009

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It's two weeks into the New (secular) Year, and if the statistics are correct, now is about the time when so many people’s resolutions begin to taper off, become neglected, or their motivation fizzles.  

          It’s around late December or so that people begin to look back and wonder what they did with their time the past year. We may comment to ourselves how we’re going to find the time to do what needs to be done in the fresh year, and stop procrastinating, and use time wisely. Then, in short order, we get back into our old habits.

So it is with great fascination that I came across an announcement for the International Year of Astronomy marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s discovery of the Earth circling the Sun. To mark the occasion, scientists are now building a new telescope, which they hope will help us see “the dawn of time.”

Billions of dollars will be invested to see the particles of the first atoms of the first nanosecond of when time began, but down here on Earth time has no relevance to so many people. The reality is that it’s only astrophysicists who are interested in finding time; the rest of us are interested in wasting it.

And time is wasted daily. Rubbernecking drivers ogle the car accidents on the highway, slowing us all down to a crawl. Americans on average are watching thirty hours of television each week, and what do they have to show for it? From the smallest time wasting, to the biggest, it all adds up to life’s essence squandered.

It is appropriate that a euphemism for prison is “Doing Time.” The purpose of jail is to rob one of potential societal productivity, as a means of punishment. And yet, every day, we rob ourselves of time so casually, depriving ourselves of our own potential. Minutes turn to hours that turn to days. Imagine what Terri Schiavo would have done with an extra day of life. To put it in perspective, if 25 minutes a day was wasted for a year, that is SIX DAYS of time!

What’s worse than wasting our own time is intentionally wasting another’s. After all, our time is ours to do what we wish; but, it is unethical to take what isn’t ours. The Bible tells us: “Thou shalt not steal.” The most basic understanding is not to withhold or take something that belongs to someone else. Few realize that stealing also refers to stealing hearts, stealing time, and stealing trust. Leading someone on is stealing someone’s time.

Dennis Prager frequently tells the story he heard of a woman in a camera store who spent a half hour with a store clerk asking him about a certain camera. When she was done, she asked the clerk where she could find that very camera for cheap on the Internet. She not only wasted the clerk’s time, but wasted the store’s money – the salary on that clerk, and the possible sale, of one who could have bought a camera.

I had written previously on the value of time; the first entry was on what occurred on a television show, A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila. On this dating “reality” show, a woman wasted Tila’s time by deceiving her, and leading her on for weeks, making her believe she was romantically interested. And then she dumped her.

To be sure, our smaller indiscretions occur with much more frequency.

How about a person who comes to a meeting unreasonably and needlessly late? They punish those who arrived when they were supposed to, wasting their time. It’s made even worse when the person doesn’t call to inform others that they’re expecting to be late.

You can tell a lot about another’s respect for their fellow, and their integrity, if they knowingly, and willingly, waste another’s time. They may not realize it, but the attitude of being cavalier of another’s time reveals sheer narcissism and selfishness. It indicates that someone else’s time is less valuable. The person who came on time to a meeting, for example, did so for the courtesy of the other – whereas the person who was late could not be bothered to show concern for the other.

It often bespeaks poorly of a person’s character, additionally, when they pretend that they did not inconvenience anyone by being late, and walk into the room without immediately offering a sincere apology (or a reason) for their having made people wait for them. It shows little or no care for another’s discomfort. Indifference, as I have argued many times, can cause one of the worst kinds of hurt.

There is deceit involved when knowingly stealing another’s time. The other person has the rightful expectation that the agreement of when to meet will be fulfilled. Why we often get frustrated when waiting for someone: because they led us to believe they would make good on their end of the bargain.

We often consume great effort to get somewhere on time. We’re battling traffic, dropping other commitments, scheduling a person in our calendars, and putting everything aside for them. When such effort is deliberately not reciprocated, perhaps even scorned by indifference, this is a representation of how little someone else values your time and resources. (Naturally, there’s a little latitude to be given to people who on rare occasion come late, or are but a few minutes late.)

We may not think that one or two minutes lost have any consequence. But that is precisely why so many allow time to fizzle away. How little care many people have for the relatively imperceptible minutes that are easily consumed by frivolous activities.

The consequences of lost time are often only seen after hundreds of small chunks have been misspent, after we’ve looked back at the week, month or year, in realization that we allowed time to “get away” from us.

I’m very careful not to allow those precious minutes to be frittered away.

For example, I have created something called the Price Check Revolt. It’s the two-minute rule to wait for a price check to be completed at a supermarket, or the maximum time I will allot to waiting for a scanning error to be rectified. After two minutes, I will forego that particular item, no matter how much I may need it, in the interest of saving my time, and others’ time in line. It serves as a message to the supermarket that they can expect to lose business if they do not take my time seriously. I also let everyone else in line know, as a courtesy, how long I am willing to wait before I forego that item and move on.

Even if I’m open to the idea that particular day of spending a few minutes extra for my item to be checked, it is unethical for me to abuse the privilege and so casually use up the time of others in line. If we are cognizant of how valuable our time is, and how valuable time is to others, we are less likely to waste time.

Time is our legacy. We can treat our legacy with nonchalance and disinterest, or endeavour to make ourselves, and the world, better. If you woke up tomorrow morning and were told you had one week of time left, what would you do? How would you look at your life differently, and how might you change things?

The story of Alfred Nobel is a perfect case in point. The name sounds familiar to most for the awards and grants given in his memory, the Nobel Prize. Before that, he was famous for having invented dynamite. A French newspaper in 1888, confusing him for his brother, mistakenly printed an obituary of Alfred. In it, they condemned him harshly for his invention, accusing him for being indirectly responsible for people killing each other with it. Determined to leave a better legacy, it’s been said that he was inspired after reading his own obit, to create the global financial awards for achievement, including in the realm of peacemaking, for which he donated tens of millions of dollars. If there is anything that Nobel has taught the world, is that there is, indeed, still time to change things in our lives. Hopefully, some of us don’t require an obit, or a terminal disease, to learn the lesson.

An obit was printed lately about Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon professor, who passed away six months ago of pancreatic cancer, at age 47. The obit was called, "Prof knew how to make the most of time."

Nine months before his death, Pausch gave what became known as The Last Lecture, posted on YouTube, viewed by more than six million people. A few months later, he gave another lecture, focusing on the importance of taking time seriously. Time, he asserted, was more important than money, “because if you’ve wasted it, you can never get it back.” To decrease time waste, he suggested minimizing the time one spends on the phone, to cut out television, and to keep healthy. He also suggested each month to look back and see whether any growth changes have taken place. “Time is all we have,” Pausch said. “And you may find one day that you have less than you think.”



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