Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Unimportance of Punctuality

Those of you who spend any time around me at all know, or will realize upon a moment's thought, that being "on time" is not of tremendous importance to me. It's not that I'm inconsiderate of others, and it's not that I'm just a slack bastard who can't get anywhere "on time." I set out my junior year in high school to earn a perfect attendance award, and I did it. After that, I moved on to other challenges.

Punctuality is a highly over-rated quality. I had a friend once whose philosophy was, "Early is on time, and on time is late." But, in cases where it is vitally important to be at a specific place at a specific time, arriving early is almost always just as bad arriving late. In music, being early is possibly even worse than being late. On an infantry maneuver, being early could get you killed by your own troops. In social situations, it is rude to show up at someone's house early - they may not be ready for you. In most cases, it simply isn't all that important to show up at a specific time.

At work, my philosophy is if showing up "on time" is anywhere near as important as what I do after I arrive, it's not worth showing up at all. I don't work for the German railroad. This attitude caused me a lot of grief when I was in the military. The Army's prevailing attitude was, if a formation was called for 6:30, you were supposed to be there at 6:20. That would have been fine if the Army was as diligent about releasing us from duty on time. They wanted us there early but had no qualms about keeping us late - even when there was absolutely nothing for us to do. I got out after my first hitch. As far as I'm concerned, punctuality cuts both ways.

I'm jealous of my time. It's the only thing I cannot get more of. I can arrive at a given location at a set time when I feel that doing so justifies the opportunity cost. But, that is rarely the case. You can't even say that firemen or medics need to be "on time;" they just have to show up fast when called - not at a particular time. Getting somewhere fast at random times is far different from merely showing up at a place at a particular time day in and day out simply because it's "time" to be at work (or where ever).

You can probably blame my entire attitude toward punctuality on the medical field. I used to show up for doctor appointments slightly early like they always ask you to. Not once was I ever called in at my scheduled appointment time. Never. I may not get paid as much as a doctor, but my time is just as valuable. We each have but 24 hours in a day. Thus, I started showing up for medical appointments between five and fifteen minutes after the scheduled time. Oddly, this neither increased nor decreased my wait times. But, it certainly eliminated the stress of trying to get to a doctor's office "on time."

Gradually, my casual attitude toward time slipped into all other aspects of my life. This was mainly because I found that whenever I showed up "on time," everybody else was late. I decided that I'd rather hurry to catch up than hurry up and wait. You can argue that friends should drop whatever they're doing to be sure they meet each other "on time." Conversely, you could argue - as I do - that when the purpose of getting together is to relax you shouldn't create more stress by demanding punctuality from each other.

In Saudi Arabia (and, I understand, all across the Middle East) as well as Spain, Mexico, and a number of other whole countries, punctuality isn't even an issue. When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I had a room-mate who was probably never late to anything in his life. One afternoon he suffered a massive coronary and died, ironically, what I suppose you'd call an untimely death. In five years, I never once heard of an Arab falling over dead of a heart attack - and they smoke. I also never once heard an Arab utter the words "late," "on time," or "punctual." The Arabs may be on to something.

No comments:

Post a Comment