What is your definition of time?

Let’s explore the way that we use some common terms or phrases concerning time. We talk about being on time, ahead of the times and behind the times. We use these phrases so often that they become “unconscious” and we seldom reflect on what they mean or whether they really mean what we want them to mean. We all think we know what they mean but do we really agree with what they mean? Are we using them “correctly?”

For instance, we sometimes say about someone we know that they are “stuck” in the past. We may say this because they seem to fondly remember their best days as when they were in high school or when they were in college or when they lived someplace else or some other time that was happier or more pleasant for them. However, are they really stuck in the past? What does it mean to be stuck in the past? Can they be partially stuck or only stuck sometimes? If so, how can they get “unstuck?” Are we all stuck in the past at least sometimes?

There are many other phrases that we use concerning time that have become so habitual with us that we take them for granted. We assume that we know what they mean when we hear them. We apply them to our lives and to those around us without thinking about how we use them or what their use implies. The novel “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is so powerful because the meaning of words and the way they are used in the story forces us to rethink the meaning of things that we take for granted. For instance, who ever heard of an “un-birthday” party? Well, it is a wonderful twist on an expectation that you can only have a party on your birthday. You can have an “unbirthday party” 364 days a year. One of my favorite exchanges in the story takes place between Alice and Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.
Alice: The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is: which is to be master – that’s all.

The phrases that we use concerning time can have many different meanings. We each choose the meaning that we desire or that we learned as a child. Other people may have different meanings or different associations. For instance, what does it mean to be late? What does it mean to be on-time? Who decides what is late and who decides what is on-time is? How much is late? What does it take to be on time? Who decides? Well of course, you and I do, right? Well, then how come so much of the world seems to thwart our best efforts to be on time? Maybe we are all dancing to a different beat.

Is it worth the effort to get everybody in sync? Does everyone you know agree with your definitions of time? What if your definitions of time were more flexible? What difference would this make for your family and friends? Are you too flexible already? What if you were less flexible? Would your life be smoother and happier?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Feb 14, 2010 @ 05:33:39

    Hi John,
    When my son, Ryan, was getting married, he had, like all couples, a wedding rehearsal. Carolyn and I had previously met Ryan's soon-to-be in-laws. The father was a very big man, loud, just bright enough to be dangerous. During our introductory dinner together he spoke at length about being on time. Promptness for him was at once the most essential and the simplest of courtesies between people.
    Ryan and his wife, Crystie, came from two very different neighborhoods. Crystie grew up in very crowded blue class neighborhood of Philadelphia, and so the church in which they were to be married was in that neighborhood.
    Well, I had no idea how difficult it would be to fight the Philadelphia traffic on a Friday evening. Consequently, we arrived at the church about 30 minutes late.
    Her father was furious. I was not in a very good mood myself after struggling through an unexpectedly hostile environment. He took me aside and said “you know, my father told me years ago that even a fucking idiot can be on time.” This really rubbed me the wrong way, and so I replied, “And you're a perfect example of that!”
    Not an auspicious start for a now shared family.
    However, we all seem a little more mellow these days and many shared different family affairs have come and gone and everyone has needed a little understanding from time to time for a variety of reasons.
    This is a great blog. thanks.
    Your friend,



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