TIMEíS UP - ITíS LATER THAN YOU THINK - The death of good time keeping.
Talk given at the British Humanist Association York Conference, September 1997
To respect life, and other people, we must have more respect for time. My patience for lost and wasted time has long since gone. Iíve always been ultra punctual. I have a deep seated phobia about being late. Iíd like to be late for my own funeral, but not much else. Iíve only been late for work twice. I was never late for school once. Other people often keep me waiting, for dates, appointments, important interviews. I hate job interviews where they tell you to get there for 2 pm, and also tell fifteen other applicants the same time. You are then kept waiting until the rest have gone through the motions. To me 2pm means 2pm. In Manchester if a train arrives within ten minutes of the time given on the timetable it is logged as being officially on schedule,. That you miss a vital connection due to this is nothing to the railway staff. Iíve been in fast food cafes where you could starve waiting, and queuing for your order. It takes so long. We all know the frustration of Doctorís waiting rooms.
Prison is appropriately called doing time inside. When you are free and busy doing what you want you don't notice time. Itís when youíre bored or trapped that you notice how slowly the day goes by. This weekend will zoom by. Bosses tell us time is money. If we are late, they dock our pay. If they are late in seeing me at a given appointment time, they lose nothing. They should.
No one respects time any more. We waste our holiday time abroad sunbathing instead of taking in the sites of a country we might never get to visit again. I never sunbathe. No one cares any more about a few minutes or a few hours lost here and there. Humanists should know better. We recognise our mortality and the finite nature of life so we should know the need to maximise any given situation and any given relationship to its full potential. Iíve ended up giving up on friendships that involve going to the same pub or cafe every outing, instead of being more adventurous and experimental. Repetition bores me. Humanism appeals for its diversity and scope. The whole range of human experience is at our disposal.
Religious people can afford to waste time. They believe in a Heaven that will last forever. A few hours late donít matter much in an eternity. Sermons are dull. You start dreaming of being somewhere else while the priest drones on and on and on. Christians who are saved believe that they darenít do anything with their time; for fear of losing their piety and Godís favour, and much of what they would do is forbidden to them anyway. They could do with the old fire and brimstone preachers telling them the end is nigh to get them acting and thinking again. Humanists lack the luxury of laziness and complacency. We know that life can end unexpectedly and instantly. Even the planet will die as one day the Sun will go out. Only environmentalists seem to recognise the need for urgent action to protect the ecosystem.
We can do our bit; by being on time, and recognising that time is limited. In our group meetings, which are usually limited to a few hours at best, we should be punctual; we should keep our questions short and snappy, we should let others who havenít asked a question get a chance before we leap in again. Be considerate. No one wants to hear a continual one to one dialogue between you and the speaker. Give others their time too. You might have a lot of unanswered questions, but thatís life. It always ends before you are ready, even before death. As the song says; enjoy yourself. Itís later than you think.
Of course, some things take time. You canít read War & Peace in a day. Some long term projects need time, preparation, and preplanning. God making the Universe in six days was a bit over-ambitious. Why not take a few years over it? Making Adam out of dust in minutes was a mistake. As Kurt Vonnigutt said, he could have carved a better man out of a banana. Important things take more time. If you rush a building project by using cheap inferior materials and leaving out a few important foundation supports, the place falls down. We need to prepare our time carefully. We need to make Humanism strong, with plenty of internal support. We tend to try to be too brief in telling newcomers about Humanism, by quoting some current leaflet and dictionary definition. We should encourage people to give more time to listening to us talking about Humanism, rather than fobbing them off with instant sound bites, but what we tell them should be clear, precise and concise. They wonít have time for an entire life history and interminable monologues. They will be put off if an introductory meeting degenerates into a pompous long winded debate between two people over exact grammatical usage on some obscure point or other. Brevity and precision can carry well. Lincolnís Gettysburg address speech was only two hundred and fifty words long. Look at the damage Earl Spencer did to the monarchy in just a few minutes at Dianaís funeral recently. Even in a longer talk, or piece of Humanist writing, make every word work. Cut out anything superfluous. Donít meander.
We should enrich our lives with great memories, and set the future up with many expectations, some of which wonít come to fruition due to the work of the Grim Reaper. We can live life at a pedestrian pace and feel bored; we wonít live longer. It will just feel like it. We can try to increase our awareness by overindulgence, in sex, drugs, etc, and burn out like a blazing comet, as the great tragic heroes of our era did, James Dean, Marylin Monroe. Then again, we can be sensible. I get to places early so I can see everything and learn more. I tend to travel with one eye in a book and one eye staring out the train window. I donít like missing anything. Though Iím punctual, I like life to move around me slowly. You see more when you have time to admire the detail and craftsmanship. I hate people who rush through an art gallery in half an hour flat. Some things deserve more time and attention. Take the time to look more closely. One night stand relationships are sad. You have a brief passionate romance that ends up an empty and sterile memory. Long term love and friendship involves time; and careful discovery of the qualities your partner brings to your life. Humanism needs time and commitment too. I want cremating after death; so I donít have a gravestone. I donít want my life representing by a simple dash between my date of birth and my date of dying. I hope my life wonít be seen as just a mad dash between those two events. It probably takes a stonemason two strokes of the chisel to mark the nature of most peopleís lives. Unfortunately, thatís how most of us live them too; like the White Rabbit, so busy being late, he has no time to stop and talk to Alice or realise why Wonderland is so wonderful. I want time to enjoy the wonders and meet the people. We don't have long. This weekend is disappearing quickly. The past is behind us. The future is shrinking before us, so lets get on with it.
What time is it?
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