Friday, June 10, 2011

Time is of the essence

This article was originally posted on The Malaysian Insider on 6 June 2011 with the same title. 


No one valued time as much as Benjamin Franklin.

As a student, we learned that Franklin was a scientist. In our history book, he was known as the man responsible for the invention of the lightning rod.

What most of us didn’t know was that he was also a publisher, printer, writer and philosopher who then became one of America’s greatest statesmen. One of his many profound accomplishments included the drafting of the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

It is then fair to conclude that Franklin was a man completely and utterly obsessed with how he optimised time. How else would you explain his level of productivity (yes, I’m mindful of the fact there were no royal wedding broadcast, Facebook, Twitter or Angry Bird at that time)? My father is such a man.

My father considers watching television as a sinful act of boondoggling, except for the prime-time news headlines. He doesn’t read anything fictional nor “trashy”.

His reading materials are limited to two newspapers, the Reader’s Digest and biographical works of successful businessmen and politicians. He loves quoting them and I grew up listening to wise proverbs and quotes from people I never knew existed.

As teenager my father would tell me this, “Never leave til’ tomorrow what you can do today.” Little did I know that this was a quote from Franklin.

Franklin was also known to have said the following: “Time is money”, “You may delay but time will not”, “Lost time is never found again” and “Don’t you love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

Although my father understands the value of time, he has never in his entire life worn a watch. It is as if his profound appreciation of time has influenced his internal body system to stay in synch with the constant ticking of the clock.

Everything he does is calculated with the precision of a Swiss watch. Fifteen minutes for breakfast, one hour to read the papers, 10 minutes for shower, 30 minutes gardening, etc. But I don’t remember my father ever telling my brother and I that he has no time for us.

What I find curious is this: what our ancestors considered precious, we, the younger generation, seem to treat as if it’s limitless and therefore worthless. Is it because we now have longer life span? Or is it because we have better technology to help us accomplish much more in a shorter period of time and hence leaving us with more time to indulge in things of a frivolous nature?

The irony is this: the gifts of longevity and technology have in fact rendered us more worthless to human civilisation while time, on the other hand, remains unequivocally precious.

One of the things which I find frustrating living in the city is the amount of time wasted on the road and waiting for someone. It is as if we spend most of our lives just waiting for things to happen. I would like to share some examples.

Meetings in true Malaysian fashion never seem to start on time because we’re perpetually late. I have experienced many occasions when I am late for a meeting simply because my previous meeting started late.

Sometimes, I rush to my next appointment as best as I can only to find the person I am supposed to meet arriving late. This upsets me because I end up wasting my time just waiting when I could have utilised it for something more meaningful.

Those who devalue time encourage others to do the same. I often find myself thinking that if others do not respect my time, why should I respect theirs?

If they have no remorse about making others wait, why do I kill myself to be punctual? In the end, it becomes a perpetual vicious cycle where tardiness turns into a shameful culture.

Whenever I am tempted to be late, I am reminded by these words, “Making someone wait is disrespectful. It’s even worse than stealing because the truth is, no amount of sorry and repentance will ever give that person’s time back.”

The other common example is the amount of time we spend on whining, self-pity and of course the most popular of all, getting over a heartbreak. We all have gone through heartbreaks at some stage of our lives and we all know it is not a unique situation.

Most of us tackle this situation with an even less unique method. We tend to spend our time dwelling or obsessing about it. I realise how much time I have spent thinking and rethinking why a relationship failed. We think that the whole world has stopped, or perhaps time has stopped but the scary thing is, it hasn’t.

Before we know it, six months, one year, two years and, for some, a lifetime has passed us by and yet we’re still hanging on to something which isn’t there anymore.

Friends who have confided their failed relationships to me often receive this piece of advice: “Keep those memories with you but move on with your life. Don’t waste it by dwelling on it because you’re just letting precious time slip away from your hands. You’ll look back one day and realise that you can’t replace the time you have lost by mourning over someone who no longer means anything to your life.” If I ever go through a heartbreak again, I hope these are the words my friends will tell me.

Of course, you have some people who constantly tell you that they don’t have time. H. Jackson Brown said: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

Indeed, most of us will never be as productive as the names mentioned above because let’s face it, a better standard of living also means we get to spend time doing things for ourselves and not just for others. The big question is, how do we want to spend it?

I don’t advocate for anyone, including myself, to follow the way my father lives his life. Not because it’s pathetic as some of you may have judged too quickly but simply because not everyone can or wants to utilise time the same way my father does or Franklin did.

The point is, do I want to lie on my deathbed begging for God to reverse time so that I can spend it better or being contented with the memories of what I have achieved in my lifetime?

Time is always punctual and it waits for no one. So make yours count before it’s too late.