on time


Since years, a short paragraph I've once read in a little book about ease and how to create it in your life, puzzles me. It keeps me thinking from time to time and won't let me go. It goes like this: 

Mankind's conception of time is deeply mislead. We use time like money. We spend it, we try to safe it, we either have or don't have it. We invest time and we use as little as possible, just in order to have more in the end. We handle time like we could store it in a time-account and when we're old, we have so much time we could actually start a new life all over. We are born with some amount of time and while living, we have to handle it by saving some and not losing too much. When we die, we've ran out of time and there is nothing left.

But the fact that there is no such time-account and that people just die when their time is over, no matter how they've been using it, indicates that spending and saving time in their lives by following this kind of time-usage does not really make sense. Instead, the author supposes a different approach on time, which is simple and game-changing at the same time. In his view, we should see time as a never-ending resource which is impossible to lose and can only be gained. Think about it in this way: 

Two men want to go from Germany to Italy, one by foot, the other by the time-saving machine, named car. So, the one who goes by car needs eight hours to drive from the southern german city to Milan. When he arrives in Milan, he still got 16 hours of the day. He invests the remaining time to make business calls, to plan the upcoming week in order to use his time most efficiently and to save as much as he can, and he goes souvenir shopping for having some memories of his time in Italy. Things look a little different for the one who decided to walk. This one needs five full days for pretty much the same distance. Of course, he does not take the highway: He walks tiny routes, through villages and endless fields, feeling his feet hurt and having to look out for places to sleep before it gets dark. Along his way to Italy, the man meets a bunch of interesting and boring people, gets invitations for family dinners and enjoys amazing sunsets before he lies down to sleep in a new bed every day, feeling what he has done the day and not knowing what will happen on the next. 

Who of the two men, do you think, has had more time?

Asking that question indicates the paradoxical answer that the one who took more time for the same distance actually ends up with having more time in the end. How is that possible and how can we understand this? Going out with plus by having spent more is only possible when we forget all that spending, saving, monetary approach of this abstract concept called time we lead our lives by. Leaving these ideas behind us, we see that the more time we use for something, the more time we give ourselves for mastering the tasks life throws at us, the more time we gain by doing so. All the moments the walking man experienced, the connections he made and the magical and challenging moments he experienced for himself; they made him grow.

They enriched his knowledge about the land he crossed and the people he met, about himself. They might even changed and improved his approaches of traveling and trekking. He took himself the time for walking all the way instead of driving, because he could. The time he had for his walk is now within him, added him up to be more and can't be taken away of him. Spinning this thought further, people end up having the highest possible amount of time within themselves when they die, and start with having no time at all when they're born.

time revised

Of course you could object "Well, the other guy used the saved time to push his business and go forward in his life that way. It's just different!" That is true indeed, but again, aims at a different understanding of time. We have to get rid of all we know about time so far, the way we see it and even the way we talk about it. To make this all a little less abstract, let's turn to a case commonly seen as waste of time: waiting.

May it be either because of a late bus, being stuck in the traffic jam or waiting for a friend who is always late for appointments - no one likes it. You did not expect to have to wait, you did not prepare something to do for the waiting time and it completely destroys your schedule for at least that day. Waiting sucks, right? It is a waste of time! Ha, there it is: there IS such thing as a waste of time and accordingly, there is right and wrong usage of time. 

But what if you're wrong saying this? What about just stopping to see the time we have to wait at the checkout because the 90-year-old lady doesn't find the right coins in her wallet right away, as wasted? Why don't we stop to fuck ourselves up, whenever nothing happens for no significant reason and just be in the moment instead? It might be that nothing ever happens, except us being mad about the five more minutes we needed for the way back home. Sure, the world does not work like this. Being stuck in the traffic and coming late to work, will probably make your boss freak out and telling you to stay longer at work in order to get back on the track of time, which then leads to being late for dinner, a disappointed wife and again, no extra love for dessert before sleep.

But we are thought-spinning and day-dreaming here, so let's give it a go: Imagine the world works differently. No one strives for getting as many things as possible done in as little time as possible. You just get done what you get done and the rest you'll finish next time. Industrial production faded away since there was no need for highly productive working processes with underpaid workers doing their jobs in poor conditions in south-east-asian countries anymore. Instead, handcraft comes back! People would actually go in local shops again, appreciating handmade goods and learning the skills required for making things, ultimately. No need for over-consumption anymore, because all the pressure would be gone. The pressure to go with the time, to be in fashion, to not lose the track. People would change their behavoir. Engaging in long, deep conversations, even during work, being able to see what life offers without having the ticking clock in their head, distracting them from what the present moment actually asks for. Finding out what one's calling is, going for it and actually living a more fulfilled life.

Fast-moving development as we understand it now, would be of no importance at some point. Producing more, better, cheaper goods in less time would not be what everything was about anymore. Instead, our focus would be directed towards quality, towards how things and relationships make us feel and how we feel ourselves. Isn't that a desirable outcome? I do think so. What do you think? 

Julia Held

I am a philosophy masterstudent, a writer and host of the podcast of "Transformatorenwerk Leipzig". I am interested in philosophy as practice - for creating one's life, for personal and emotional development and for a balanced and exciting life. My vision is to strengthen the person as a responsible subject which thinks and acts by itself while answering to the world it encounters.