Happy New Year! In between taking family time in the snow and preparing the New Year’s celebrations, just a thought as many of us prepare to count down the hours, minutes and seconds to 2011: What is time? Almost without fail, I make a New Year’s promise to use my time better on the important things in life, in particular spending more time with family and friends (rather than working). Almost without fail, I break this promise soon after. But what is using my time “better” after all?
Everyone has their own notion of time. Even the great philosophers, scientists and religious scholars can’t agree on a definition that satisfies all purposes and beliefs. Some, including Sir Isaac Newton, hold that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Others believe it is a purely intellectual construct which humans invented to sequence and compare events. Still others see time as an illusion. While these debates are incredibly interesting, they could take up more time than you or I have available, so I am going to take a more practical approach this year: Balancing my use of time based on the value I and those I want to spend time with place on it. Which, of course, requires that I understand how others value and think about time – and that varies hugely depending on cultural and generational attitudes, norms and beliefs. Just for example – and please forgive the broad generalizations:
- Americans tend to be much more future-oriented than many cultures including the Europeans, where the British still celebrate the past, while the French are more present-day focused, as demonstrated by the recent strikes over raising the retirement age.
- Japanese Zen followers, along with European existentialists, don’t think it terms of past, present or future; there is only now where things just happen.
- In Brazil, spending as much time as possible with family and friends is a cornerstone of the culture and way of life.
- Many Chinese take a much longer-term perspective on life, work and opportunities than their Western counterparts.
- In Lingala, one of the major languages in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the same word lobi means yesterday and tomorrow. Similarly in Urdu, one of the two official languages of Pakistan, the same word kull is used for past and future. Lots of scope for misunderstandings!
- In South Africa, there is always potential for confusion when you say now as this is a very elastic term – so now is commonly defined as now now meaning in the very near future, or just now meaning at some point in the future.
- In Arab countries the widely used word Insha’Allah means God willing, indicating hope that an event will occur in the future, without a specific timeframe.
- Rapidly developing economies including BRIC and beyond have younger generations which are eager to grasp the future and the opportunities it presents.
- Teen and parent definitions of in a minute or I’m just finishing can vary by hours.
- Baby boomers are often characterized in terms of their get it done approach.
- And don’t forget – being always on.
So my challenge this year is to take a broader view of time, in the context of relationships with others and their views on time. Lots to think about even with just these few examples – feel free to share your own examples, thoughts on time and ideas on keeping resolutions!
Wishing you and those close to you a wonderful New Year and the best for the year ahead from the GlobalTrends team!