The Virtue of Punctuality
It’s about time.
We can predict the motion of the planets and the moon with astonishing accuracy. We can predict solar eclipses down to the second. And we can measure the speed of the rotation of the earth with so much accuracy, that we can measure the transfer of momentum between the atmosphere and the earth. The sun, the moon, and the earth are like clocks, and they are punctual.
We run our trains, our planes, our buses, and all of our networks on clocks. Everything in our lives runs by a clock. The internet and everything else runs off of a few atomic clocks around the world. Here in Utah, we use the atomic clock at the Naval Observatory in Boulder, Colorado to keep our time.
I like to be on time. I even like to be early. I like to be on time because I know how embarrassing it is to be late. I don’t like the discomfort of being late. I’ve seen the attention people get when they’re late. I’ve seen the distraction that people cause when they’re late. So I plan my time in such a way that I’m rarely, if ever, late.
I used to attend group counseling once a week. There was one lady there, Reggie, who always brought a small dog for comfort and she was always late. Her tardiness was predictable. And one day, the counselor gently confronted her on her tardiness. I recall how she cried. And I recall how the counselor walked Reggie through the way in which she used being late as a distraction from knowing who she truly was. She used tardiness to avoid intimacy.
I like to get to my appointments and my entertainment early. I like to get to the theater early so that I can get a good seat. Well, that’s not so much of an issue now that we can reserve our seats online. But I still like to get to the theater early. I like to get settled, “acclimated” if you will, to the environment. I make sure to pee one more time to avoid urgent interruptions during the show. I bring a bottle of water with me to stay hydrated during the movie. I set my phone to “do not disturb”. I do all of this not just for me, I arrive early at the theater to honor everyone else.
I do the same thing with my appointments, informal meetings, and gatherings. I like to arrive early to get acclimated to the environment. I like to prepare my mind for the experience of being with other people when I’ve agreed to meet with them. I arrive early so that I can sort out anything on my mind prior to our engagement. I like to be completely present for the other people I’m meeting with.
For doctors, counselors, attorneys, and other professionals, I like to be early so that I’m fully present for the services I’m paying for. I like to consider questions I might ask before I go into the office of the service provider. I like to make sure that anything that was on my mind that is not related to the appointment is settled or set aside for later review. I like to have any potential distractions cleared before I start the work.
The same thing is true of my friends and family. I plan my time with them to be early, to be present and to be ready to give and to receive. I make every effort to avoid being late to honor their time. Their time is just as valuable as my time. I am on time to honor their time. They set aside time to be with me, so I will honor them by being early or on time.
I have a friend that I’ve known since kindergarten. He told me once that he has never seen me more than 5 minutes late to any meeting I’ve had with him over the course of our friendship. And most times, I’m early. I’m already settled by the time he arrives. This is how I like to be.
I also plan my time so that I leave early to arrive early. I plan my departure so that I will arrive 10–15 minutes early. I give myself that extra buffer so that I’m not in a hurry while driving. I want that extra time for contingencies like traffic jams, construction, and accidents. By planning to leave early, I actually decrease the chance that I myself might be involved in an accident. When I’m early, I can take my time driving, and so that I don’t mind pausing at a stoplight or two because I’m already early. I’m more aware of my surroundings when I’m not in a hurry.
And if I get to my destination early, no big deal, right? Being early 10–15 minutes isn’t boring. That gives me time to think. Time to relax. Time to take it all in before my meeting with someone else for something that I might have been planning for weeks ahead of time. And when that time comes, I’m refreshed and ready to work, play or just enjoy time with someone else. Being early is how I keep my sanity.
Punctuality is one way that I honor the people in my life, be they friends, family, or service professionals. I see punctuality as a form of honor and duty. I like to be on time to provide stability and consistency to the people that are in my life. I want them to know that I’m thinking of them first by being on time.