On Time But Off Kilter

I recently stumbled upon an article written about a man teaching his family to be punctual…written by the man in question. I suppose it was meant to be an uplifting anecdote, but it was just plain stupid. The story goes that this man once completed basic training and his drill sergeant was the toughest, hardest, meanest guy around, as drill sergeants are wont to be. If the 40-man platoon needed to be anywhere, the drill sergeant would demand that they arrive waaaaay ahead of time. If they were five minutes early that was considered LATE. Anyone who arrived only four minutes early was confronted with retribution and those merely on time with “agony.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I’m guessing 1,000 push-ups and a good serving of ridicule delivered with a fine spray of spit all over one’s face. Typical basic training stuff, really, and to be expected in the military when time can truly be crucial to life or death.

So, after leaving the army, this guy started a family and kept up his punctual habit. He even went so far as to instill in his kids, “If you’re five minutes early, you’re late,” and “When you’re late, dammit, you’re WRONG.” Okay, fair enough. To each their own. The fact that this was a mantra they volleyed back and forth daily like some sort of inside joke is a little unsettling. Again, to each their own. However, that this dad encouraged his kids to say this loudly (‘bellowed’ was his word) – so others could hear – as people were arriving to social events and the like, is a little obnoxious, if you ask me.  But, hey, what would the world be without a few assholes. Yeah, don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical as well as sarcastic.

Then, the fateful day arrived! The stars aligned and this guy saw his chance to shine, in all his timely glory, and show his children just what it meant to be a man.  After a school function, at which another family had arrived a few minutes late, the father of the offending family made a comment about how he was sorry they were late – that they were overwhelmed with, presumably, a schedule full of commitments. To which the ever-punctual man, after deliberately checking to see if his kids were listening, replied smugly, “I guess we never have that problem because we’re never busy.”

Personally, I think this was an inane come-back… but, in his own words, ever-punctual man meant it as an insult, to humiliate the “late dad” in front of everyone. And ever-punctual man wanted his kids to know that’s what he was doing, to see it, to hear it.

In response to his little dig, his sons looked at him with these massive Cheshire grins on their faces as if he was some kind of God of Time. “Oh whoa … what? Did you just say that?” They must have thought. “Wow. Our Dad is the coolest cause he knows how to insult other adults. Wow, totally cowabunga, man!”

This whole article is about how great this guy is, albeit self-aggrandizing, since he’s the one who wrote it, and I’m thinking… you know what, I’m just gonna say it, this guy is a total jerk. I’ve met people like this. They are usually assholes.

Let’s break this down.

Sure, punctuality is important. I’m not saying it isn’t. There are a gazillion situations where timeliness is imperative. But turning up half an hour early can, in certain situations, be considered rude. Let’s say someone is hosting a party, they ask you to turn up at 7:00pm, they expect you to turn up at 7:00pm, but actually hope everyone might be a little late, maybe even turning up at 7:15pm because they don’t get home from work until 6:00pm and all they want is to be able to change clothes and get the party things together before people start showing up. Turn up at 6:30pm and this person might be forced to entertain you at a time when really, they were counting on a few precious minutes to have a shower and get ready for company.

Let me just digress for a moment to say that this guy admitted his family is well known for their ultra-punctual habit and regularly get chided for being too early to everything, from school functions to kids’ birthday parties. If you’re routinely showing up early enough to get chided for it, to me that reeks of ill manners, and not exactly something to be proud of.

But here’s the kicker… the reasoning behind the “asshole” label for this guy… if you’re going to deliberately insult other people in a social situation for not living up to your idea of punctual perfection, it means that while you’re patting yourself on the back for counting the minutes, you have forgotten to account for compassion and  empathy.

To teach your children that it’s okay – commendable, even, to belittle and ridicule others to reinforce just how amazing YOU are, is an asshole thing to do, plain and simple. I would go so far as to argue that it’s in fact, a form of weakness. Weakness of character, weakness of intellect, weakness of the soul.

Really, does it matter if someone is only five minutes early to something? Four minutes early to something? Perhaps we need to start teaching our children that what really matters isn’t what’s on the clock or that data graph but what’s in the heart.

Smile at people. Try to be on time, but most importantly, endeavor to connect with others. Strive to be a caring person of good character. Show empathy and treat others with compassion and kindness.

Be here. Now. Because time is an illusion. It moves as you move, it dances as you dance.

And as the great Persian adage goes, “This too shall pass.”

2 thoughts on “On Time But Off Kilter

  1. I can fantasize about folks like this showing up at the Pearly Gates and having St Peter say, “Why are you here five minutes early? Don’t you know how utterly fantastic that last five minutes was going to be? Are you really that stupid? GO TO HELL!”

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