Lateness as a Reflection on the Pool of Self

The other Sunday, I was finishing up my morning walk/run with the crazy sweet Aussie-Saluki some two blocks from home, and the church bells rang the hour.  A few minutes later, as we passed the church, I saw cars speeding in and people hurrying into the church.  A block later, people were still hurrying to the church [not my church, since I confess to being a less than diligent congregant at another one]. Once upon a time, I was indeed a most religious young man, president of a church youth group and an acolyte at services every Sunday. Consequently, I had the chance to observe just how many people were late to services, and, frankly, late-comers were rare, extraordinarily quiet, and invariably their body posture reflected a certain discomfort. I doubt I saw as many late-comers in all the years I served as an acolyte as I saw on my walk on that single recent Sunday morning.

This observation got me to thinking, realizing that lateness and/or lack of interest in punctuality has become an increasing staple in our society.  When my wife produces an opera at the college, there are always between twenty and fifty attendees who come in after the first break, and that doesn’t count those who struggle in during the overture.  When we attend local concerts, the same thing is true.  More and more college professors I encounter relate their tales of students who cannot seem to arrive on time, and some have had to resort to locking doors to avoid disruptions from late-comers.  My wife even got a jury notice emphasizing that, if she were picked for jury selection, she needed to be punctual or she could face a stiff fine. This morning, in the paper, there was a story about a surgeon who was late to a court appearance — and who was imprisoned when the judge was less than impressed.

What exactly has happened to a society where cleanliness was next to Godliness and punctuality was a virtue?  And where even professional people who should know better don’t?

Oh… I know this is a western European-derived “virtue.”  When my wife did a singing tour of South America, no concert ever started “on time,” and in one case, the performance actually started more than an hour after the announced time because there was social jostling among the “elite” to see who could be the most fashionably late… as if to announce their power to make others wait.  And I have to confess that I tend to have an obsession with being on time because my father almost never was.

Still… what is it about being late?  Is it because, as our lives have gotten more and more crowded [often with trivia], we have trouble fitting everything in?  Is it because, with an internet/instant communications society, each of us feels more and more like the center of the universe, and our schedule takes precedence over that of others?  Is it merely a way of demonstrating personal power and/or indifference to others, or a lack of caring about the inconvenience being late can cause to others?  Is it a symptom of the growing emphasis of “self” over others?

I don’t have an answer… but I do know that I think most uncharitable thoughts about late-comers to anything, apparently oblivious or even enjoying the scene, whose lateness disrupts everyone else’s concentration and enjoyment… or even more important activities, like judicial proceedings.  And I seriously doubt I’m alone in those thoughts.


11 thoughts on “Lateness as a Reflection on the Pool of Self”

  1. Sam says:

    I’d say it depends on the invdividual. No doubt some individuals are late because they are self-centred.

    I do think that in modern society individuals face more and more demands on their time with every little thing from an email to a phone conversation holding them up. Not all of these delays are trivial either.

    Sometimes the problem is that people try to take on too much even if the commitments are worthwhile and inevitably something or everything suffers.

  2. Matthew Runyon says:

    I think it’s a self-perpetuating problem. I don’t think a single meeting I’ve had, from interviews to my most recent discussion with my boss and my boss’s boss, at my current job has started on time, and most were not within fifteen minutes of being on time, and on only one of those times was it my fault (and I notified them two hours ahead of time that I would be late).

    When I know that will happen, I tend to want to do “just one last thing” before heading to the meeting (though I have successfully resisted the urge at the job so far, not so much elsewhere in life), because odds are I won’t be the last one there anyway, and the customers want a response now, not in an hour, and my performance numbers are measured down to the minute on how long it takes me to clear entries, and…You get the idea.

  3. Linda van der Pal says:

    I’ve been wondering the same thing. Some people never seem to be on time. And as somebody who rarely misses even a train, it’s inconceivable to me.

  4. Sam says:

    Of course if getting somewhere on time is dependent on the train being on time and the train is anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour late that can be an issue.

    In fact often being on time depends on other people being on time as well.

    In one such scenario you might have two appointments. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. One at the doctor and one at the dentist. Theoretically you might have plenty of time to get to your second appointment on time. You get to the doctor’s twenty minutes early and end up waiting an hour past the time your appointment was scheduled for. You then spend longer with the doctor than you had anticipated and are running 2 hours behind schedule. You hop in the car and the dentist is 10 minutes away normally but there are unexpected roadworks and you get stuck in traffic for 30 minutes and end up a the dentist’s 10 minutes late.

    Of course a possible solution is to only have one appointment a day and put all your effort into being on time for that one appointment but life doesn’t afford us these kind of luxuries.

    Many people have multiple appointments in a single day and the further along in the day each appointment is the more chance there is of a person being late for it.

    Another time consuming aspect of life is ringing up your bank or phone company about an issue and being on hold for 10-30 minutes waiting for a caller representative to assist you. Meanwhile you’re sat there twiddling your thumbs.

  5. Mayhem says:

    Another thing as touched on above is the increasing trend that developed in the 80s towards being ‘fashionably’ late.

    So you have to set a time for an event to start such that most people will turn up between 30 min and an hour after the start time, as they all try to arrive at a ‘fashionable’ hour. Which means you need to prepare earlier so that the fashionable time coincides with your preferred start time, but then you also need to cater for those individuals who actually do turn up on time.

    Which decreases your own available time. et cetera et cetera.

  6. Dustin says:

    For the most part it seems to be part of society these days to place less emphasis on timeliness than it has in the past. Part of the problem has to be that there is invariably little to no repercussions for being late.

    Being former military myself I always make it a point to be on time if not 15 minutes early for wherever I am supposed to be. Not only was I raised that way, but with the military if you are late then there ARE repercussions.

    The only time when being fashionably late is usually fashionable is when it is a party or some other type of event where if you are late you are not holding up anyone elses fun by doing so.

  7. Shannon says:

    I understand the excuses for being late ennumerated above, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is rude, self-centered, and inconsiderate of other people’s time to be late to an engagement. I admire a professor who locks the door on late-comers. I’m quite sure being late to a meeting makes a negtive impression, regardless of whatever you have going on. Late-comers are a distraction and we already have too many distractions in our daily lives from constant emails, texts, and phone calls. I refuse to be at the beck and call of my smart-phone. If that means occasionally having to ignore the ringing of the phone, so be it. My friends and family complain that I am hard to get hold of and ask what would happen in an emergency but, to me, that’s what 911 is for, not my parents or my friends. What did people do 20 years ago without instant communication? Leave a message and I’ll get back in a timely manner, but not instantly. Sorry, you hit on a pet peeve. In my opinion, if you can’t plan on being on time, how can you plan anything?

  8. Remi says:

    I think you hit upon something important when you mentioned instant communications. Cell phones have been a big influence. When people had to use land lines they were only reachable when they were home. If you agreed to meet someone there was a strong sense of urgency to make that appointment on time or the other person would be left completely clueless and angry. Even rescheduling could turn into an inconvenience that caused several days of “phone tag”.

    Now people feel free to reschedule at will. Many of my friends refuse to even commit to specific meeting times and will just call me when its convenient for them to hang out and see if I’m also available to do something at that very second. “We’ll meet at the theater next Tuesday at 6pm” has turned into “I’ll call you sometime on Tuesday night and we’ll figure something out”. The habits of bad punctuality in people’s personal lives are bleeding over into more professional functions.

  9. Brad says:

    Man I hate it when people show up late to a performance or a movie or something like that. It drives me nuts and is totally rude. It doesn’t take much planning to ensure you are on time to something.

    But as others have said, instant communications makes it easier to be late for something, because you can always let people know or reschedule things, etc.

  10. Wine Guy says:

    Simply put, chronic tardiness is a lack of respect for the time and effort of others. Everyone has the occasional item come up that prevents them from being on time. This is very different from the person who repetitively is 5, 10, 30 minutes late (or more). While I am certainly prepared to cut some people slack (ex: a mom with 4 kids under the age of 6), it is not forever.

    I generally call the person I’m to meet who is seriously late and tell them to not bother coming – even if they’re right around the corner. The “I’m 2 minutes away!” is more like 10 or 15 and I have other things to do. 1500 means 1500, not 1520 or 1530. And if I’m going to be more than 2 or 3 minutes late, I call and offer to reschedule. Obviously, I don’t do this for my own boss, but I also start on my next project and keep going on that until she’s ready to actually sit down and start working on the original item.

    Now, this can be taken to the wrong end of the extreme:
    I’ve read various articles about people charging their physicians for their time when the doc is running late. While I understand their frustration, some things cannot be put off and I would prefer my doc be as thorough with me as he is with the patient who is making her late for my appointment. Karma occurs and manifests in mysterious ways.

  11. Brian says:

    My biggest peeve is lateness. I see it as a symptom of selfishness. Those who purposely arrive ‘fashionably late’ are simply displaying symptoms of narcissism. “Look at me!” Other times people simply don’t care about others. Rarely am I late for something and if I am I take a moment to call the person to let them know. I’ll give someone about 15-20 minutes grace and if they have not called me and do not arrive I leave to find something else to do. Oddly, after having done so I’ve received a call later from someone quite angry that I was not there even though they were an hour or more late. Again, selfishly not at their command. Of course, I quickly let them know what I thought of their selfish behaviour. I’d repeat the gist of it here, but most of the words are expletive deleted.

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