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Life Lessons

Be On Time For Things

Howard Beale from the film Network, angry in front of clocks.
Screencap via YouTube

Here’s a blockquote that made me want to rip my own head off and then wield it as a weapon:

Like, I personally do not want to be at the airport more than half an hour before we’re supposed to be in the air. You will point to the time that I missed the flight, and all the other times that I’ve missed flights, as evidence that this is maybe not the best approach. But I’m like, “I make most of my flights.”

That is from this Slate blog, detailing the relationship issues of a pseudonymous San Francisco couple, Tommy N. and Jessica V., who’ve found their longstanding friction over conflicting personal styles—he is very organized about things like punctuality; she, in her own words, is “kind of whimsical” and is the sort of person who uses “As a freewheeling person,” to begin a sentence that does not end with “I am throwing myself into a volcano”—taking strange new shapes now that they’re housebound together during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Defector staff spent much of the morning discussing and/or melting down over this blog, especially after our own beloved Kelsey McKinney revealed, via the following statement laying out her vision of the optimal airline-travel strategy…

the key is: you show up late, you sprint to the plane, because you are last, they will gate check your carryon for free

…that she is a fully Jokerfied sicko who at the very least ought to be named on every no-fly list in the world.

I am not here to deal with that; frankly, I am not qualified to deal with it. That is a job for federal authorities who are licensed to carry stun guns. I am just here to say: Be on time for things.

Here’s something Jessica V. says in the Slate blog:

I have no need to try to be on time for most things. I embrace the orderlessness.

I want to leave room for the possibility that Jessica is being funny, here; that she is winking; that she is making a joke out of her tardiness by framing it as some kind of conscious life choice. The way that, when someone points out that you have a glob of food stuck to your chin, you might make a joke out of it by saying, “I’m saving that for later.” The alternative—the absolute only alternative—is that Jessica is an asshole. A shorter and infinitely more honest way for her to express the above sentiment would be to say “I am an asshole.”

You live in a society. It is populated by other humans (and also by some number of cats and dogs) who are also real and alive and are not merely a holographic projection of square limitations you can choose or not choose to impose upon yourself. When a thing—a flight, a train, a meeting, a doctor’s appointment, your wedding—has a scheduled time, that is not just an arrangement between you, personally, and Time, impersonally, represented by so many cardboard cutouts that happen to look like other people, sliding back and forth with irritable expressions like the targets in a shooting gallery. That is an arrangement between you and real other people who have also agreed to that time. When you are late to that thing, and that thing cannot proceed until you arrive, you are imposing yourself on those other people’s time. All the while during which you demonstrate your own free-spiritedness to yourself by carelessly dawdling past the agreed-upon start time of a scheduled event, whole real other people are sitting there watching the no-less-precious minutes and hours of their lives bleed away and swirl down a drain, never to be recovered. That is not because they lack whimsy. Nor is it because their wheels are not free. That is because they, unlike you, feel some bare-minimum responsibility for how their actions affect other people, whom they consider real.

No one made you agree to this time. No one sprung this time on you unawares! There are other flights. There are other doctor’s appointments. If the flight that departs at 1 p.m. will not work for you, you are free to know that in advance and book a seat on the flight that departs at 2 p.m. instead. If you choose to book a seat on the 1 p.m. flight, a totally voluntary thing that no one is forcing you to do, then you are making a pact with whatever unknown number of real actual humans whose days would be impacted by your failure to arrive on time for the 1 p.m. flight. The substance of that pact is: I will arrange my day in whatever way ensures, against all reasonable happenstance, that I will be on time for the 1 p.m. flight.

I can hear you pointing out that, unless you check a bag, the flight will depart on time without you, and therefore your habitual lateness will not have affected the poor suckers who showed up to the airport on time. That may be true. But what about the person who agreed to pick you up at the end of your flight, at whatever time the 1 p.m. flight was scheduled to land? That person is real! Their time is as real as yours. They may have arranged their day to make room for that appointment. “But, I’m whimsical,” will not give their time back to them.

Even the habit of routinely cutting it close is jerk behavior! When you cut it close, you leave yourself—and therefore, crucially, everyone else who did not ask to have the conditions of their life set by some doofus who cannot be bothered to start getting ready until 10 minutes before the scheduled event—extra-vulnerable to the kinds of unexpected disruptions that can add a half-hour to things. There can be a random car accident or train delay along the route to your destination anytime. When you set out toward your destination well in advance of the scheduled appointment, an accident or delay along the route means that you will only be on time, rather than early. When you set out toward your destination three minutes before your scheduled appointment, an accident or delay along your route means that you will be late. Your responsibility was to leave yourself enough of a margin so that the plausible variety of happenstance could not make you late. That is a way of practicing consideration for other people—who, again, actually exist.

Strive to be on time for things! Striving toward routine punctuality is the absolute bottom white-belt level of adulthood. You can be “kind of whimsical” and also strive to be on time for things. You can be “a freewheeling person” and also strive to be on time for things. You can even be “a literal cannibal” and also strive to be on time for things. Sometimes you will be late anyway, but when you are habitually late for things—moreover, when you do not even strive to be on time for things, and then further indulge yourself by socking your habitual lateness behind the cover of personal whimsy or being “a freewheeling person”—what you are expressing toward the other people around you is that you do not care all that much about them. What they will express back toward you is the middle finger, and you will deserve it.

[Slate]