The Rudeness of Being Late

The following article on being late appeared a few months ago in the Jamaica Gleaner:

The rudeness of being late
published: Thursday | June 21, 2007

Ian McDonald

A few experiences lately, of public figures who should know better arriving late on occasions when they have agreed to assist in the proceedings, prompts me to repeat a column I wrote a while back. Why will such personages not learn that being late, sometimes very late, is a waste of people’s time and upsettingly rude to keep others waiting?

Once, when I was about 12 years old and beginning to do well at tennis, in a ‘fit of pique’, I cast down my racket and stamped about in a temper. After the game, my father met me, took my racket and looked into my eyes and said very quietly that if I behaved like that again, I did not deserve ever again to play. More than 60 years have passed, but the look from his steady grey eyes and the quiet words I have not forgotten.

Make good use of time
My father had strong views on the value of time. As I grew older, I often got into conversations with him about the importance of not wasting time. He tried to make me as aware as he could of the fact that the passing hours none of us would ever have again must be spent constructively, honestly, considerately of other people, enjoyably too and always used to full effect. Those passing hours gradually added up into a lifetime and that lifetime would be judged, by man and God, according to how the hours had been measured, idly or in fruitful commitment.

My father expressed his concern for giving full value to time in a series of propositions which he took very seriously. “Of all treasure, time is the most precious,” “Procrastination is the thief of time,” “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings” are three I recall in particular.

Procrastination was a deadly enemy of efficiency and achievement. If you had something to do, “just do it” was my father’s mantra long before the Nike swoosh. My father abhorred unpunctuality. It wasted time, it denoted inefficiency, it was disrespectful and discourteous in the extreme, it was a mark of the lackadaisical and the slap-dash. More than 50 years of experience in Guyana and the Caribbean and of becoming accustomed to our special concept of delayed punctuality has still not allowed me to forget the strength of my father’s conviction on this issue and so sometimes in his honour I make a point of arriving on time at events and meetings and even when, as I often do, I attend ‘late on time’ with nearly everyone else, my spirit still gives a quiver of regret, remembering my father.

Clock time produces more

He would have approved some years ago when the citizens of Ecuador synchronised their watches and clocks and embarked on a Campana Contra la Impuntualidad, a national crusade against lateness (“Inject yourself each morning with a dose of responsibility, respect and discipline”).

The social psychologist, Robert Levine, who has devoted decades to studying people’s ideas about time, suggests that cultures can be divided into those which live on ‘event time’, where events are allowed to dictate people’s schedules, and those which live on ‘clock time’, where people’s schedules dictate events. Countries that live on clock time are more successful economically than those which do not.

It is some time since the crusade against lateness was launched in Ecuador. Perhaps Guyana should enquire as to what happened. If reports are favourable, then perhapsGuyana should also consider embarking on its own Campana Contra la Impuntualidad with a view to converting the whole Caribbean.


Ian McDonald is an occasional contributor who lives and works in Georgetown, Guyana.

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