What is time?

While time is a consistent a measurement of our days, cultural attitudes toward it and punctuality differ vastly.

Many of us regularly wish for more hours in the day: There is always a deadline to meet or a goal to reach, but often not enough time to do so. Yet, sayings like “time is money” motivate us to stay busy and work quickly.

The way time is valued and measured is a choice. It’s an abstract concept that exists across most cultures, yet it is understood differently. For example, Westerners typically consider time as a resource that can be wasted or lost. Eastern cultures believe time can be recovered with the arrival of each new day.

But these cultural norms come with exceptions. Indiana State University Professor Aruna Chandra says she has always had a rigid sense of punctuality, despite the commonly relaxed belief of time in her native country of India.

“I was a cultural anomaly in India,” Chandra said. “I was ridiculed by my mom, too, but she later realized that my punctuality was just part of my conscious personality. Most people in my country don’t even see that as a positive. They see you as being too arrogant or imposing your sense of time on others. In fact, if you do that sort of thing too much then they may purposefully drag their feet.”

While Chandra does not have a static daily routine because of her teaching schedule, she is strict with how she uses her time. Creating lists are an essential part of Chandra’s everyday routine. She makes her to do lists before bed as she balances her mental work with physical work and prepares for the week ahead. She wakes up with morning meditation, grades her students’ papers and checks off her list throughout the day until she has mentally earned her leisure time.

“My attitude towards time is different because I am a product of many cultures,” Chandra said. “I grew up in India, but I was taught by Irish Catholic nuns. I also attended a Christian college before coming to America to pursue my MBA at 22 years old.”

Americans commonly live a fast-paced lifestyle and believe time cannot be recovered once it has passed. We move quickly and steadily as a mental strategy that makes us feel as if we have more time to enjoy after business has been taken care of. Furthermore, America is an industrialized nation, which contributes to our beliefs about time, multi-tasking and efficiency.

“Context matters as much as culture,” Chandra said. “For instance, India is over-populated with poor infrastructure and crowded roads. So in that context, if you impose a very rigid time sense then everyone would go crazy.”

Salma Chakour of Morocco is an MBA student at Indiana State. She agrees developing countries like Morocco have a more flexible perception of time compared to that of underdeveloped ones.

“Morocco was not as developed as it is now,” Chakour said. “Now that we have more people and everything is growing, people have less patience. We believe that we can be late, but we don’t want to wait.”

Since time is viewed differently across cultures and contexts, there is no one way to appreciate it. We all want to believe that our time is more valuable than others. In reality, having respect for others’ time may help you treasure your own more.

“The more you grow up the more you think about time,” Chakour said. “In America, I feel time go by faster than in Morocco because you keep busy. That’s why I am trying to enjoy life as much as I can while I still can.”

Compartmentalizing our days into lists and living our lives by the clock may help us get more done, but we often forget to schedule time to enjoy ourselves. Our perception of time influences our quality of life.

“I have accomplished more than most because of my attitude towards time,” Chandra said. “I publish more than two papers a year, as I work with co-authors whose beliefs about deadlines align with mine. Although, now I am trying to slow down and do more things that matter towards my life. I try to take it easy, but it’s hard when you go at 200 miles per hour for a long time and then decelerate.”

Time is simply a measurement of our existence that helps us realize our own mortality. It is our wisest teacher and most valuable resource. While our concepts of time may differ, we all have the same amount of time in a day. At the end of it, it is not how you measure your time that counts, but that you use yours to make every moment count.

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