Respecting time and appointment

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A KEY question that’s been buzzing in my mind for a week or so, which today I’d like to share with you’ll, is that are we a nation that respects appointments and knows the value of being on time? You’ll be wondering why this sudden query on the basics of ethics that needs to be instilled in one’s character?

Well, what triggered me to put this poser and also write about this was two recent incidents that drew my angst. I am not generalizing here and am only focusing on those who think that the value of respecting time is of no importance at all, thereby proving to be the stray, bent or broken spoke in the wheel of life.

Sadly not respecting the value of time is deep-rooted in our minds and the result is that it gets reflected in our day-to-day activity and our work. It used to be a very common sight to see someone arriving hours after the agreed time, and sometimes calling in very late to break the appointment. But in recent times, there has been a healthy trend of people at least understanding the value of time and respecting it to some extent. But there are still laggards, who need to get on the same page when it comes to time.

Recently, I was invited to a dinner at my friend’s house. He told me to be at his house at 9:00 p.m. sharp. Respecting my friend’s penchant for being on time, I showed up at around 9:02 p.m. according to my phone clock. I apologized to him for being two minutes late, but there was a surprised look on his face when he told me, you are early? I told him that it was the time he specified. He said, in Saudi Arabia 9:00 means 10:30 or 11:00. He said that this was the general understanding.

Of course I disagreed with him when he made this generalization by stating that this is common in Saudi Arabia as there are many people, like me, who respect and know the value of time. Of course there will be exceptions at times and their delay would be laced with valid excuse.

I had to learn the value of time and appointments as a student in America. And I learned it the hard way. My English composition teacher had set up a meeting with me at 4:00 p.m. sharp to go over a paper that I had written. I showed up 20 minutes late and walked into his office as if I had done nothing wrong. He gave me an angry look and asked, why was I late? I told him it was just 20 minutes. He said a lot of valuable things could have been achieved in 20 minutes instead of waiting for you. He then asked me to leave and said, “You should learn how to respect time.” Not only that he had no time for me to go over the paper till later, when I could not rectify the mistakes I had made.

How many times have we seen a student being late to his class, or a government official showing up late or not showing up at all? It is very common. This reminded me of a funny story told by my British friend, who used to teach English at a college here. He discovered soon on arrival that our students attach no value to time and how he got used to seeing them walking in 20, or 30 minutes late, with each one of them having a creative excuse ready. One of his students used the excuse of the death of his mother twice, to justify his long absence from classes. My incredulous British friend was fazed by the students’ total lack of respect of time and responsibility.

This brings me back to the second incident that got me thinking about our attitude. An official recently came to my office to invite me to an event and he told me it would start at 7:30 p.m. American time. I did not understand what he meant by that, and I asked him, “What did he mean by American time.” His immediate response was, “SHARP.” He even told me that the term ‘Saudi Time’ would always mean showing up late.

I have experienced this. When I was attending events where organizers often advance the time for reporters in order for them to come relatively on time. If the event was to start at 9:00 p.m., they would tell them it is at 7:30 p.m., so they would arrive late, but on time or few minutes late. This is how bad it is when it comes to respecting time.

Do we expect those who do not respect time in their regular duties to respect it for Allah and perform the prayers on time? Personally, I don’t think so. When we respect time, we learn to respect ourselves first and then start respecting other persons’ time or job because we have learned the value when we respected it when it was personal. Then only does a person knows its great value.

It is evident what happens even when there is just one person who disrespects time. We see it happening at hospitals when patients show up late for their specified appointments and then start creating trouble. Or even take it the other way around, when a doctor intentionally comes late and creates chaos with his patients.

We always talk about how the West is making giant strides in development, and in the same breath brag about their respect for time and we are amazed by it. Though we know the simple formula for success in the West, yet we do not make a simple effort to be like them in respecting time. In the West, they respect time both at professional and social level. They are taught the value of time — at home, school, community and by elders — and they enforce it using strict measures to inculcate this value right from their childhood.

The irony is that even we are taught this value by our Islamic culture, which calls on all to respect time. The call for prayer, fasting and the payment of Zakat are all specified by time, yet many fail to adhere to it. What is needed is to reinforce this Islamic value, and as in West all need to participate to grow this value in our children. But for the present, all need to set a corrective course. We as people should start first by instilling this value of time within ourselves first by doing everything on time. When a unit, becomes a group, the collective acceptance of being on time will, in time, shame the laggards to value time.

Putting it to practice now is just the start, for this ethical value needs to be sown into our character early in life. As everything in life, family sets the spark of learning, and the spark is then sustained in school and then nurtured by the society, who will see a sustained churn in the wheel of development all because people learned the value of time. It is a sure and time-tested formula for success.

— The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng


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