Slaves of Time

metropolis clock
Tick-tock, click-clock, the clock counts down: on we hurry, off we scurry.

We are slaves of time. Or rather, we have become slaves of time. We live in fear of wasting time, yet we have so little quality time. The strange thing is, even as slaves we still imagine ourselves in charge–or at least we’re supposed to be in charge–right? Ay, there’s the rub.

We’ve all known the feeling. Stuck in traffic, all in a hurry with nowhere to go–or late for work, waiting in line, expecting a call, tossing in bed, or triple-clicking the mouse over a slow Internet connection–we incessantly glare at the clock and complain. Impatience sparks frustration and finally flares into rage. @#$% we remark, and while we rant and bellow at the world for wasting our time, we waste ourselves. We show ourselves to be no more than appendages of the clock that has mastered us.

Take a breath. Go on, reward yourself with a deep one. You’re not alone, and you’re not crazy. Let it out slowly, collect yourself, and make yourself master of your opinions. No one can truly deprive you of anything unless you allow him or her to do so. Take this moment of inner freedom to reflect on your previous bondage.

It would be easy to blame it all on the Machine. The Machine drills the modern mantra into us as we lay in our cradles. Time is everything. Time is money. The Machine runs our timetables of work and leisure. The Machine enslaves us.

Yes, but don’t be satisfied with the easy answer. You can do something about it. So can I. We each possess within us the power to recover our lives.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish things, not wanting to be an idler. Of course punctuality and precision are valuable. If you worry about how to best spend your time, then that shows how conscientious you are. To be reliable and responsible, we can’t help but worry about time. Is it not so?

But time, you see, is not the problem–fear is. Modern anxieties about time, its limits, and its use burden us so much that we live in mortal dread of wasted time. The fundamental premise is wrong: we cannot and must not base the conduct of our lives on fear, anger, and regret.

Fear is slavery, or at least its basis. Time is our tyrant because we fear the clock. Biological, mechanical–it doesn’t matter. We go to such great lengths to save time, and then we just as elaborately waste it. All our time-saving devices should enable us to become better than we are: they should free us from long, tedious chores. Instead, they have shoehorned us into a bipolar lifestyle: periods of frenetic activity followed by down periods of ‘killing time.’ We rush about at double-time and then loaf and sleep it off as our ‘reward.’ But not once do we stop watching the clock.

Can we change our negative premise into a positive one? Absolutely. Start by freeing your attitude, and your spirit will follow. Slow down and collect yourself. Find your peace in the deepest and most durable part of your self. Here, philosophy can be your friend. Remember what was said of philosopher George Santayana: “He yielded to the world’s way in unimportant things, in order that he might have his own way in all that mattered to him.” It takes courage to do this, but I believe that you have it, and you are worth it.

We ought to learn how to use time without fear and without excess; that is all. Time will be the friend or foe that we make of it. Why not learn to laugh at small things and rejoice in the blessing that is given to you? Why become a time miser? Time will mirror our fears and good cheer, indeed amplify them and enrich them. Time is a mighty sculptor, but it is not your master.

And do not regret ‘lost’ time. Think only this: you have done your best, and you will do better. Indeed, by finding your liberty you are bettered. Regrets are easy; what is rare and noble is to live with courage from day to day. Thus time spent overcoming one’s fears is time well spent.

Consider the resolution of such great personalities as Lincoln, or Gandhi, or Christ, or Marcus Aurelius, or Ben Franklin. Or think of your own personal heroes. Time was as limited (if not more limited) for them, yet they lived and worked without the sort of subservience to hurry that makes such great fools of us in our enlightened modernity. Do we know better than they how to live with the all-too-short time that is ours and ours alone? Time has never been a renewable resource, despite our worries. And yet the present is the greatest gift we have.

So, my friends, let us not squander it in slavery, but spend it in freedom, accepting gladly the gift of life and being generous to each other with the two things we all share: this beautiful earth and our time together.

 

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