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What makes cultures different: time flies like an arrow or is it meandering?

How we see time and our relation to it is deeply cultural. It will define how we plan our days and how our relationships with others are managed.

Do you get angry if meetings begin late, don’t follow the agenda or run late? Do you get upset and worried if intermediate deadlines and milestones are not met? Have you ever wondered that these behaviours are normal, indeed expected, for other people?

There are two main ways of seeing time. On one side, time is a linear process. Time is scarce. Time goes in one direction, second after second. In Western cultures for instance, aren’t we not talking of time flying, being spent or being wasted? Time is a succession of tasks to be done. Time is to be used efficiently. All time management advice go towards this: some type of to-do list, no procrastination. I know this: I have designed an online course for people needing to manage their time this way.

On the other side, time can be seen as more cyclical. This will be the case in a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. Time is seen as plentiful, instead of being scarce. When people see time this way, they take time to take time. They do not rush from one task to the next. They also tend to live more in the present, noticing the present, being in the present more. Time is not about completing tasks. Time is about building relationships, being there when needed for others.

One view of time is not intrinsically better than the other. They are different. When you are not aware of this distinction, can you imagine the frustration it might bring on both sides? If you see time linearly, you probably will have wondered and maybe be annoyed at somebody who seemed to be in no rush at all and not paying attention to the minutes passing by. In contrast, if you see time as less linear, you may not understand why some people seem to be so pushy, wanting you to rush.

Now that you know this, analyse which type you are closer to. When you interact with somebody closer to the other type, remember that their behaviour is not meant to annoy you. Instead, try to adapt your tendencies to accommodate a bit more the other person.

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