Better late than never / But never late is better
– Canadian rapper Drake
When I told colleagues I was doing a column on chronic lateness, I was surprised
by how extreme their reactions were. It’s clearly a topic people feel strongly
Selfish. Manipulative. Arrogant. Disrespectful. These are some of
the adjectives used to describe those who regularly show up late for meetings,
appointments and social occasions where time matters.
Are these labels
deserved, or overly harsh? Do some people go around with an exaggerated sense of
their own importance, and a concomitant disdain for others’ arrangements; or are
some born without a talent for time orientation, in the same way that many –
myself included – suffer from an innately poor sense of direction? We all know
people who regularly rush in way past the arranged hour armed with excuses; or
embarrassed and apologetic; or, occasionally, quite cool about having kept
And they are often charming enough to get away with it –
‘I WAS always late for school,” an American friend
recalled. “We had to be there by 9 in the morning, and I invariably got
there a few minutes afterwards – even though in grades eight and nine, I lived
opposite the school building!”
Were there repercussions? I asked.
the thing,” he replied, grinning a trifle shamefacedly. “I was a likable kid,
and one of the best students in the class. The teacher would say, “You really
ought to do detention, but never mind.”
“Once, my friend recalled, “I
countered: ‘No, I came late, and I should be punished.’ So after class, I
marched into the detention room and sat down. I was tardy, but honorable,” he
‘I’M conflicted,” a young Canadian acquaintance told me,
“because my father was an accountant who was chronically early. He would get
somewhere and then sit in his car for half an hour – and I’m from a place that
reaches minus-35° in winter!
“Like most people, I have the voice of a parent
constantly running through my head, so I tend to get to places either early – or
“It’s a beautiful thing,” he reflected eloquently, “to be able to
move through life in a fluid way and arrive on time naturally, without wrenching
yourself away from whatever is occupying you – such as interesting conversations
or a good meal.”
His father’s favorite expression, he recalled, was ‘It’s
always gulp and run.’” To this young man, chronic lateness is “a disease of
modernity, in which each one of us is living a life that’s meant to be lived by
at least five people.”
His fiancée is chronically late, he said, “and I
see it tortures her. She doesn’t want to hurt people – but she’ll always find
herself far too late to get anywhere on time. She’s wondering whether there is
something about particular situations that propels her into lateness, but trying
to get to the bottom of it is like unraveling the plot of a Sherlock Holmes
“We’re having difficulty coming up with a wedding date,” he
confessed ruefully. “It keeps getting postponed.”
SO what’s behind the
inability to be punctual? Psychologist Joseph Ferrari has linked chronic
procrastination with an individual’s perceived need to experience the “thrill”
of the last moment.
Similarly, a thoughtful friend suggested, people who
are chronically late are actually seeking the drama that surrounds the question
of ‘Will I be on time?’ “I think chronic latecomers are addicted to the
uncertainty involved. Rushing against the clock to get somewhere causes pressure
– but these individuals are looking for that pressure. It’s like living on the
IT’S clear that in some people, chronic lateness arises from a
rather muddle-headed approach to living, in which individuals not so much manage
their time as are managed by it. Rather than consciously portioning out their
day and deciding to spend this amount of time on one task and that amount on
another – fitting in appointments and obligations in a responsible and realistic
way – they meander from one thing to another, easily distracted and readily
seduced into changing course.
This has nothing to do with intelligence or
ability – such people may be highly educated and able in a variety of areas –
but for them, in a very real sense, time doesn’t exist as an ever-present force.
They sail along on a gently swaying sea of existence, absorbed in whatever is
engaging them at any particular moment. The storm hits only when they suddenly
realize they have to be in a certain place at a precise hour – and that, yet
again, they haven’t a hope in hell of achieving it.
“What I’m doing at
any given moment,” a tardy friend told me, “seems to take precedence over
leaving it in order to make sure I get to somewhere else on time. But I don’t
feel good about being repeatedly late; I feel I’m letting people down, myself
LET’S take a closer look at those adjectives used to describe the
• Selfish. Well, that’s hard to deny. Those who
“cannot” arrive anywhere on time are, on some level, choosing not to do so. They
are putting themselves first – and putting others out.
When you come late to an appointment, you are controlling the situation. Others
must wait until you rush (or saunter) in, and their schedules are thereby
“There’s something in me that resists changing my habitual
pattern of lateness,” my tardy friend reflected. “Because if I really wanted to
change it, I guess I would.”
My impression is that, subconsciously, he
resents being told what to do, and that includes being told when to show up. His
habitual lateness is a way of saying: “I’m the one who calls the shots
• Arrogant. Certainly, repeated lateness can be viewed as a
highhanded indifference to others’ needs, and the conviction that only the
latecomer’s time ultimately matters.
• Disrespectful. I asked my friend
how he feels about irritating his friends (which he admits is sometimes the
result of his showing up late for dinner).
“It makes me feel like a
heel,” he confessed. “And even though I wouldn’t mind if people were 15 or 20
minutes late coming to my house, I guess it’s presumptuous of me to decide that
punctuality isn’t important to them.”
Dr. Phil believes that chronic latecomers must ask themselves some
“What is your payoff for the behavior?” he
asks. “You wouldn’t continue unless you were getting some reward for
Another necessity is to examine one’s mental process.
know that it takes 45 minutes to get ready and arrive at a destination, ask
yourself why you would spend 30 minutes doing something else, and then try to
get ready and get to your destination in 15 minutes.
How do you justify
the behavior? “You’re not late at 11:00. If you have to be somewhere at 11:00
and it takes 30 minutes to get there, you’re late at 10:30 if you’re still at
Get real about your tardiness, the psychologist urges.
you are always late, yet you tell yourself and others that you try to be on
time, get real. You can’t always be late unless you work at it. You would be on
time just by accident occasionally! “Understand,” counsels Dr. Phil, “that being
late is a way of manipulating a situation at the expense of others. When
everything is about you because everyone has to wait on you, you are unfairly
controlling the situation while assuming that others should and will wait on
you. It’s an arrogant behavior.“
Prioritize. “When running late, don’t think
you’re so important to what you are doing that you can’t move on. If talking to
your neighbor is making you late, realize they aren’t going to curl up and die
if you say, ‘Excuse me, I have to go to work.’” Finally, the psychologist
advises adding negative consequences to discourage continuance of the
“For example, if taking a daily shower is very important to
you, decide that you won’t allow yourself one when you are late. Or don’t allow
yourself to brush your hair, or put on makeup, the next time you go to work if
you’re not on time.”
Encouragingly, Dr. Phil believes that chronic
lateness can be changed – even overnight.
SOME people nurture a touching
conviction that time is elastic, and will stretch if necessary. Science fiction
aside, it doesn’t. And some harbor an odd fear of arriving early, which of
course causes them to be tardy.
It’s obvious that there’s lots more to
say on the subject, but I’m already late in submitting this column...
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>