Time-bomb for the tardy

In My Own Write: Is there any hope for chronic latecomers?

Being late tardy clock_311 (photo credit: MCT)
Being late tardy clock_311
(photo credit: MCT)
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 about.
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 others waiting.
And they are often charming enough to get away with it – repeatedly.
‘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.
“That’s 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 laughed.
‘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 late.
“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 novel.
“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 edge.”
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 down.”
LET’S take a closer look at those adjectives used to describe the chronically late.
• 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.
• Manipulative. 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 affected.
“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 here.”
• 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.”
CELEBRITY psychologist Dr. Phil believes that chronic latecomers must ask themselves some probing questions.
“What is your payoff for the behavior?” he asks. “You wouldn’t continue unless you were getting some reward for it.”
Another necessity is to examine one’s mental process.
“If you 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 home.”
Get real about your tardiness, the psychologist urges.
“If 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 behavior.
“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...