Early in the wonderful movie “Wonder Woman,” Diana asks the human who has landed in her midst what his wristwatch is. And he explains that it tells him when it’s time to do something and she, in disbelief, says: “You let that thing tell you what to do?” The wristwatch takes on powerful symbolism by the end of the movie.
I wasn’t able to wear a watch for nine months after my breast surgery last summer. It felt strange at first, as I have worn a watch every day since I was 12. Not being able to wear a watch has made me think about time in a more philosophical way. I think it’s allowed me to get lost in time more often. In fact, quite often I have found myself continuing to do what I am enjoying without paying attention to how much time I’ve spent doing it. In other words, I’ve lost track of time…
In a wise and beautiful book by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. titled Close to the Bone: Life Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey–which I am tempted to re-title Close to the Bone: Life because it is a lovely read even for those not dealing with illness–she writes about our perception of and relationship to time.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time: kairos and kronos.
Kronos is measured time. Kairos is soul-nourishing time.
She goes on to describe “When we lose our sense of time passing, we are in kairos, where we are totally absorbed and in the present moment, which may stretch out over hours. We are in kairos whenever we are in love with what we are doing or who we are with… When we are engaged and fascinated, we are in kairos.”
Kairos doesn’t pay attention to watches and clocks. Kronos needs a watch.
Time and perceptions of time are fascinating to me. The way the ancient Greeks had two kinds of time, other cultures have various ways of looking at time. I recently read a fascinating article titled “Time and Culture” by Robert V. Levine. Here is an excerpt:
“The language of time may be more or less event-oriented. The Kachin people of North Burma, for example, have no single word equivalent of “time.” They use the word ahkying to refer to the “time” of the clock, na to a long “time,” tawng to a short “time,” ta to springtime, and asak to the “time” of a person’s life. Whereas, clock time cultures treat time as an objective entity—it is a noun in English—the Kachin words for time are treated more like adverbs.”
Levine continues: “These different ways of time-keeping can often lead to cultural misunderstandings. Individuals operating on clock time are careful to be punctual and expect the same of others. Those on event time are more spontaneous in beginning and ending events and, as a result, tend to be less punctual and more understanding when others are less punctual.”
And…even within one culture, there can be differences:
“There are also differences within cultures—on both the individual and situational levels. To take just one example, some workers may prosper under clearly defined schedules while others may prefer to complete their work on their own schedules. Similarly, some jobs (for example, financial traders) demand clock-time precision while others (for example, some creative arts) thrive on the spontaneity of event-time scheduling.”
Even before I stopped wearing a watch, I know that I would not have thrived in a job that demanded clock-time precision 🙂
Here is a link to the article: http://nobaproject.com/modules/time-and-culture
Robert Levine is a Professor of Psychology and former Associate Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at California State University, Fresno. He has been a visiting professor at universities in Brazil, Japan, Sweden and England. He is the author of the books, A Geography of Time and The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold.