This is the Life: Examining the early versus late debate

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I recently read a blog about a subject that has long fascinated me. It’s that old issue of early versus late. You know, the battle between the guy who shows up early for a dinner invitation, just as you are entering a critical phase in preparing dinner, and the perpetually late gal who somehow keeps everyone waiting until she can sashay into the room, blowing off her tardiness with a shrug of her shoulders.

I use the gender references as examples only — I doubt that either gender can lay claim to superiority on either side of the issue.

In the blog the writer, a female, put forth the argument that chronically late people just can’t stand to waste time waiting, which is what happens when they arrive early. Instead, they get caught up doing other things and the result is they are pretty much later for everything.

Hogwash, I say. People who don’t like to waste time can generally arrange their schedule to arrive on time. And there is no more or less energy expended to get to a given place early or late, so I think there have to be other reasons.

In my opinion, chronically late people are simply disrespectful of others, and of their efforts not to be late. They are making a statement that basically says, “I am more important than you are,” or, at the very least, “My time is more important than yours.” So it comes down to an ego thing.

Who hasn’t experienced the latecomer, huffing and puffing and putting on a performance as they enter the room, making sure everyone knows they have arrived and that they have made a great effort in doing so. Or, as a friend recalled during a recent conversation on the subject, the perpetually late arrival to a public gathering. My friend recalled a woman who always arrived late for a church service, then sashayed her way to a seat near the front to make certain that everyone in the congregation could see her, and what she was wearing. “It was a theatrical performance,” my friend said.

I am, typically, an early arriver. But I don’t show up for the actual appointment too early, because I don’t like inconveniencing others by doing so. Being easily amused, I can always find a way to kill a few minutes by checking my iPhone, people watching or having a subtle meditation session. When I am travelling or expecting to be earlier than necessary, I always carry reading material. I never think that I am wasting time, my own or that of others.

The desire to be early is not a practice I arrived at with a conscious decision. I seem to be hardwired that way. My wife is an on-time person, rarely late and even more rarely early. Given the choice I would probably opt for her approach, but I get antsy when I haven’t set out at a time that virtually guarantees I will be at an appointment just a touch early. It has its advantages, too. I always get a good seat in a group setting, which for me means off to the side or back, where I can get a good view of proceedings — I dislike being front and centre almost as much as I hate arriving late.

When I am the one who has arranged an appointment and it is taking place on my turf, I have little patience for those who aren’t on time. My general rule of thumb is 10 minutes, which generally allows for sufficient flexibility for people who have been legitimately delayed. But if I know the person is a chronic latecomer, I might pare that time down to 5 minutes, at which point I will leave the room and perhaps even the building. Point made, even if the other person thinks I have been a jerk about this particular foible.

Like many social issues, the late versus early debate produces a great chasm between the sides and neither seems to be particularly open to the others’ point of view. Personally, I am always willing to listen. Just make sure you are on time if you want to tell me why it’s OK to be late.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.