Cultural Aspects of Time
"Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend - or a meaningful day." Dalai Lama
Often, when we are immersed in our own culture, it is difficult to understand how those from other ethnicities perceive our culture, customs, and way of life. In addition, some aspects of our culture are so ingrained in our minds and so commonplace to us that we begin to feel they are universally accepted.
One of these cultural variables is a person’s perception of time. Most people have their own idea of what time is and give little thought to the possibility that their definition could be different from anyone else’s. For instance, it would not occur to someone living in most parts of the world today that the future couldn’t possibly exist. However, the people of Piraha heritage living in the Amazon have no concept of time beyond the present so the concept of future for them doesn’t exist. They don’t even have a word for the concept of “future” in their vocabulary. Similarly, most humans on earth find it nearly impossible to picture an extraterrestrial culture of some sort where the arrow of time – the direction of its flow from past to future – is reversed. Because we can’t envision it, does that mean it cannot be?
Time also has a huge effect on interpersonal relations within a society. No? Would you want to be late for your wedding or an important job interview? Think of the problems that would result if you thought nothing of showing up to work two hours late each day. Or think of how aggravated your employees would be if you regularly held committee meetings hours longer than scheduled. Our understanding of and attitude towards time affects us and those around us. To fully understand the fascinating dynamics of the abstract, concrete, relative, and universal properties of time that govern the way we live, we must first examine the ways in which people around the world view and use their time within their lives each day.