This post last updated on November 8th, 2021
In the Western world, we have been taught our entire lives the value of time and it usually sounds like this, “Time is money!” It was Benjamin Franklin who first used the phrase in Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One.
It’s not only the American way, but has been adopted by many modern Western cultures: investing the majority of your time in return for money. American actress Shirley Temple said, “Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble” while a British actor from the silent film era put it this way, “Time is money, especially when you are talking to a lawyer or buying a commercial.“
Time is Money
It’s not a bad way, or even a better way than others, it’s just one of many ways. Sure, putting a monetary value on time has many benefits like a tendency to create productivity, ingenuity and general prosperity which can lead to the overall good of a nation’s economy. The downside? People that become too busy. Overworking parents or spouses who are frequently absent. Perhaps even idolatry as one chases the “next big” whatever.
I have grown up in a “time is money” culture, but I have also lived outside of my own culture, from Northern Europe to a much different environment in Eastern Europe. My views have been altered.
There are times, especially in the early weeks and months in a new culture when I would become frustrated because sometimes things seem not important enough to tackle until the deadline has passed. Though often to my astonishment, things do get done, and it often becomes a frenzy of running and scrambling to pull things and people together. That’s how my American born and bred mentality tends to see cultures I am still learning about.
After several years in other cultures, my thoughts around time is money have adapted, and here’s one of the key differences: people and relationships matter. And they matter so much more than tasks. Even big tasks.
I’m not saying people aren’t important in my home culture. America can be a culture of extreme generosity and productivity, but in different cultures, people, things and tasks matter differently.
One difference I experienced in the Slavic world for example is the fact that relationships tend to cut beyond the surface. “How are you?” is not just a greeting or an extension of “Hello.” If someone asks you that, they expect your reply and a conversation to follow. If someone asks how things are in your life, it’s because they are genuinely interested in how things are for and with you.
In fact, there is a question in Russian sometimes used after a greeting that literally translates, “How are you living?” If someone recognizes you in a market or on the street, they stop and take the time to greet you. I’ve had people cross a street just to do this!
Of course, this might chip away at people’s schedules. One result may be that sometimes less gets done on time. In fact, I have had dinner after midnight with others in the Slavic cultures, but when we acknowledge others we show them that they matter, especially when we interrupt ourselves to do so.
Picture this example. If I have a deadline to meet at 4:00pm, but I met a friend for lunch at 1:00pm and we were still visiting when 4:00pm came, guess what? That deadline would still be there when the visit with my first friend is done. In my native mindset, I would say I just sent a clear message to whomever I was supposed to engage at 4pm that they aren’t important to me. However, in another culture if I got up and ran before a visit was over, I would be saying to the first friend that they are not as important to me as that next visit or task. This is one reason why my new found friends would be late at times.
This scenario is pretty typical except for one thing: in some Eastern European cultures we’d never meet someone at 1:00pm for lunch because everyone knows lunch doesn’t happen until 4 or 5 pm!
In the end, more money can always be earned and acquired. But time is something we can never buy or earn more of, we have what we’re given. That makes it quite difficult for me to put a monetary value on my time. What about you?
How do you balance time commitments and personal relationships? Leave a comment below!
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