Making efficient use of time is my raison d’être
The quote above is my own. I don’t usually quote myself, but this time, since this topic is about the reason and purpose of my existence — raison d’être — I feel that it’s fair enough for me to be a narcissist once in a while. Let me begin with how I got around writing this topic, before I get to why I believe making efficient use of my time is the purpose of my life.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague, which went as followed:
Mike (a pseudonym, of course): I don’t understand what you just said.
Non: Perhaps if you read this book you would understand it more.
Mike: A book? I don’t have time to read a book.Non: How about a Podcast episode. It’s about 10 minutes. I’ll send you the link.
Mike: I don’t have time for a Podcast episode either.
Non: What do you have time for then?
Mike: I don’t have time for anything.
I then chug the liquid in the can of Santory Gold beer that I bought from the convenient store nearby, just so that I did not have to be so traumatized from this conversation. This colleague, by the way, even after having spent almost a decade in China, still speaks no Chinese. His reason for not being capable of speaking Chinese despite the fact that he has no plan to leave is, as one might be able to guess, “I have no time for it.” To be clear though, it’s never the case we don’t have time — it’s always the case that we don’t make time for it. There are something else that we’d rather do instead, which might be because we don’t feel the urgency of doing it, or that we don’t see the need in doing it. For Mike, even if he has 48 hours a day, we probably still wouldn’t be able to speak Chinese as he probably would be spending the extra 24 hours doing something else instead, such as drinking, relaxing, or bragging about his success in having been in China for so long without having to learn a word of Chinese (his English, which is not his native language, is also very uncomfortable to hear, in fact, and guess what’s his reason for not wanting to improve his English. You got it). Mike doesn’t feel as though he needs to learn Chinese; thus, he never wants to make time for it. His community accepts him as he is, and never asks him to pursue something external to his comfort zone. I would actually be much more happier if his reason for not wanting to learn Chinese is “I don’t want to make time for it because I don’t need to,” rather than “I don’t have time for it.” Having been his colleague for almost three years, I always see him doing things that are not only detrimental to his development as a professional in his field, but also damaging to his — and our collective — sense of humanity. This particular instance, in fact, makes me want to evaluate our collegiality. Should we still be colleagues? Well, I’ll let you read until the very end of this post first, and then, you can make time to tell me what you think.
Time is the only thing that we have, said my grandfather.
I was lucky (again, borrowing a this from another post that I wrote earlier this month) born into a family that values time. My maternal grandparents, for instance, never let a day goes by without accomplishing what they had planned to achieve. They weren’t business people but tailors and grocers in a small town, so their goal weren’t necessary qualitatively high (although, they sometimes could earn a lot in a day selling the clothes that they made). Instead, the bar they set high had to do with the quality of their work. Growing up in under the roof of the house they built in Northeastern Thailand, I saw how hard they worked. In fact, one thing I remember was the “family ethics” that they told me almost every time they had a chance to when I was young, which was, “Rising early; eating fast; and working hard.” All of these rules were meant to maximize the efficiency of the work that they did. I once asked, “This doesn’t sound fun — what’s the pleasure in any of these that you’re doing?” My grandmother’s answer was simple, “you’ll find the pleasure in seeing other happy, whether that be you, my grandson, or your mother, or the customers who love the products that we deliver to them.” I was about ten-year-old at the time, so it, perhaps, made a lot of sense that I didn’t quite get what she was trying to convey to me. Both of my maternal grandparents passed away almost 7 years ago now. My grandpa passed away in 2008, right before I was traveling to the UK to pursue my study at Oxford, followed by the death of my grandma less than a year after. I wasn’t in Thailand during both years, so I didn’t go to their funerals. My father, who was alive at the time, and my mother told me not to come back, but “to keep pursuing my goal and being good at what I do.” I was close to both of my grandparents, and really wanted to come back to the funerals — not just to show respect to them for the last time but also to spend time thinking about them and what they had taught me. But I guess our “family ethics” ran very deep in our mentality toward life, nobody wanted me to come back to Thailand for their funerals.
My mother, especially, told me, “the best way to pay homage to your grandparents is to continue to pursue your goal…you can never get back the time that I have lost, so treasure it and do things that matter.” I, of course, never forget that, and especially when my father passed away in 2010, the importance of time vis-à-vis the meaning of my life has never been clearer. It could have been her who told me that time is money.
What she meant was a more complicated than the very fact (that I already knew) that time is valuable, so don’t waste it the same way you wouldn’t waste your money. As an economist by training, embedded in her teaching was also the very nature of the economics of resource management. What she said was that we’re all born into a society that provides all of us an unconditional basic income — we all get it, like a universal coverage of basic income guarantee — which is 24 dollars a day. The only thing that this society imposes upon us is that you can’t save it if you don’t use it all. In other words, we have to spend all of the 24 dollars everyday. I guess you probably now know where she’s going with that metaphor. So, those 24 dollars are the 24 hours in every day of our life. A life doesn’t give us an option of saving hours not used. We are born into the world shaped by space and time that cannot be saved for the late use. So, how would you spend those 24 hours?
In my earlier post “On Death,” I touched upon how I came to value time differently after the death of my father. I used to think that I could live forever. I used to think that my father would also live for a long time, and because of that I took for granted that his time was running out. Had I known that he would pass away so soon (at the age of 62), I would not have gone to school abroad, and would have spent the last ten years of his life with him. I could also go to school abroad, but I could not go back to live with him when he’s no longer alive. There were so many things that my father still wanted to do, but his physique did not want him to pursue. He thought he would have a lot of free time after his retirement to do things he always wanted to do, such as traveling, raising a dog, and drawing (which had always been his favorite hobby when he was young). He didn’t realize that he would die only two years after his retirement. No one, n fact, thought that which would happen, so we weren’t prepared at all. The moment I received a message from my brother that my father had just passed away, I felt as thought the time had stopped, and that nothing really mattered anymore, including even if my life, also, would just end there. For someone who’d been taking time for granted for 28 years, the moment when the time completely stopped such as this was painful. I wanted it to pass as soon as possible so that I no longer had to be in deep sorrow but it did not. It lingered. I was in Boston at the time. It continued to linger. The sadness doubled when I couldn’t hide my sorrow and was asked by people who thought I looked horrible. The sadness lingered. I wished it would feel like a sharp nice poking through my heart so that all would just end. It wasn’t like that at all. I felt as though my heart was so heavy — so heavy that every time I tried to get up it pulled me down. I didn’t know how long it lingered. All I remember was that I got on a plane 24 hours after . The 16-hour-long Korean Airlines flight felt as though it was a light year. Everything about my father and I — our 28 years of our lives together — kept coming back to me in forms of vivid flashbacks. The trip across the Pacific from Boston to Bangkok was like me living my life with my father again, but with the pretext that I already knew how it was going to end. After his death, I became aware of the fact that my time, also, is limited, and the only thing I could do for my father is to make sure that I don’t take for granted that one day I will
Time is the reason why I don’t have many close friends.
In fact, I often prefer to be alone. The reason for which is simple: because time is important to me, I want to spend as much time as possible with myself. Those who I consider friends are people who I believe that I could learn more about myself by spending time with them. In other words, I only mingle and converse with people whom I believe make me a better person by helping me make efficient use of my time. I consider spending time with people who don’t improve me a waste of my time, and since my time is valuable, I would rather spend it with myself than with those who I believe to have more the potential to waste it rather than to make a meaningful use of it. Again, because sometimes I could not know right away whether the person with whom I am about to spend time will waste my time, therefore I often have to just spend time with them just to test the depth of the water. Often, if not always, these are the characteristics of people who, as soon as I realize that they have these characteristics, I would stop spending time with them right away:
First, they have bad faith. In other words, they believe that things have to be a certain way, and outright refuse other options. For Jean-Paul Sarte, who coined the term “bad faith,” it is a crime to insist that we have to do a particular kind of work, or live with a specific person — just because we believe that things have to be a certain way without exercising our freedom to discover other options otherwise.
Examples of people with bad faith?
I am a student, I have to believe in whatever the teacher says.
I am a woman, my role is to be a “good girl,” by acting as though I don’t have my own agency, and as though my life is only meaningful when I am with a man.
I was born in this social class, so there’s no point trying to be something else.
Just to name a few. You get the point.
Second, the people who take things at face value. These are the people who find comfort in conformity. The main idea of this point overlaps a bit with the idea of having a bad faith above, in the sense that people who lazily believe that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” are people who will always follow others as long as they don’t have to do the work, or stand up for their own right, or to do anything that might be consider risk-taking. Sometimes these people don’t even know that the conformity in which they find comfort are not comfort at all.
An example I find meaningful is from the TV series Masters of Sex. There’s a scene in which a lady who took part in the sex research pursued by the protagonists Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson. (by the way, this TV series was based on the book written by Thomas Maier under the same title, which I think is much more accurate, though not as sexy). The context of this show was the in the 50s and 60s when sex wasn’t a topic allowed to be discussed so openly in public — mainly because of various religious doctrines that prohibited it. Many people were not satisfied with their sex life because there’s no one to educate them about how to enjoy it. Dr. Bill Masters, a gynecologist and fertility doctor, got so fed up with having to solve the problem at the tail of the cause rather than at the root was thinking. He believed that if people learn how to maximize their pleasure from sex, most of the infertility problems will be solved even before it gets to become problems. Dr. Masters debunked the religious claim to keep sex outside the realm of proper education as “immoral” by saying:
Science by itself has no moral dimension. But it does seek to establish truth. And upon this truth morality can be built.
Often, if not always, the men in the 50s and 60s did not know exactly how to have sex — because they weren’t taught how to. So, they treated women as their sexual objects. Women themselves also didn’t know that they “deserved better” than that, because they “were told to conform with the belief that they were subordinate to men” (and, lo and behold, guess who created such belief for the women to believe? The men!) Hence, Dr. Masters recruited a number of ladies who never experienced orgasm to take part in an experiment to experience orgasm for the first time. This lady, who experienced orgasm for the first time during the experiment, said something like (I don’t remember the exact words verbatim):
The feeling [I had after having an orgasm for the first time in my life during the experiment conducted by Dr. Masters and Virginia Johnson] was a feeling of someone who, in her entire life, had always been told to wear shoes two sizes smaller than her feet. It’s ridiculously painful, but because she believed that those small pairs of shoes was her size, she endured the pain. And one day — one day — someone introduced a pair of shoes two sizes bigger than what she had always worn to her. Wearing those shoes her size, she felt as thought she’s walking on the cloud.
So, there are many things we think we are conforming to because it’s easier to be among the majority — without knowing that once you have stepped outside of it you will feel much better. I do see some values in gradual change and tradition, but I see much more value in our human’s ability to critique the convention. Of course, anyone who stands up among the crowds who are sitting down will be noticed — and sometimes he or she will get a rock thrown at for being different — conformity is appealing precisely for that reason. Nevertheless, there’s a deep danger associated with such conformity. What if we know deep down that such things to which we are conforming is wrong, and that if we shout out we will get hurt, should we still do it in the name of being true to ourselves? My only answer is yes. I think it’s a responsibility to do so.
Long story short, I can’t hang out with people with bad faith, and people who find comfort in conformity without questioning the very origin of such comfort. I would feel as though it’s a crime for me to hang out with them, and that’s why I don’t have many close friends.
The most important goal in my life, as many philosophers have suggested (e.g., Socrates, The Buddha, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Hobbes) is to understand myself.
Thomas Hobbes, especially, uses the term “introspect” to denote the critical importance of the allocation of time to examine one’s own thoughts or feelings, which should be placed above anything else. René Descartes (who is famous for saying “I think therefore I am”) goes as far as to say that if we spend enough time with our own thoughts, anything can be solved. One can, of course, both literally and rhetorically read what Descartes says here. On the one hand, it could be the case Descartes meant that by exercising our critical reasoning on the question that challenges us, we can arrive at the stage in which we no longer have to assume that we are capable of solving. In this stage, we can actually engage in the process of solving that problem (which would be the rhetorically way of reading Descartes). On the other hand, it could be that what he meant was simply that the problem does not really exist, it exist because we “perceive” them to exist (sounds familiar? The philosopher Bishop George Berkeley also says something quite similar to this but with an empiricist rather than a rationalist take, which I will some point revisit in this blog). So, in order to understand how to solve it, we must thoroughly examine such perception, and often, we find ourselves already solving that problem, through the critical examination of that problem, in our head without having to even lift a finger in real life. Again, I am not an expert on Descartes, and only have a very limited knowledge in the kind of question he was wrestling with during his time. I guess if his house was on fire, he would have to do more than just thinking to survive. That said, he himself couldn’t escape the problem of death neither — apparently pneumonia couldn’t be solved only introspecting deeply, and he was killed by it at the age of 53.
To conclude, time is the only domain in which we have no choice but to live our life. We can’t exist outside of the domain of time (and space, for that matter). Just to counter argue my point (before you, my friends, do!), we can, of course, live outside the domain of time — but only if we can take off what Immanuel Kant calls “the space-time spectacles,” with which we’re born. Taking off this spectacles would allow us to see and experience the world of things external to the phenomenological world — takin’ off this spectacles would allow us to see and experience things in themselves (or the noumenal). Kant, nevertheless, did not say how we could take off those spectacles, so let assume we can’t take them off. So, if we can’t take them off, we should, to the fullest, learn how to live with them and experience the world through them. Our time is more valuable than money because we can’t get it back, and we have to use it. What else in life that we have to use it and can’t get it back if we didn’t use it properly? Nothing else but time. This is why time is so important to me, and this is why I often say “I don’t have time,” when I don’t feel like conversing with someone and engaging in something (e.g., an activity) that would take away my time. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that I have to always do things that have an effect in my personal development as such. I also enjoy relaxing and doing nothing. I also enjoy sitting at a chair and watching the sun goes down without thinking about anything. I also enjoy drinking a glass of wine, also, without thinking about anything. All of these make me appreciate time, so it’s a good use of time for me. I loathe spending time with people with bad faith, and in activities that don’t value my time. And, I usually don’t even have time to tell those people or to inform the organizers of those activities that I no longer want to interact with them. I just don’t have time.