In July of 2008, I was at the St. Denis Theatre for another Just for Laughs Gala, particularly excited because the host was Jimmy Fallon. From his opening monologue filled with absolutely brilliant celebrity impersonations alone the audience got more than their money’s worth for the night. As he finished his set to wild applause and appreciation, the ushers allowed the latecomers to make their way down the aisles toward their seats. Still on a high from that incredible opening, I was starting to get annoyed at these people whose lateness meant a break in the hilarity. I was also annoyed that Just for Laughs was accommodating those who didn’t care enough to be on time.
Once again, Jimmy Fallon came to the rescue. As one woman whose seat was in the middle of one of the first few rows was about to start the lateral slide by those already in their seats, Fallon spoke directly to her in a very affectionate voice: “Oh gosh, you’re late, I’m glad you’re here now, I hope you’re alright… .” And then he asked the question of the night: “Can I get you anything… like a f—ing watch?”
This modern response is perfect for this blog, committed to saying things that many people are thinking but dare not say. Thank you to Jimmy Fallon for having the courage to say it.
When a secretary of George Washington, excusing himself for being late, said that his watch was too slow, Washington is quoted as saying, frankly, “You must get a new watch, or I must get a new secretary.”
The “Urban Dictionary” defines “fashionably late” as “the refined art of being just late enough (5 minutes or so) to give the impression that you are a busy, popular person that was held up with other business.”
Sorry. There is nothing fashionable about being late. Nothing but a selfishness of having everybody see you (and perhaps your “fashions”) as you walk in and interrupt what they’re busy doing.
Perhaps the urban dictionary needs to be updated, because it seems that “5 minutes” has turned into “over an hour” in many cases.
Being late is a sign of disrespect, plain and simple. Disrespect for your schedule, for the invitation you received, in some cases for the people who are performing, and in every case for the promise you made by agreeing to attend whatever you’re attending.
And what about parties among friends or family? There is no honesty. I admit that when I host a party, the invitation time will be for some time before the hour I expect the festivities to start at because I know so few people are on time. If I invite people for the actual time, we would end up starting about an hour late! Consequently, I would get to spend less time with these important people. If I want more time together, I must consider the realities, and unfortunately one of them is that there is a general lack of importance for schedules.
It’s a vicious circle because the other side of the coin is that many people are late because they don’t want to be the first person to arrive anywhere. (Another example of how relying on *unreal* feelings causes personal and societal problems.) The expectation is that everyone else is going to be late and they feel too uncomfortable waiting alone in a restaurant at a table for 20 because even the organizers aren’t on time.
So what do we do about this? Lateness has become the societal “norm” because we have given up on making punctuality a priority. As with many trends, it is easier to slide into an area of less responsibility than it is to raise the bar. It is easier to take the attitude of “I’ll be there when I get there” than it is to arrange one’s schedule so as to be on time (or, dare I say, be early) for every commitment you agree to. It’s easier to hope that things work out than it is to do what needs to be done to make them work out.
I think it goes without saying that things will only get worse if we don’t take action, collectively. When was the last time you were seen on time by your family doctor or health specialist?
If people are not going to take their promises seriously, it is up to society to step up and hold them to account.
If you have tickets to a show and arrive late, you should not be allowed in.
If you have a doctor’s appointment and arrive late, you should lose your appointment time and be put on a standby list, not seen by the doctor in front of anyone else who is on time for their appointment.
If you have a business meeting and show up late, you should pay the price, be it losing a contract, paying for the time of the people you’re meeting with, or any other appropriate remedy
…and so on.
I give paid training courses to election workers. Those people who are not on time for their training course are not only turned away from the course, but they lose their assigned job for election day. Word is getting around, and during our last election we turned away a considerably lower number of hired staff than in previous elections.
Of course, there is occasionally a very good reason why someone is late or cancels a commitment, but there is never a good reason to be late without having the decency to call the people you’re meeting with to let them know. If you’re going to be late to a meeting, call the person to tell them you’re running late. This way, you give them the opportunity to choose whether to keep the appointment or to reschedule because your delay would cause them problems with their own schedules.
We’ve lowered the excuses bar to ridiculous levels. The standard of what is a “valid” reason is now laughable. For example, when someone tells me that they are late because of traffic, I tell them they should have left earlier. It is unfortunately easier to blame other people and other occurrences for one’s shortcomings than to take responsibility for their irresponsibility.
As in all of my postings, I stand firmly for choice, for personal responsibility, and for the elimination of hypocrisy. So, if you don’t appreciate when your doctor runs late and makes you wait, make sure that you’re doing everything you possibly can to ensure that you are not making others wait on you.
I, too, have work to do ensuring that I am never late. I am not proud of my lapses and make no excuses for them, but I have made great strides ever since I took on the following approach to punctuality: “If I show up exactly on time, then I am late.”
To quote the great William Shakespeare: “Better be three hours too soon than one minute too late.”