So teach us to number our days…

What are we supposed to learn from our mortal experience of time?

It seems to me that our pre-mortal and post-mortal existence are unlikely to be marked by the constant pressure of time that we feel in this life. As mortals, we experience this pressure both as the daily lack of enough time to do all the things we should or want to do, and as we contemplate the span of our lives, knowing that we will not live long enough to finish the !()#$##! Ph.D., become a world-class cellist, go to medical school, and learn to play timpani and French horn passably well.

Why? What lesson(s) should we learn from this experience that will matter in a life where there is “world enough and time”?

Comments

  1. Perhaps it is a test of volition. Despite desires of granduer, I still end out wasting a ton of time doing nothing. Perhaps if you can’t do anything with limited resources, then unlimited resources will be pointless?

  2. !()#$###! Ph.D.

    Hey! That’s the topic of my dissy,too. How kewl is that?

    Anyway… It forces us to make choices and to deal with the consequences? It both develops and reveals character? To be successful with limited resources, we have to learn to work with other people?

  3. !()#$###! Ph.D. indeed :)

  4. Interesting question, Kris. I think you may have the seeds of an answer in your post. After all, the poem goes:

    “Had we but world enough, and time,
    This coyness, Lady, were no crime . . .”

    In the absence of world and time, we’re forced to abaondon coyness. And so I agree with Mogget, I think. The most likely reason for time is to force us to abandon coyness and indecision; to make us fish-or-cut-bait.

    If I had more time, I’d elaborate more. :P

  5. I’d suggest to both KHH and Kaimi that “To His Coy Mistress” is a poor text to use as a basis for a life-philosophy, unless you want VD.

  6. Josephine Dynamite says:

    “!()#$##! Ph.D.”

    Roger that.

  7. I think the biggest lessons we can learn in this life is to love our enemy and to do good to those who hate and despise us. Our “enemies” (whoever they happen to be) don’t magically disappear in the afterlife. They will still be there. How will we treat them there?

    The more we learn love and charity in this life, the better and easier it will be in the next life to deal with any and all other issue.

  8. We learn to worship at the Altar of Covey, surely a prerequisite for exaltation.

  9. Rosalynde says:

    Kris, do you think it’s part of the mortal condition, or part of the modern industrialized condition? It’s my sense that pre-modern, pre-industrial societies experience time very differently; time as something to be “saved” and “spent” is pretty uniquely Western, I think.

  10. Rosalynde says:

    Which isn’t, of course, to say that it’s not a very interesting and very pertinent question. The culture-formative Deseret period was right smack in the middle of industrialization, reflected in hymns like “Improve the Shining Moments.” Also doctrinal tenets like “this life is a probationary period” speak to this question.

  11. Sadly, though, Rosalynde, the “Franklin-Covey” culture has taken those doctrinal tenets to a ridiculous extreme.

  12. What an interesting question! I wonder if, as you alluded to, the value of the limits of time is that they apply to everyone. Limited amounts of other resources, like money, might apply to some or most of us, but time limits us all. And its limiting forces us to make choices and to decide what’s really important.

    But I agree with Jack that time management can become an unhealthy obsession.

  13. Kristine says:

    Rosalynde, I thought about that. It seems to me that, while this anxiety about time takes a particular (and perhaps extreme) form in industrialized societies, pre-industrial societies would have some variant of the problem–not enough time in good weather to hunt or cultivate enough food to last through the winter, not enough time to both perform the labor necessary for survival and create art or hang out and talk philosophy, etc. Our modern, Western, industrialized, wealthy, Coveyized anxieties about time are trivial compared to the real pressure of fitting in survival tasks that faces people who live closer to the existential bone (which is part of why I find Covey hard to stomach in any but small doses–his concerns are so clearly those of the privileged few).

  14. Rosalynde says:

    I think that’s right, Kris, and I think it helps to explain that all-too-familiar, utterly demoralizing sense of the at-home mother—whose work is largely pre-industrial—that she has both too much and too little to do during those long 24-hour shifts.

    My cousin is currently working in a children’s home in Africa, and she describes the sort of time-shock she experienced as she adjusted:

    For the first few days, I kept thinking “life is so hard here.” But I began to realize how much time people spend just sitting and chatting with one another. People get up early and clean and cook—and then they take a long break—and then they clean and cook—and then they take another long break—and then they clean and cook and go to bed. It is such a strange dichotomy of intense work and long periods of resting time. It has been difficult for me to adjust to the down time—-I want to be busy or engaged all the time.

    This sort of cyclical rather than linear experience of time, patterned rather than scheduled, and measured in repetitive tasks rather than checklist achievements, feels very much like domestic life with small children—or at least like my domestic life with small children.

  15. Yeah, I remember when my kids were teeny, wondering how something could be so hard AND so boring!

  16. Kristine: Our modern, Western, industrialized, wealthy, Coveyized anxieties about time are trivial compared to the real pressure of fitting in survival tasks that faces people who live closer to the existential bone (which is part of why I find Covey hard to stomach in any but small doses–his concerns are so clearly those of the privileged few)

    Now, I am no big fan of Covey, but it seems to me the modern, wealthy anxieties that make Coveyization nauseating are the particular anxieties that you outline in the original post:

    …finish the !()#$##! Ph.D., become a world-class cellist, go to medical school, and learn to play timpani and French horn passably well.

  17. Kristine says:

    Of course they are–they’re the ones I know. I have no idea what it would feel like to be trying to balance time for subsistence farming with my poetry reading. I’m aware of my privilege, and am frequently horrified by it.

  18. What were supposed to learn? Maybe depends on which mortal probation you are in.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] And then there’s the problem of time. Kristine’s BCC post on the mortal significance of time captures it well: As mortals, we experience this pressure both as the daily lack of enough time to do all the things we should or want to do, and as we contemplate the span of our lives, knowing that we will not live long enough to finish the !()#$##! Ph.D., become a world-class cellist, go to medical school, and learn to play timpani and French horn passably well. [...]

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