General Question

nikipedia's avatar

Why is misjudging time worse than misjudging space?

Asked by nikipedia (27449points) May 13th, 2009

I am both chronically late (misjudge time) and pathologically clumsy (misjudge space). Why do we as a society think it’s rude to be late to stuff but falling off your bike or spilling your coffee is completely different? (Especially if it’s something like a lecture or a class and you’re not inconveniencing anyone other than yourself by missing the first five minutes?)

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31 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

There’s not much a person can do if they’re clumsy. Being late is 100% preventable.

nikipedia's avatar

I guess this is what I’m trying to get at. Is being late really preventable? Is being clumsy really not preventable?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Both are preventable. Overcoming clumsy takes time and practice.
Being on time just takes planning ahead.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I am always running late. I dont know why, i plan ahead and set my alarm super early to make sure i have enough time, and then something always happens (something tends to be fluther 90% of the time) and then its oh craps what happened to the time, im late.

It is however fully my fault so i can see why it angers people, but i agree niki, when its something that only inconveniences yourself like a lecture or something it shouldnt be that big of a deal.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I have nothing relevant to add to the conversation, I just wanted to say that this is a really good question!

cwilbur's avatar

When you’re late, your lateness is almost always a problem for other people. When you’re clumsy, your clumsiness is almost always a problem only for you.

nikipedia's avatar

@cwilbur: Once a clumsy guy spilled the foam from his cappuccino on me on BART. It looked like someone jizzed on me. :(

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@nikipedia That was completely preventable because you’re not supposed have drinks on BART for that exact reason.

YARNLADY's avatar

Running late for a scheduled appointment or meeting it just plain rude. It’s like saying to the speaker that you don’t think what he is saying is important enough to bother. Many classes order the doors closed when the lecture begins, and you can just go away.

I am one of those kind of people that would rather be 5 minutes early than ever be late for anything. Why disrespect yourself and others when the solution is so easy?

As my favorite TV psychiatrist used to say “Stop it”.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@YARNLADY heres the thing that bothers me about the lecture thing though. Your paying to listen so if your late your only wasting your own money/cheating yourself out of learning.

cak's avatar

I am a clumsy person. I have to work very hard to be graceful in public; however, my private spills at home do impact others. It impacts my husband right now, because my right foot is impaired. I can’t drive. I will be going for another scan (MRI) this week to determine the type of surgery that will be needed to repair the damage I did by not sitting down and resting. I just had to help out, instead of rest, like the doctor ordered. The surgery will impact my family for 6 weeks.

Totally preventable, I should have listened. Luckily, my husband is willing to put up with my need to be right – to a point. He has stressed that had I just listened and followed directions, none of this would be happening. Where there is sympathy for the pain I am in, there is the understanding that this was preventable and I need to accept responsibility for my actions.


Being late is something that I do find rude. An occasional oops, is one thing. Being habitually late, regardless of whether or not the person (who is running late) thinks it is a victimless manner crime, is just being disrespectful to others. For some, that person that comes in late to a lecture is very disruptive. For speakers like me, that late person can shake my concentration. While I can deliver a good public speech, it takes a lot of effort for me not to go into a panic. It really only takes a small disruption to throw me off balance and into the dreaded land of “um.” Something I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to say in a speech. What you may think isn’t a big issue, can be for others and you may never know the true impact of your action.

I find your question very interesting. I am guilty of holding “late” people to a higher standard than someone like me, “the klutz.” I agree, though. Someone like me, a major klutz, should be held to a certain standard, as well. If I would slow down, concentrate and stop trying to do 5 things at once, I probably wouldn’t be as accident prone. I think I will need to start thinking about my actions, more!

Thanks, Niki!

YARNLADY's avatar

@uberbatman yes, that is so true. It is also self-destructive because the person you are disrespecting is in a position to give you a bad grade as well

El_Cadejo's avatar

@YARNLADY yes thats true as well heh.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Just a point of information. Being a clutz is not necessarily preventable. This is something I learned not long ago and found fascinating.

Those who were tall as children are more likely to be clumsy. The reason is that their rate of growth somehow messes with the development of the inner ear (your balance center) thus causing clumsiness. So clumsiness could be thought of as a medical or developmental problem.

Also lateness could be thought of as a cultural construction. Some cultures do not judge time in the same way that Americans do. In fact in communities of ethnic people there is almost always a popular saying. In my community we call being late running on “Indian Time”. In multicultural communities I’ve heard it called “People of Color Time”. I’ve heard lots and lots of communities use this type of terminology. It is because the construction of lateness is unique to certain cultures.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@uberbatman I agree that you are paying for the class and ultimately it is up to you. However I also agree it is disrespectful even if you are paying for the class. So is everyone else there who you are disrupting. Not to mention that it is just plain disrespectful to the speaker. That may be a cultural difference as well. You may be placing more value on yourself as the individual. I am thinking of the community and the guest of honor instead of myself.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@RedPowerLady yea, i understand what your saying. Im not saying its perfectly ok to be late, just shouldnt be as big a deal as made out by some people.When i did go to school, i always felt bad if i was late because of what you said with the disrespect manner, but depending on the class, you can slip into some without bothering anyone.

Darwin's avatar

On the whole in our mainstream society, it would be better to be neither late nor klutzy. And while everyone should make an effort not to be either, even better would be if society as a whole were able to develop just a wee bit more tolerance for the foibles of others.

After all, unless you are flying off to the moon and don’t want to miss the precise launch window, what difference does five minutes or one less coffee cup make?

We used to live in Venezuela. There invitations always included the notation “h.v.” or “h.n.a.” after the start time. What these stand for is “hora venezolana” (Venezuelan time) and “hora norte americana” (North American time). If the label were h.v. that would mean to show up 1 or 2 hours after the stated start time. If it were h.n.a. then you should arrive within 15 minutes or so of the stated time.

When my father was growing up in Chile they didn’t have that convention. As a result, some Americans arrived at a dinner party at my grandparent’s house only to catch my grandmother still in her slip. In those days that was the height of embarrassment.

Maybe we need to figure out a similar convention here? A way to distinguish “you really need to be here now” time from “somewhere around there” time?

augustlan's avatar

Lateness was such a family trait for my ex-husband’s family that we all called it “their last name time”. Oddly, it didn’t seem to matter if you were born into the family, or just married into it. Once you acquired the last name, you were late – myself included! His mother was late so often (like, hours late) that we took to giving her a time at least a half hour earlier than the real deadline.

As to the actual question, I do think it has to do with the relative impact on other people. As a remedy for my lateness (and forgetfulness), I use the calendar function on my cell phone to alert me in advance of an event I must be on time for. Depending on the distance and time required to get ready, I set it for anywhere from 15 minutes ahead to 2 hours ahead. Every now and again, I set it to go off the night before as well. Try it… it really helps!

YARNLADY's avatar

Sometimes it backfires. My sis was so notorious for being late, Mom started telling her an hour early so she would show up on time. At our last get together, I made the mistake of thinking we were on “sis” time and showed up an hour late.

DarkScribe's avatar

Being chronically late has little to do with misjudging time, it has to do with being unorganised. People will become offended if you are late as they see it as you not caring enough to ensure that you were reliable. Misjudging distance is an unusual way of describing clumsiness – I would describe as being uncoordinated – quite a different thing.

nikipedia's avatar

@DarkScribe: I’m not sure I agree. Take tonight, for instance. I wanted to go for a run and still make it to a poetry reading by 7:30. I worked out that if I ran for 27 minutes, came home, showered, didn’t dry my hair, and biked as quickly as possible I could just barely make it.

But I failed to factor in minor timing adjustments: cleaning the treadmill, changing my clothes, and, most significantly, running into a friend at the gym. All of that added up to about a ten minute delay, so I opted to skip the poetry reading and post this question instead because I thought it would be rude to walk in late.

I’m not sure I’d call that disorganized. It was an estimation error. Kind of like when I made an error estimating stopping distance the other day and biked into a wall. (Oops.)

DarkScribe's avatar

@nikipedia if you were organised then this wouldn’t happen. Proper organisation allows for a bit of leeway – things often happen to disrupt timetables, a well organised person allows for them. You cut things too fine – that is not an example of being organised. Running earlier, or after the reading would be better. If I have a client meeting in the city at twelve thirty and it takes me thirty-seven minutes to get to the city, ten minutes to park and reach the restaurant, I would not consider leaving at eleven-thirty to be good planning, even though in ideal conditions I would have several minutes to spare. I would probably leave at about ten thirty and allow myself time to get there early and go through some correspondence while I was waiting for the client. That is being organised.

If it is any consolation, I was incredibly disorganised when young, I relied on luck – on things going exactly right far too often. I initially joined the Navy at the start of my career life and it was there that I learned how important good planning and organisation was to success in anything.

casheroo's avatar

@DarkScribe I don’[t think @nikipedia scenario makes her disorganized at all. That happens to me all the time, I chalk it up to me not factoring in every single thing that might set me back.
For instance, I’m always late for work (haven’t worked here very long, so I haven’t figured the traffic patterns out yet) once I figure out the traffic patterns, I’ll find the optimal time to leave the house.

I’m not sure why people view misjudging time the way they do. I find it pretty ridicuous when I go to the doctors on time, yet they make me wait 2 hours to be seen, yet if I showed up two hours late, they won’t take me. Makes no sense to me. okay that rant was just about being on time, sort of
I don’t judge people for misjudging time, because I can relate to them.

dynamicduo's avatar

I think it has to do with control. You cannot control falling off a bike, whereas you can control your time management. It just happens to be that you suck a bit at doing that, @nikipedia (no offense meant, of course). But now you can learn from your estimation error, and now if you start factoring in an extra 10 minutes of padding, you should be on time. And you can learn from that change, maybe you only need 5 minutes of padding time, or maybe it’s 15.

But continuing with the thought, if you chose to do nothing and continued to sometimes be late due to similar circumstances, this to me is why lateness is seen as being so bad. In this case the person knows that they are often late and may even joke about it to friends, but they choose to do nothing about it. They know they have a weakness but they don’t fix it. It then makes all future apologies worthless, because to me the person is not really sorry at all, otherwise they would have learned from their error and respected me by not wasting my time being late.

Looking at myself, I hold great value in being on time, to me promptness is a sign of respect. So I go out of my way to make sure I am always early. Sure, this usually means I’m 10 minutes early than anyone else, but I have things to entertain myself for that time. To me, the small time sacrifice is worth it.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@casheroo hehe its funny you use the dr example. I had to go to one today and even though i got up on time and thought i had more than enough time to get everything done before i had to leave. Somehow i still ended up running late. Ended up getting there 5min late(which i felt bad about running late) only to sit there for another 35 before being seen lol.

ru2bz46's avatar

Oh, crap! I was reading this thread, and now I’m late for work!

bob's avatar

I’m the same way, niki — I plan ahead, but assume that everything is going to happen at optimal speed. Lately I’ve been trying to give some more leeway, even if that means I’m wasting time by planning on showing up 15 minutes early to the poetry reading rather than trying to do stuff until I absolutely must leave.

I don’t think that the fact that lateness is changeable is why we think it’s rude. That’s a factor, but when compared to clumsiness it just seems like lateness affects other people much more often. For example: if you bumped into your professor every time you went to class, I bet your prof would get more annoyed than if you were late to each class.

cwilbur's avatar

One of the things that affected my punctuality is that I hate waiting—and so I’d avoid being somewhere early, which meant that I’d plan to arrive on time and something would happen along the way to make me 10 minutes late.

I’ve solved this by always having something to do on me—either a book to read, or some portable knitting. And so instead of thinking “ten minutes of waiting time,” I think, “ten minutes of reading time.” And so I leave to arrive 10 minutes early, and whatever it is happens, and I arrive on time, and nobody is annoyed.

CMaz's avatar

That is a paradoxical question. One cant exist without the other.

lamedb's avatar

I am always late too-and I know that the story gets very thin after a while with people, and I feel very guilty about it. Especially when I think about how avoidable it can be. I don’t know if we should be as punishing to others about their tardiness-it takes some understanding to know that people feel guilty about being late, they know how it adversely affects them, and so extra punishment from a teacher, or other, is just being a bit blind.

I try to be understanding in both cases: clumsiness and lateness. I don’t really like ungraceful people, but I feel like they put enough pressure on themselves, without me being scolding or uptight about it.

As for chronic tardiness, I constantly have to remind myself that when I try to push the limits of my time, it is nearly impossible to be ‘on time’-you are more likely to be late or early, and when we shoot for being on time, well, we then become those people everyone expects to be late.

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