Archive for the ‘Time in Different Cultures’ Category
Robert Levine – A Geography of Time
The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently
(…) As Miles Davis said, “Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” How we construct and use our time, in the end, defines the texture and quality of our existence. To seize control over the structure of one’s time is my own definition of what it means, as it is said in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to avoid “devoting thyself to the useless doings of this life.” And that, more than anything, is what I have taken away from my studies of the time senses of other cultures. Borrowing again from Russell Banks’s image of Hawthorne’s Wakefield: I had moved out of my house and this is what appeared when I looked back to “see what’s true there.” Simply that. (…)
In each country, we went into one or more of the major cities in order to measure three indicators of the tempo of life.
First, we measured the average walking speed of randomly selected pedestrians over a distance of 60 feet.
The second experiment focused on an example of speed in the workplace: the time it took postal clerks to fulfill a standard request for stamps. In each city, we presented clerks with a note in the local language requesting a common stamp—the now standard 32-center in the United States, for example. They were also handed paper money—the equivalent of a $5 bill. We measured the elapsed time between the passing of the note and the completion of the request.
Third, as an estimate of a city’s interest in clock time, we observed the accuracy of 15 randomly selected bank clocks in main downtown areas in each city. Times on the 15 clocks were compared to those reported by the phone company.
The three scores for each country were then statistically combined into an overall pace-of-life score.
We can speculate about the direction of causality between the tempo of life and economic conditions. Most likely, the arrow points both ways. Places with active economies put greater value on time, and places that value time will be more likely to have active economies. Economic variables and the tempo tend to be mutually reinforcing; they come in a package.
It is one of the great ironies of modern times that, with all of our time-saving creations, people have less time to themselves than ever before. Life in the Middle Ages is usually portrayed as bleak and dreary, but one commodity people had more of than their successors was leisure time. Until the Industrial Revolution, in fact, most evidence suggests that people showed little inclination to work. In Europe through the Middle Ages, the average number of holidays per year was around 115 days. It is interesting to note that still today, poorer countries take more holidays, on the average,than richer ones.
Our results confirmed the hypothesis: greater individualism was highly related to faster tempos.
How we define and measure our time does, in fact, border on the religious. And people do not change religions lightly.
Since our own study found a very strong relationship between economic vitality and the pace of life, we hypothesized that this should also lead to a positive relationship between the pace of life and happiness. And this is exactly what we found: in all of our pace-of-life experiments, people in faster places were more likely to be satisfied with their lives.
It is in the middle ground between too much and too little pressure that people enter the experience, described in an earlier chapter, called “flow.” When Csikszentmihalyi kept tabs on people by having them wear beepers, asking them at frequent intervals what they were engaged in and how good they felt, the most positive reports came when people were in moderately challenging activities that engaged their skills. People doing too many things at once tended to be overstressed. But those who were doing nothing at all experienced little sense of flow and little pleasure. Many contemporary psychologists believe the flow experience is an important key to a happy and satisfying life. Studies have shown that flow experiences are not only exhilarating but empowering: they raise self-esteem, competence, and one’s overall sense of well-being.
My own studies, we have seen, point to the mixed consequences of a rapid pace of life. People in faster environments are more prone to potentially deleterious stress, as evidenced by higher rates of coronary heart disease; but they are also more likely to achieve a comfortable standard of living and, at least in part because of this, are more satisfied with their lives as a whole.
Download the full pdf here. (C) 1997 Robert Levine All rights reserved.
(received 12.07.2013 at http://www.cycle-planet.com/paleo/AGeographyofTime.pdf)
(…) For the Chinese, quite a lot of concepts have a circular nature. One clear example is time: the same things happen again and again. History is circular and not lineal like in the West. The best example is the history of China which can be summarized as the continuous succession of the following four stages: “arrival of a new dynasty”, “dynasty at its height”, “decline of the dynasty”, “China in chaos” and start back again. Note that this circular pattern cannot be easily applied to the history of western civilizations.
Another clear example is human relations understood as a continuous exchange of favors or services among people. In China, the idea of doing something for somebody else in exchange of nothing is less common than in the West. The reason is that the favor is circular and it has to come back to the person who did it. For example, at work in China, if a colleague or business partner helps you in something, he understands that he is developing an important link with you and that he will have the right to ask for a favor back in the future. The favor has to come back to him because it is circular. (…)
Pedro on Globthink 14.01.2010: http://globthink.com/2009/06/10/chinese-working-culture/ (sorry, broken link.).
After hours of fruitless discussions if there is a God in Buddhism, I found a nice approach of an Anglican priest towards Eastern religions. Bishop Spong reflects the so called “theistic” definition of God in the Mosaic religions (Jewish, Christian and Muslim).
(…) Western religion has regularly and consistently defined God in theistic terms. That is, God is perceived as an external being, supernatural in power, who periodically invades the world in miraculous ways to establish the divine will or to answer our prayers. Eastern religion in general, but Buddhism in particular, does not define God in theistic terms. That has caused some westerners to refer to Buddhism as an “atheist” religion. Well, it is, but only in the sense that “atheist” means “not theist.” It does not mean that there is no sense of God in Buddhism. Language is our problem. The theistic definition of God is so total in the western world that the word “atheism” has come to mean that there is no God. Theism is a human definition of God and, as such, is destined to die like all human definitions do in time. Theism is not God. (…)
Bishop Spong Q&A 28.01.2010 http://www.johnshelbyspong.com
For more info about different conceptions of time please click here.
Bert Hamminga – The Western versus the African Time Concept – referring to John S. Mbiti (African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann 1969)
The difference between the Western mechanical and African emotional time consciousness is a highly instructive one: it explains a lot of intercultural differences and problems of intercultural contact in any kind of business. Of course, also Westerners experience emotional time. Important events in your life, say a new job in another town, a marriage, a baby “mark” your past in that some things will later be experienced as before or after this or that important event. The typical holiday experience is that after a few days you feel you left home ages ago, while upon return it feels you just left. In waiting for something time “goes slowly”, in hurrying for something time “goes fast”. The difference between Western and African time consciousness is that a Westerner asks: “when did your grandfather die”. The answer is “15 years ago”. The African asks “When was 15 years ago”. And the answer is “When your grandfather died”. What is the difference? That is far less obvious than it seems at first sight.
Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) writes her young Kikuju cook: “His memory for recipes was awesome. He could not read en did not know English, so cookbooks had no value to him, but he piled up everything ever taught to him, with the help of his own system that I never got hold on, in his unattractive head. He named the diverse dishes after some event on the day he had learned to make them, so he spoke of the sauce of the ‘lightning that struck in the tree’, and the sauce of ‘the grey horse that died'”.
The African interpretation of time starts thus: events occur in some order: there is “before” and there is “after”. In African languages, there is a number of tenses that indicate roughly “how much” before, and how much after. There usually is a tense for “at that time”, for “after that”, for “a considerable time after that”, and “a very long time after”. That does not sound strange to a Westerner. He also has such rough ideas on events. But the Westerner’s clock and calendar gives him the option of filing the event as having occurred at a certain numerical date-time. The Westerner deems that more “precise”. He wants to have trains running on schedule and fly to the moon. Africans have different aims in life. They want to “live” their own way. Traditionally, Africans have no concept of historical progress: in every life of every person the same happens. There is no thrive to change things. They have another idea of preciseness: emotional preciseness. The past is a chain of events. It has its places that are marked in memory, just as when you travel far through an unknown area. You will remember the river crossed, the mountain pass climbed. In time, you remember your eldest brother getting his first child, your great grandfather dying, your harvest spoiled by torrential rains, a war. Those are the tops of the “hours” in the memory of the African. Between them are the minor events as “minutes”. Westerners would say these hours do not have equal length. Africans are not interested at all in such considerations. By talking and passing over history orally to one another, they cut themselves a wooden past that feels like a comfortable place well connected to the present. A history to rest upon comfortably. Not so Westerners, who run puffing after the time they created to be their master! The kind of conversational context in which you create and pass over to younger generations the history in a time framework in which history itself is the “clock”, is dubbed “Zamani” (an abstraction of a Kiswahili concept) by Mbiti.
About “cardinal” and “ordinal”: if you count things you use cardinal numbers (like money, tanks and Western time). You use ordinal numbers if you merely want to indicate where (between which other things) units have their place in a succession (like the ranking in a competition and African time). Thus, cardinal numbers you can meaningfully add and substract, ordinal numbers no not carry such meaning (rank number 2 and 3 in a competition are not “together 5”).
Mbiti tells: Waiting for the start of a play by the Ebonies in Jinja, I met a Ugandan sister who just returned from her first visit to London. I asked her: one Ugandan week, how many London weeks would it be. She immediately understood my question, did not think long and said: six. This would have tremendous consequences: it means that in one week’s hard work, a Ugandan suffers six times as much as a Londoner. If he is free for one week, he enjoys six times as much than a Londoner. If the number six would be a reasonable estimate, which I would be inclined to think, it would be very irrational for a Ugandan to work as hard as a Londoner, especially when you add that the Londoner feels sure about the future enjoyment of his working results and to the Ugandan the future is very unsure and hypothetical.