Tag Archives: time

It only took 3,000 years…

It sounds like a joke, but 3,000 years is really very quick indeed, in fact the fastest genetic change ever observed in humans.  What am I talking about?

In the latest issue of Science, researchers comparing the DNA genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese found that it took only a few thousand years for Tibetans to develop gene mutations that enabled them to cope better with the high altitude, low oxygen environment they live in.

This is the random sort of information that I love, because it gets me thinking about time and our perception of it.  It’s a well-known fact that some cultures are more focused on immediate results and are short-term thinkers, while others prefer the long-term view.  But which culture would think 3,000 years is ‘incredibly fast’?  Oddly enough, it is the culture of science, if I am allowed that seeming contradiction in terms.

Science has progressed at such a rapid pace in the last century – and, in fact, seems to be accelerating every decade – that it feels strange that it should also be the one that thinks of 3,000 years as being extremely fast, or that our solar system is so young.  But scientists realise something that perhaps only parents are aware of:  you can’t rush nature.  You have to let things run their course and then, when it’s over, when the kids grow up or the gene has mutated, it feels like it was all over in a flash.

Meanwhile, economists, social scientists, managers and CEOs try to rush human nature.  It’s understandable – they want to see results now, not in 3,000 years.  But the short-term results may not be predictive at all of the long-term.

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Relax, You’re In Greece Now

If you’ve ever been on holiday in Greece (or any other Mediterranean country), you will know that time flows at a different pace here.  In fact, this is perhaps one of the most obvious cultural differences that people refer to when they go abroad, one that causes endless frustration, irritation and misunderstanding: Time. 
Boat

Sooo Laid Back I'm Sinking!

 

The contrast between Northern and Southern Europe, or between the US and the Middle East, is most obvious when it comes to concepts of time. In the US and UK, for example, time is a thief slipping through your fingers – it disappears all too
quickly, so you have to control it, constrain it and rigorously plan it.   I myself fall victim to this approach when I am in the UK, scheduling my days to the dot,  whiteboards and planners on my walls, juggling multiple complex projects and proudly ticking things off my ‘To Do’ list.  I even help others to work smarter, faster, better, to prioritise and so on, all the while yearning for a holiday in those places where time does not wield its whip.

In the Mediterranean region, time is regarded as abundant; people tend to follow natural seasonal rhythms. Punctuality is not as important because you savour the moment rather than always moving onto the next thing. Building relationships takes precedence over scheduling, so you will never tell a visitor that you don’t have time for them because you have to rush to your next appointment.

Despite the fact that I have married into a Greek family and that my own Latin culture is similar, it still takes me three days or so to settle into the Greek routine… or lack thereof! As we sit down for what seems another interminable conversation over coffee and cakes, I glance restlessly at my watch, only to be
told: “Relax! Where are you rushing off to? We’ve got plenty
of time …” And the unspoken criticism there is: “You have
lived in the UK for too long.”

All this is fine and I can talk for ages about monochronic vs. polychronic cultures, past vs. future orientation, long-term and short-term planning… but it still doesn’t help when it takes all morning to decide what we are going to do in the afternoon (in the end, we decided to do nothing).  Nor does it help explain why drivers in Athens always seem to be in a mad rush to get somewhere and are prepared to risk life and limb as well as police fines simply to move 5 metres ahead.

I just have to laught at the thought of ever conducting time management courses in Greece or in Romania – and yet a large proportion of young people in these countries have lived and worked abroad, or are even now working for foreign businesses.  They probably work longer and harder than many others in the UK, even if they don’t like it, even if it doesn’t fit well with their culture.  They perceive it as a necessary evil to get ahead and forge a career.

 But do we really have to make an ‘either/or’ choice?  Is the Anglo-Saxon model so much more effective than the laid-back approach?  Is this laid-back mentality to blame for Greece’s current economic difficulties (hint: don’t think so!).  Perhaps real effectiveness (as opposed to just efficiency) could be achieved by combining these different approaches to time.

When we are working on a tight deadline and need to complete a major project, we could all do with a single-minded focus and living only in the present. We should always be able to give our kids full attention, even while cooking and checking emails.  And every now and then we should quiet down our frenetic activities, give a voice to our inner thoughts and ask ourselves why.

It’s just my second day in Greece and I am still buzzing on my little wheels of illusory efficient superiority…  but ask me again in two days’ time and I will be watching the crickets climbing up the grass stalks and spending forever and a night debating all the world’s ills with friends. 

 Have a lovely Easter and don’t forget to relax!Easter eggs

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