Why Be Punctual Or Late?

Oh dear, Oh dear, I shall be late! – Alice In Wonderland


A friend of mine sent me an e-mail recently in which he suggested that I “blog”  on the importance of being on time.

He included the following story, which I think is an appropriate beginning for this post.


Retirement Dinner Lesson

A Priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and to give a little speech at the dinner. However, he was delayed, so the Priest decided to say his own few words while they waited:

“I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss’s wife, taken illegal drugs, and did horrible things to close relatives. I was appalled. But as the days went on I learned that my people were not all like that and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people”…..

Just as the Priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and gave his talk:

“I’ll never forget the first day our parish Priest arrived,” said the politician. “In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession.”

Moral: Never, Never, Never Be Late


Why are some people regularly late for almost every scheduled appointment they have? You probably know, like I do, someone who has a reputation of showing up late for everything. Does such a person do it on purpose? Does such a person realize what s/he is doing?

My friend said that he thinks arrogance is what makes people late. Arrogance, because they feel they are important enough to waste the time of punctual people while they are late. He is not alone in thinking that arrogance plays a role in people who are habitually late. Toni Bowers, of TechRepublic, mentions it as one of the reasons late people are late. Having stated that, I suspect there is even more to it than the “undesirable” trait of arrogance.

Sometimes, there seems to be a cultural element to tardy behavior. Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist, made some interesting discoveries of key cultural factors, some of which speak directly to our tardiness issue. Not to oversimplify it, but he stated that there are at least two different ways that western cultures have paid attention to time. One “group” thinks about when things must be achieved and another thinks about what will be achieved. Our habitually tardy person might well fit into the latter group whereas, those of us who are concerned about “when” things must be achieved, are more apt to be punctual. Uhmmmm….

OK, so what are we to do?  What good is it for people to be tardy? How does it help to be tardy? Even, if it has cultural factors as “justification,” how does that help?

HELP! I can’t think of a question that has a reasonable answer in favor of tardiness.

What do you think?



6 Comments on “Why Be Punctual Or Late?”

  1. I appreciate this post as you know my life philosophy is that if you “ain’t early you are already late” . Regarding Mr Edward hall reasoning,

    “One “group” thinks about when things must be achieved and another thinks about what will be achieved. Our habitually tardy person might well fit into the latter group whereas, those of us who are concerned about “when” things must be achieved, are more apt to be punctual.”

    My personal experience tells me that the on time and early arrival folks are the ones that also make the “what” happen.

    I am hard pressed to find a good reason to be habitually late.


  2. So, are we trying to find a REASON for tardiness, or simply a justification/excuse? I am a terminally tardy person myself, so I am quite familiar with this debate.

    As such, I will list my own reasons for my frequent tardiness; all or most of which are “excuses” that can and will be easily scoffed at.

    1.) I am a person who prefers to live my life within a pattern of daily habit and routine; I prefer to encounter the same people, schedule, locations, etc. Going outside of my daily pattern — whether a family party or a work-related function — is uncomfortable to me and tends to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. Therefore, it gets put off and makes me late, if I show at all.

    2.) I am frequently responsible for more than just myself, in terms of “getting ready” for any scheduled event. This involves handling the logistics of partners and children….details such as who showers in what order, what people are wearing, if the needed items have been laundered or ironed, if we can find our shoes, etc. I find it ironic, yet completely expected that both the blogger (Ron) and the 1st respondent (Rich) are male, since in general terms, men are not typically responsible for anyone but themselves.

    3.) Living up to other people’s expectations can be a daunting task. What I mean by this is that social engagements are frequently set up to honor, benefit or otherwise celebrate a particular person, place or event. As such, invited guests should drop all other life issues in favor of the celebration. If one were to take the approach of the previous posts, that tardy person is “selfish” or “narcissistic”, I would like to present the argument that anyone who judges another for their tardiness may be guilty of their own accusation, since the event is then essentially “all about them” or their own motive.

    I appreciate the opinions presented by both of you, and took extra time reading them since I am of a different persuasion. The tardy and the punctual, can’t we all just get along? :)


  3. I want to thank both of you for the thoughtful responses and add a little more from my point of view.

    I am searching for reasons and not excuses. Most of the time, those that are tardy are excused. At least, that is my experience from work, play and in between.

    In general, realizing that I was not specific in my post, I am referring to tardiness for “events”, in which, all of those who are to attend, are needed for the success of the event. Therefore, most celebrations, parties, etc. are excluded from the focus of this posting. If the celebration, party, etc. is not specifically about you, then your tardiness is usually not causing those who are punctual to “sit around and do nothing” while they wait for you OR do the work you would have done, if you were there.

    Of course, it is impossible to ALWAYS be punctual. There are good reasons such as flat tires, illness, etc. that result in you being tardy. I was mainly referring to those who are habitually tardy. I have known many people who have earned a legitimate reputation of being tardy to almost every event.

    Recently, I was a member of a six-person team that had to meet daily, organize together for the day’s work and then perform the task at hand. One member of our team, a man, was habitually tardy and unprepared for the day. In the short time we worked together he gained the deserved reputation of being habitually tardy. After awhile, we learned to expect his tardiness and prepare without him, often times doing our share of the work along with his share. We did expect him to be with us, on time, and to “carry his load,” but if we waited for him, it would cause all of us to perform less than the quality expected of us.

    Again, I thank you so much for helping me think through this problem of tardiness.


  4. Pingback: Bloggers Bug – Get Bit By The Bloggers Bug » Blog Archive » Why Be Punctual Or Late?

  5. One reason I am late sometimes is that I don’t want to waste extra time planning for things that are out of my control. Things that might happen. For example, I am sometimes late for work because of a traffic jam, or it’s raining and people are driving slower, or my son needed extra time while getting dropped off at daycare, etc. But I have made an adjustment to help minimize the frequency of lateness – I start work at 9 am when most of the rush hour traffic is over. But, if I have a meeting scheduled, I put in the extra time to try to make sure I’m on time. I am fortunate enough to have a little flexibility at work. It’s about priorities and uncertainties. I’d rather not kill someone speeding and have time to give my son a good start to the day than to say “I’m always at my desk at 9 am sharp.” And since I’m allowed that luxury, I take it. But I don’t take advantage of it. I’m rarely more than fifteen minutes late, and if I am, I call my boss. If I show up fifteen minutes late, I stay at least fifteen minutes later than my usual quitting time. Now I could just leave a half-hour early each day, but I don’t want to waste that time just to get the “on-time” award. I guess it’s just a personal style – not really a question of right or wrong.
    Now when it comes to non-routine events, it’s about skills for me. Sometimes I overestimate my abilities and underestimate the time it will take to be timely. And other times it’s just over-scheduling and just plain taking on too many activities and commitments. But for me, it’s not about having ill feelings or lack of feelings towards other people and their time. And I’m proud to say that I’m not chronically tardy.
    The anecdote in the post was amusing, but as the anniversary of 9/11 is rolling around, I imagine one could easily come up with a perfect example of when it would be luckier to be late.
    If people are making you angry or stressing you out because of tardiness, I think you should deal with it somehow. Are your expectations too high? Have you discussed the problem with the chronically tardy – maybe they don’t know it bothers you? Have you tried trickery – tell them the event starts at 8:30 when it really starts at 9:00?
    It’s better to find out what’s really going on than to make assumptions. In my experience, I’ve come to realize that many things will not go as I have planned, so I try to be flexible and calm.
    But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.


  6. Thanks, Christine, for expressing your point of view. You gave me many suggestions on how to deal with tardiness. Some, I have already pursued and others, I will consider. Regarding “trickery,” I use that on myself in order to be punctual. :-)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: