“The measured or measurable period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues; duration; a continuum which lacks spatial dimensions and which events succeed one another from past to present to future; the point or period when something occurs.” Webster’s Dictionary
As a child I always wondered why adults where so concerned about time, yet when I asked what that was everyone looked at me as if I was either a genius or a dolt. I know more now than back then so I don’t consider myself either a genius or a dolt; however, back then I didn’t really understand what time actually is. The above definition just didn’t do it for me; it told me it can be measured, but that it has no spatial dimensions; it references past, present and future as periods of time, but not as to what time is.
Actually the answer as to what time is depends on the subject involved. If you were to ask why someone is spending time asking the question what time is, then it could be answered with a question as to what is being spent? However, the initial question is a fair one, especially since people either dismiss it or obsess about it, but never really can say why they do either. Regardless what subject is involved, what we do know about time is that we have devised a way to measure it, and with the exception of ignorant people, we know it has value. Measuring it tells us how much time there is or has been, but its value is subjective as all values are.
Aristotle’s Law of Identity includes the simple concept that nothing can both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same respect. So time can be a specific occurrence, but in the context of identity what something is at any one time never changes, which in effect makes time irrelevant to identity. On the other hand Aristotle defines time as a number of changes with respect to the past and the future, that time has a dimension that can be calculated. Then we have Einstein, who said that time is relative and flexible, and the dividing line between past, present and future is an illusion as reality is ultimately timeless. Einstein also famously said that “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”; thanks Albert, nothing like clarity and consistency to confuse us lesser minds. Like I said, I’m no genius, so as to define time according to either Aristotle or Einstein as a useful concept for everyday life for us mere mortals really doesn’t do it for me.
All things in the human story didn’t, as Albert said, happen at the same time, but as time is the most import thing in the human story, we ought to be able to understand what it actually is in the sense of what it means for our lives. Well there was a man who gave us that, and he remains my favorite American sage, good old Ben Franklin; well not old anymore as he’s been dead for quite some time now, but he was really good at cutting to the quick with common sense and obvious insights. “Remember that time is money.” is a famous proverb that I doubt most Americans know is from good old Ben; he has a corollary to that with “Lost time is never found again.”
I may never be able to grasp what Einstein understood time to be, or Aristotle’s existential meaning in the law of identity, but I get where Ben is coming from because everyone spends their lives trying to make a living, and the time we put into that comes to us as money, i.e. as a value we trade for by giving the time of our lives to get it. Some of us get more value for our time than others, but as time is our true currency and each day has the same account of time, we all have that one same thing in common; the difference is what we do with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Aristotle or an Einstein, if you don’t value your time, why should anyone else?
In a common sense context, the value of time is an essential thing we need to understand as a civil society. The greatest fallacy of our age is to waste, or allow to be wasted, time on unnecessary and extraneous efforts based on political motivations; that this is happening with increasing frequency and intensity has led American society away from a civil, harmonious and more productive way of life. The American people in the past had more in common than now as they were focused on their livelihood and less so on things that did not serve to its benefit; this focus included the educational development of their children, on the reality of having to spend the time to learn the skills and knowledge necessary for a productive life. Education was valued as a way for the next generation to have a better time than the previous one. It’s vital that the time spent on education is used this way; as a famous coach by the name of John Wooden once said “If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”
Now education is more about how to make others use their time to someone else’s benefit; hardly a way toward a more civil society or a productive use of time. So when we hear such ignorant platitudes like “Money isn’t everything.” or “Money is the root of all evil.”, understand that what is being so mindlessly dismissed is actually the time in our lives. That it takes time to create value should not be a difficult concept for anyone to grasp. What we do with that time is to expend mental and/or physical effort in order to achieve a purpose or result which has value. When a thief steals from us, what they are actually taking is the time of our lives that created the value they’re stealing. It doesn’t matter if that thief is a burglar, a swindling financier or a corrupt politician, the result is the same.
As Ben Franklin said, time can’t be replaced; as it passes, so does the opportunity to gain those things that make the time we have of more value. The greater value we place in the time we have, the more value we will gain from the time we give. The only regret we should have when our time is up is hopefully not what we did, but more about what we didn’t have more time to do.