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The Tyranny of the Urgent Published: Sunday, March 5, 2006 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

A philosopher once said that understanding time alleviates problems with time. There is a distinction between clock time and lived time. The former is measured, and its steadiness depends on mechanisms external to the self. The latter is felt, experienced, perceived, lived and thus real in the more philosophical sense. The human-core approach to time management is, first, to know the difference between authentic and inauthentic experiences of time, and, second, to manage living time! The other day when I didn’t show up to a meeting a friend ask me what happened, and I answered it was an issue of inauthentic time. He didn’t understand…

A healthy sense of time is connected with other aspects of authenticity and forces us to deal with them, claiming our capacity for initiating action, insisting on alertness, maintaining perspective of always looking and seeing the total picture of reality. Such a sound attitude of time is a precondition for organizing life in every sense of the word, and keeping it that way. When healthy, the future is open in its realm of possibilities. When it becomes over structured and predictable, to the extreme of being frozen and rigid we are faced with doubt, obsession and compulsion. If the interpretation of a better future is totally blocked or closed there is no way to reach that condition. That is depression. The future can also be empty, bereft of the sense of consequence. Such an extreme uncertainty can lead people to feel no power over it, no sense of efficacy, no sense of self-esteem. The future then is not us, nor an extension or projection. We do not live in it and therefore do not feel responsible for it, and this is the key. Another consideration is how the future is related to the present. The future can be connected to the present. It can evolved out of the present, be caused by the present, or it can be disconnected, perceived not as caused by the present.

The past can be accessible, available, reachable, retrievable, usable, or inaccessible, unknown, unusable, or unused. It can be experienced as causing the present, as developing into the present, as unfolding into it. The past is valued as a learning experience, as producing the understanding of things we were able to achieved and for others for whom we have to look for a better way.

The present, when authentic, is experienced as both alertness and self-disclosure. It is a paradox of anxiety, guilt, freedom, power and decision. It is the source of action and new creations. But if the present is experienced as trance, sleep, denial, inaction and cowardice we are describing a psychology of impotency. The past provides historical energy to the present and the future provides creativity energy to it. If the present functions independently of its past and most of all of future opportunities, or disconnected from either, we bump into a fragmented entity. This is the foundation of an integrated being, institution or community in general.

Lived, subjective, or experienced time has a speed. If time passes slowly, it can mean boredom, an unpleasant task, pain, anxiety, or guilt. If it passes at a moderate speed, then it may mean satisfaction or indifference. But if time passes quickly, then there may be joy and intense happiness, entertainment or absorption, and regardless of hard work and even fatigue that is life meaning.

There is the immediate future. That covers tomorrow, the schedule of meetings, classes, assignments and calls. There is the mediate future, which refers to more distant matters as vacations, weddings, graduations, mayor tasks and projects. Then there is the distant future covering matters of life’s ambitions like a final education degree, a main promotion, or buying a house, raising a family or advancing a project for society. Finally there is the terminal future, which refers to the image of being a very old man or woman. There are at least three main working questions. Where are we? What are the implications? What happens if we change the focal point in our sense of time?

A clue: Feelings of hope, optimism, anxiety, guilt, depression and confusion are all connected to how we perceive time. As we change our sense of time, so we will change our moods and behaviors.


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