Imagine you have a very full day, which may mean that in the 9 hours between 8 am and 5 pm, you might be scheduled to meet 10 people, so your day is heavy, to say the least. If you are late for your first appointment, or if the person you are meeting is late, then in all probability, both you and the person you are meeting are going to be late for the next meeting on your agendas.
Now don’t get hung up on details, this is just a mathematical game to illustrate the results of increasing numbers by a factor of two.
So now both of you are late. Supposing the two of you are late to meet two other people, one each, afterwards. This means that one late meeting will result in 2 late meetings (1 results in 2). Now because the resulting two meeting are also late 2 will result in 4 late meetings; then 4 late meetings will result in 8 late meetings – and it would be much, much worse if more than two people were involved in each meeting!
Let’s say that you have 10 meetings in a day with only one person per meeting, and all the other people have meetings with only one person per meeting, just to keep it simple. The number of delayed meetings will increase by a factor of two each time, which means that by the end of the day, your first meeting will result in 512 other meetings (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512) being delayed, disrupted or even cancelled (Obviously, a few cancellations might be a good thing to help people make up time).
I seldom wait more than 15 minutes for any appointment because I refuse to make the next people I am scheduled to meet late because I was unable to complete a previous appointment in time. I would rather suffer the inconvenience of seeking a new appointment than waste time waiting for people to see me, without any guarantee that they will see me in the first place.
Now my attitude might seem a little extreme, but that’s how I am. Punctuality is next to – well, you know what. Come to think about it punctuality is one of the many things I like about the Taiwanese: their passion for being on time. It really must be a sort of living hell for them to work here – especially with public servants who ought to wear calendars on their wrists instead of watches.
The Swedes love punctuality. Invite twenty people to your home for 7.15 and by 7.14 all 20 of them will be waiting outside in the street ready to ring your doorbell at precisely 7.15.
I know people are different, and we have to make allowances for different habits and customs, but I refuse to buy the St Lucian excuse that their tardiness, their disrespect for other people’s time is all part of their culture. It’s not true – some people are just damned lazy, inconsiderate and totally incapable of leading well-organized lives.
I have fond memories of one of our Taiwanese events at the Orchid Centre in Union. As usual, the Governor General was to attend, and as always she was on time. The prime minister of the time, a chronic latecomer, had not arrived. Dame Pearlette was merciless. Let the show begin, she ordered, or words to that effect, and the PM had to wait outside until he could sneak in – or perhaps he sneaked back to his office with his tail between his legs.
On another occasion I had waited a tad over my regular 15 minutes to see a government minister and decided to leave. His secretary was amazed, astounded and a little offended that I was not willing to wait. I got a call later the same day from the minister apologizing, and inviting me to another meeting the next day, which I attended. He was on time.
Well we chatted and chatted for over two hours. Every so often I tried to leave, expressing gratitude for all the time I was being given, but worrying about others who might be waiting to see the minister. He assured me that there was nobody waiting.
When I finally left, I had to pass the accusing glances and disgruntled visages of at least eight extremely unhappy supplicants, applicants and petitioners sitting in the waiting room under the ever watchful, somewhat gloating eye of a perfectly happy secretary, who apparently enjoyed nothing better than a nicely crowded, full waiting room to bear witness to how busy she was.