21 March 2006

How Do We Deal with the "Punctually-challenged?"

Jay posed the following question on the thread dealing with punctuality at Millennial Star, "I wonder what our response to the punctually challenged should be?" link to comment

That's a great question to ask, and it prompted the following thoughts:

I witnessed how one ward dealt with a wonderful sister who was beloved by all, despite her tendancy to be late to everything. Sister X was bright, faithful, beautiful, active, and had many admirable character qualities. But she was continually late. Always apologetic, but always late.

In a way, looking back on it, Sister X was indeed "punctually challenged;" and she was treated much you might treat someone with a physical or mental disablitiy. You love them, and try to help them to participate as fully as possible in ward activities. You alter arrangements at times to meet their needs, and you encourage everyone in the ward to show appreciation and compassion to the person in question. However, a ward doesn't do away with basketball because some members are in wheel chairs; or cease to use visual aids in classrooms because some members are blind.

The response of most ward members was to simply take her as she was, but, to try to minimize the negative effects of her lateness on others.

For instance, when I, as a new member of the ward, was slated to do something with Sister X, I was warned (with a smile) that she would probably arrive much later than the appointed time, because, despite all her wonderful qualities, she tended to run late. That prepared me to wait in patience, rather than become increasingly irritated. Those she visit taught, knew she would be late, so they scheduled her visits accordingly. If you invited her and her family to dinner, you planned to eat long after the appointed time. When Sister X was hosting a R.S. activity in her home, she was asked to leave her front door open so that sisters could go in even if she was still at the store purchasing items for the salad (which is what she was doing the time I attended the activity). Sometimes, however, there was really no way to accommodate her lateness—if she was giving a lesson, once every other possible part of the meeting had been taken care of, we simply had to wait for her to show up.

As much as possible, individuals made allowances for her. And, although meetings, activities, dinners--in short, any communal activity--always started without her, as far as I could tell, she received no reproach in word or look when she finally arrived. Everyone liked her, and enjoyed being around her.

I find it rather sad, however, that Sister X missed out on so many things, and experienced so much unnecessary stress. And that so many people were so needlessly accommodating. Because being “punctually challenged” is not a real disability. It’s just a bad habit.

Some "Why?"s and "How?"s of Punctuality

I really liked Tanya Spackman's post on Millennial Star entitled"Punctuality as Part of the Pathway to Perfection." In response I wrote the following comment:

Thanks for this post, Tanya. IMO, punctuality really is an important trait to develop. Many years ago, I either read, or heard the following: "When you are late, the situation controls you; when you are early, you control the situation." This made sense to me, and I changed the way I did some things so that I could usually arrive early for meetings.

In the early years of my husband’s business career, he used to rush to the airport at the last minute when he had a business trip. Bad traffic usually meant that he was very agitated at every traffic delay, and increasingly worried that he might end up missing his plane. At some point his father mentioned that when he traveled, he always left about half an hour early, and took a book along to read once he was seated at the gate. My husband immediately changed his travel routine, and found it made a huge difference in reducing his stress level.

You wisely said,” Accept that things will take longer than you currently think they will take, and allow for that longer length of time." That is so true, and yet some of us tend to seriously underestimate how long it really takes to get out the door, get everyone belted in the car, and drive to the chapel. If we actually time those things, we can then add an appropriate number of extra minutes for taking care of last minute baby messes, finding lost shoes, hitting every light “red”, etc. It we don't add some extra minutes, we only make to church on time when there are no last minute crises, and we hit every light "green!" Of course, this scenario only works when your children are young enough for you to control. Getting teenagers out the door at the time you have set is a whole different proposition! :)

Later I posted another comment, partly in response to Geoff B's comment which mentioned that his wife, serving as activities' coordinator in a Miami ward, had taken to announcing a start time an hour earlier than the true start time, so most people would arrive at the true start time. He also said that their stake events always started on time. Here is my second comment:

Geoff B, I too have lived in Latin America; and I have seen that the leadership of a ward or stake can really make a difference. You mentioned that your stake meetings start on time, and that is great. In places where the culture essentially smiles on arriving late, I have occasionally seen a ward, or even an entire stake, where members managed to develop the punctuality habit. Instead of 25% of the congregation arriving on time, it was closer to 85%.

I can fully sympathize with your wife, but telling people an incorrect earlier starting time could be a bit dicey. It could be seen as reinforcing the cultural predilection to justify being dishonest in order to please people and/or get what you want. Also, in my experience, people eventually catch on to the deception, and readjust their arrival time accordingly. ;) I bet your wife can find a clever way to motivate your ward members to change their habits!

A personal example: When called as YW president in a Latin American ward many years ago, I was told that weekday Mutual was scheduled at 7:00 p.m., but since everyone arrived late, they usually couldn’t start until about 7:30 p.m. I convinced the YM president to help us change things. We put the word out that starting next week, we actually would start promptly at 7:00 p.m., and we did. As I recall there were only three of us there on time (some of the leaders were late, too!); but we had an opening hymn, prayer and announcements, and then stood in the foyer to direct the youth to their classes when they arrived. There were some very shocked leaders and youths that first night: “Opening exercises are OVER?!?” The word got around, and eventually almost everyone started arriving on time.

Unfortunately, I have also seen a very punctual U.S. ward (almost everyone in place a few minutes prior to the appointed time for Sacrament Meeting) change to one where the vast majority of the congregation arrived late--and this after just a few weeks of watching the new bishop always enter the chapel late, and noticing that the meeting never started before five minutes past the hour.

Some of us are perhaps too preoccupied with arriving early; some of us are chronically late; but I think most of us go with the flow. If our leaders make it clear (through words and actions) that they think it important to start and end meetings on time, we will usually try to follow their lead. If our leaders are habitually late, or seemingly heedless of scheduled times, we may cease to see punctuality as a priority, and become more and more lackadaisical and discourteous in our personal behavior.

I truly hope that in the Church we can strongly encourage punctuality, extolling its virtues as an ideal to aim for, while still always remaining compassionate [as Mary Seiver recommended in comment #5] towards those who, for whatever reason, sometimes (or even always) arrive late. :)