For some, it is relative concept that correlates to another dimension for others, a literal manifestation of pride and currency. Time is defined and embraced differently across diverse cultures and geographical locations. Take for instance, the image of Japanese railway staff bowing to passengers at the train station whenever their train fails to arrive on time as the testament of the value of time for the Japanese. Their stringent, almost robotic notion of efficiency is reflected strongly in their business etiquette, work ethics and services.
The average delay of the Japanese national bullet train fleet, otherwise known as the Shinkansen, is less than 60 seconds, even during natural disasters such as landslides and earthquakes. When doing business with the Japanese, it is a requirement to come at least 10 minutes before the agreed time as they deemed those who arrived right on the dot as disrespectful. In a profit-driven society such as the Americans, time is truly perceived like money. Hence the words that describe commodity such as ‘waste’ and ‘spend’ are often used to emphasis on the value of time. In a business setting the Americans uphold efficiency and strive to secure a business deal as soon as possible. Despite the seemingly overlapping emphasis on efficiency for the Japanese and the Americans, the Japanese values the establishment of bond of trust and understanding. Cultural values take precedence and the Japanese have no qualm about leaving a business deal if these matters are not respected. For the group of people with roots to ancient cultures and civilizations, such as the Arabs and the Indians, they seemed to view time in a cyclical manner. An activity or a series of activities fill up the time and taking up the time, no matter how long, to complete a task is considered normal. Anything that cannot be completed today, can always be completed tomorrow. The Spaniards and the Italians are also known to share the same attitude towards time.
Knowing the varying attitudes toward time across diverse cultures and geographical locations is crucial when interacting with them, regardless if it is in a business, corporate, government or personal setting. It is imperative in this highly-globalized world for people to broaden the horizon of their minds and attitudes when it comes to socialising with different people. Even within the Malaysian society, we tend to have a certain belief on how different segments put value on time. Most of them are rather negative and are not reflective of our nation’s struggles toward becoming truly developed by 2020. We are not a match to the Japanese when it comes to tardiness but it does not mean that we shouldn’t try to change the way we look at time. Time is valuable. Time is fleeting. As Muslims, we are encouraged to remind each other of our limited time on earth so we will race to do as much good as possible in this borrowed time. Managing ourselves properly; praying on time, completing our tasks before the due date, fulfilling promises and opening our hearts and minds to the customs and traditions of others are the many ways we can accord respect to ourselves and the people in our lives.