Raw Concepts: Fluid Time Perspective

I want to take the time to clarify an earlier raw concept, that of future-orientation, where I discussed the marshmallow experiment.

Many people may read that and think it’s a blanket endorsement for being future-oriented over being past and present-oriented at all times, but it’s not. Consider these videos:

What’s important is not to be consistently future-oriented, consistently present-oriented or consistently past-oriented, but rather to

  1. have a good balance between all three time orientations,
  2. be fluid and flexible enough to switch back and forth at will, depending on which orientation is best suited for the current situation,
  3. and know when to apply your time-orientation optimistically or negatively

For example, Westerners tend to be very judgmental of cultures that value present-orientation, or hedonism and immediate gratification, over future-orientation, but there are actual pros to present-orientation and cons to future-orientation that must be considered.

Remember, for example, the oft-repeated phrase: No one ever lay on their deathbed and said “I wish I spent more time at the office.” That saying is a warning to people who are overly future-oriented to take the time to enjoy their present surroundings, to make the most out of their current relationships. When interacting with loved ones, family and community, present-orientation is very important.

Or let’s say you’re facing certain death, as you slowly die from a terminal disease. In such a case, is being future-oriented preferable? You’ll just be dwelling on your upcoming death when instead you could be acting present-oriented by enjoying the moments you have left with your loved ones or acting past-oriented by reminiscing on happier times.

Westerners often judge other cultures harshly because they consider them too past-oriented enough, while many other cultures find Westerners neurotic, chronically unhappy and unable to enjoy their surroundings by stopping to smell the flowers because they’re overly future-oriented.

It’s the age old Hobbes vs. Rousseau debate. If both sides took the time to consider the pros and cons of each approach, then engaged in priority analysis to see how those pros and cons matched up with each culture’s priorities, they’d be much less judgmental  and have more empathy toward each other.

As I’ve said before, the inability to understand and respect priorities of others leads to a lack of empathy and gets you focused more on the less important differences that separate us at the expense of  basic and more profound similarities that link us all. And this lack of empathy and increased focus on irrelevant differences in turn lead to pathologies, such as neurosis, narcissism and superiority complexes, both on an individual and collective level.

Recommended Reading:

The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life by Philip Zimbardo.