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Monday 20 November 2017
Commentary

Re-setting the Clock

In films about time travel, what stands out is the focus on changing the way things are by changing the past. This idea of time should resonate with us in Trinidad.

The Back to the Future Trilogy was perhaps one of those iconic films in American cinema that, for me, set the stage for the other films that would come afterwards–Looper, Déjà vu, Edge of Tomorrow, The Time Traveller’s Wife and most significantly in my mental world, The Butterfly Effect–in no specific order.

The public’s preoccupation with time is evident in circumstances like: the different ways in which we treat the memory of the dead; the way that we plan for our future; and the decisions that we make in our day to day living. In a large number of films about time travel, what stands out is the focus on changing the way things are by changing the past.

This idea of time should resonate with us even here in Trinidad. We often describe Trinidadian society as a society based on a Carnival mentality. In our own way, we acknowledge, in that statement, our own people’s relationship to time; a relationship that is, to a large part, hedonistic. “We have only the present,” it says, “So let’s make the most of it. Forget about the future. The people there will take care of themselves.”

To take this even further, retirement ages, pensions and insurance policies are just a few examples of how societies organise themselves around this subjective notion of time. But order we must, for the society must function–so we say–yet, in our national attitudes to growth and development, planning and spending, there seem to be a glitch in time.

Last week, I came upon a very interesting passage on time perspective that sent me looking for literature on the subject.

The most I could have found was one video presentation and an article that basically reiterated that passage.

Consider this: “Happiness and success are rooted in a trait most of us disregard: the way we orient toward the past, present and future,”–Psychologist, Philip Zimbardo www.ted.com, The Psychology of Time.

Basically, we make decisions based on how we perceive time. Time perspective varies across cultures, individuals, educational background and so forth.

This orientation is an unconscious one, Zimbardo suggests. And because of our individual and cultural orientation, for instance, they also become biased because they become that one way of seeing the world. Note that a lot of our decision-making and priorities stem from our experience of the world, in which time perspective is an intrinsic part.

There are, as Zimbardo suggests, six–the passage spoke only of five–different ways of orienting time:

Past positive and past negative. Those classifications are self-explanatory. Present hedonistic — focus on the now and enjoying the now; present fatalism — we are not in control of our lives; future — goal oriented; and future transcendental — life after death. In any one individual, one or two of these may take prominence over the others and decisions are made based on whichever orientation takes more precedence.

Therefore, the future goal-oriented person sacrifices relationships and recreational time for instance, for what he perceives as working towards a larger goal, while the present hedonistic might save for nothing because life is short. Zimbardo’s argument is there must be a balance between them all for optimum health and success.

Understanding these classifications is important to acknowledging the part they play in our relationships with each other and the way in which we understand other cultures.

The Chinese approach to time for instance versus the Trinidadian approach to it, will be important to the way in which we do business. I remember a diplomat’s wife finding it difficult to get accustomed to the Trinidadian now-for-now plans for concerts and other cultural events while in their country, concerts and events for the next year (let’s assume it’s 2018) are planned by October of the present year (2017). This allows for proper allocation of funds and sourcing of funds as well, in addition to a more coherent national cultural calendar. The economic situation in which Trinidad finds itself today, the excessive flooding, the proposed highway to Manzanilla and the other schemes in the pipelines that will be presented to the public in time makes me wonder, what is the Government’s orientation? And I wonder, given that our lives are not a Hollywood set and there’s no time machine that’s taking us back to the future or the past, and no headaches (The Butterfly Effect) that allow us to time travel–except of course, the headache of the two party system–how exactly do we reorient the clock?

What sort of leader would it take to change the current orientation and create a more balanced time perspective?

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