Friday, November 20, 2009

Comments on "Late" Article

More from the comments section of the "Sorry I'm Late" piece in the Chronicle. A comment, and my response (yes, I am going all Don Boudreaux on you. But at least my "letter" got published, even if only in a comments section):

62. consideritdone - November 19, 2009 at 07:09 pm

I'm fascinated by this thread in part because I am among the chronically late and have tried various techniques to remedy this habit, with uneven success. I recognize that some people choose to find my lateness a personal affront, and perceive that I value my time more than theirs. This is not the case.

I'm not late because I hate waiting. That has nothing to do with it. I am late because I overcommit, because I underestimate how long tasks will take, because I am a workaholic, and especially because few meetings that I attend actually begin at the appointed hour. Given the choice of arriving early or "on time" and doing some pre-meeting socializing (which can be valuable and fun, too) or finishing the sentence I am writing, I will almost always choose the latter. Then I arrive after the appointed hour. This might be late, or it might be "on time" if on time is defined as the actual moment at which the meeting begins. I never know in advance which outcome will come to pass. (So maybe I am often late because I am a gambler?)

My point is that the variability of actual start times compared to "advertised" start times contributes to lateness. In my town, there is a certain theater that begins movies after the advertised start time when there are still a lot of people in line to get tickets. I imagine they think they are being polite. What they are doing is training their patrons to be late. (And some of us need no assistance with this, as I've confessed.)

I'd suggest that in Mr. Munger's academic culture, the norm is that meetings do not begin at the appointed hour, yet he has not adapted to this reality; he expects punctuality. Meeting organizers have the most control in these situations. If you're in charge and punctuality matters to you (a value not everyone shares), start on time and don't do anything to accommodate latecomers.

63. mcmunger - November 20, 2009 at 08:17 am--Dear Consideritdone:

Wow. A poster child. Everyone who is chronically late makes it seem as the late person is someone better, even noble. YOU, unlike everyone else, are busier, a workaholic.

I hope you don't teach logic, though. First, you claim "I'm not late because I hate waiting. That has nothing to do with it."

And then you IMMEDIATELY say that you are usually late "especially because few meetings that I attend actually begin at the appointed hour." In other words, you hate waiting!

You are not a workaholic; you are simply inefficient and self-absorbed. That's fine; most of us are (I certainly am). One has to be, in fact, to be a successful academic and live mostly inside one's own head. And I'm sure you are in fact a terrific scholar. Perhaps we are making too much of this whole "late" thing; it's not that big a deal.

But I should note the following:

1. Most meetings DO start at the appointed hour, at Duke. But they start without important people (like YOU, consideritdone!) who are socializing, or writing one more sentence.

2. None of your reasons for being late involve unexpected events. You are NOT a Platonic Traveller. You are in fact intentionally and habitually late, as a matter of policy. That makes sense to me, and I applaud you for it. Many meetings are a waste of time, and you can show everyone else how important you are by arriving late.

My complaint, in the little article, is about people who arrive late, ALWAYS arrive late, and then make an excuse. The fact is that they left home, or their office, AFTER THE MEETING WAS SUPPOSED TO START. They are not sorry, in short. They are late on purpose, and won't admit it, even to themselves.

Consideritdone, you are honest and self-aware. I applaud you.


Shawn said...

backhanded complimenters take note: here is your north star.

Anonymous said...

You guys would have loved being in the army. Now that my silly army stint is over, I have an advantage over others. Massive fear of being late because the consequences have been totally insane relative to the actual infraction.

Eric H said...

You know you're dealing with a jerk when you hear:

"I'm sorry I'm late, but I left late..."

Tom said...

"I will bring fresh baked cookies to the meeting, to be shared during the first five minutes only."