This ran across my mind when I saw not one, but two four-wheel drives braving through muddy, rocky terrains in the heart of this well-developed township, while others could only look with envy. It was almost as if Amazing Race was happening right next to me!
Don’t get it? Let me explain.
On the right of the two huge automobiles, was a long after-work queue at a roundabout I use everyday to go home. It’s a busy roundabout, but not difficult to use. But it has always been to my amusement that no one could ever follow the correct lanes prior to entering and exiting the roundabout. That is why it’s always a crawl, even if you’re making a 9 o’clock exit. So one Hilux decided he couldn’t wait any longer, and decided to get off the evenly-tarred road and onto the muddy, uneven grassy ground on the left to jump the queue. Not too far ahead, another jeep decided to follow suit. They could even manoeuvre their way around the road signs just to get by! To top it off, mud splashed from the sides of their tyres onto other cars along the way. I was lucky those two trucks started in front of me, but it peeved me nonetheless.
The reason behind this circus act and the daily unnecessary jams we see everyday is the same – everybody thinks their time is more important than others. Long queue at the traffic light? No problem! Just get off the lane, go all the way to the front and cut right back in when the light turns green! You’re at a crossroads, and the traffic light is not working. And suddenly it’s everybody’s right of way. A car is having a hard time leaving his parking because the other car couldn’t wait for his turn and is hogging all the free space! Everyone is trying to get ahead of everybody. That is why two lanes become three, then four, then five and then suddenly a bloody bottleneck appears at the end of a junction.
This happens when we lack respect for time. Yes, time in general. Not our time. In fact, we have plenty of respect for our own time, but couldn’t be bothered with what time means to others. Sure, we could be making more money, but someone else could be saving a life. We could be late for an important meeting, but someone could be late for his own wedding.
And sometimes, even when we’re not late, not busy, and not in a hurry for anything at all, we catch ourselves still trying to get ahead. How many of us actually overtake the car in front of us, speed pass and throw a look at the fella as if obeying the speed limit is a crime just because we can?
When we don’t respect time, it leads to more than just frustration on the road.
We Malaysians are well-known for having our clocks adjusted half an hour ahead of the real time. I often hear people saying this with pride, “In Malaysia, being half an hour late means being on time.” Let me say this, it is such mentality that is holding back progress. It is such mentality that is causing all the unnecessary congestion on the road because we put ourselves in unnecessary rush. Sure, we can’t change our lousy road systems (which, by the way, is way better than most countries) or the fact that there are too many cars on the road – but we can change the time we wake up and leave the house. I salute my friends who wake up especially early in the mornings and clock-in to work way ahead just so they can avoid the morning rush hour. To those who have larger obligations that prevent them from doing so (kids going to school, etc), I’m sorry you have to face such terror.
When we are selfish about our own time, we make others feel insignificant and disrespected. Bad habits such as making last-minute changes despite having ample time to make arrangements, or even last-minute information despite having already made early changes doesn’t make you look like a boss. In fact, it makes you lose credibility and respect from those who have been at the end of your selfishness. And being the self-centered person that you already are, you don’t get why people get mad over such “small matters”.
Have I painted a clear picture of a very unhappy, frustrated world stemming from just the missing element of respect?
I have my impatient moments too, a trait that I’m trying to fix. When a car overtakes me I just laugh it off and assume he’s taking his pregnant wife to the hospital for delivery. And I try to be accountable for the things I do, and the people around me. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m trying to be better.
Because I only have 24 hours a day, and so do others.
There’s no ruler that can measure how full our lives are, but if it’s filled with irresponsibility, impatience, negligence, lack of respect and full of frustration… I say that kind of life is pretty empty.