Woodrow Wilson once said, "You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."
I have always cringed at our general attitude towards time. Through life, I have become accustomed to a phrase, "Ghana time." Many defend this phrase so fiercely that, they have default justifications for why they ought to be late. Any attempt to list all the reasons might take the zeal out of the faint hearted. We have become a people who are unable to stick to specifics as a result. Some even find the minority of Ghanaians who list punctuality as part of their body chemistry repulsive and annoying. To them, this is a behaviour vested in the colloquial phrase, "too known."
I have for a while tried to understand why especially in the West, Ghanaians will manage to be punctual to work, not miss flights etc. but would turn up late to a Ghanaian organized function under the guise of "Ghana time?" Some have also argued that "One of the main reasons for the continuing underdevelopment of our country is our nonchalant attitude to time and the need for punctuality in all aspects of life. The problem of punctuality has become so endemic that lateness to any function is accepted and explained off as 'African time."
Considering that we all agree that this attitude is impacting negatively on our developmental trajectory, I would try in this note to identify some of the barriers that mitigate against the elimination of this societal cancer. As the saying goes, "charity begins at home." Therefore, it can be argued that the absence of a sense of punctuality in us can be traced to our individual homes. Many of us have become accepting for example of the fact that getting children ready is a justifiable reason for being late to functions. Try as one may argue that others with the same parental burden manage to respect time, reason upon reason will be adduced as to why in our case this is impossible. The default position then becomes that the children also become accepting of this attitude and turn out to be time averse. Consequentially, we transfer this irritating pathology to the next generation without knowing.
It is interesting however that, many schools operate strict timelines which are met by these same parents and children without a single complaint, though they return to their default the minute their children return form school. I remember my days in Adisadel College and the fact that the rising bell sounded at 4:45 am with classes starting at 7:10 am. Almost all students were able to adhere to these times and went through their years on the Hill as very punctual individuals. I am aware that this pertained to many other schools in those days. Yet, years after leaving secondary school the default to disrespect time manages to return as though all those years never instilled anything in us. A visit to certain offices or a meeting with old school mates may leave a lump in one's throat due to the total absence of punctuality.
We seem to be accepting of a certain cognitive dissonance where we are all aware that a lack of time management is one of the main negative drivers of our nation's failure to achieve transformational development and attract inward investment but are unwilling to change our attitudes and behaviours. Some even argue that a failure to lack punctuality will be inconsistent with being Ghanaian, a position many find revolting.
I believe the time to address the issue of punctuality is now. Many in the private sector have already put measures in place that ensure that employees turn up to work on time and have reaped significant benefits. The public sector needs to follow the trend and begin to exact action on recalcitrant public servants. To do this would require the leadership of these organizations to learn to be punctual themselves. As parents, we need to begin reorienting our children and to inculcate in them an understanding that punctuality is the soul of business. Punctuality needs to be the norm and not the exception.
I do accept that as much as possible the quest to improve our punctuality should be done with an eye on reducing dissonance and creating disaffection. However, I am at a loss as to how this can be achieved, considering that these attitudes and behaviours span a number of generations. I am not sure if acquiring new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs on our attitude to time will help. I also think that the entrenchment of these beliefs is such that even with overbearing information, the majority would choose to bury their heads in the sand and argue that their inability to be time conscious has little or no effect on their productivity.
As a result, I am left to opine that the only way to restore a sense of punctuality is to resort to the principles of Forced Compliance Behaviour. Forced compliance occurs when an individual performs an action that is inconsistent with his or her beliefs. The behaviour can't be changed since it was already in the past, so dissonance will need to be reduced by re-evaluating their attitude to what they have done. The onus to be punctual will then be placed on the Ghanaian as a responsibility of which failure to comply would have repercussions. The enforcement will have to be in place until our attitude towards time management changes. We would not be able to eliminate this societal deviation if we approach it with soft gloves. Attitudes, like people turning up for work late and having fellowships and prayer meetings long after work should have commenced, should be frowned upon and disciplinary action taken against repeated offenders if need be. Salary deductions or even loss of annual leave time could be applied as a first step in an attempting to reclaim time lost.
From a social point, it may be necessary at times to upset the upper cut and have awkward conversations with friends and acquaintances who stand us up and fail to meet appointments. In some cases, it may require some rude awakening like cancelling the appointment or even contracts on the grounds of breach of trust. As it is said, "arriving late is a way of saying that your own time is more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you." Let us begin to let those who choose to disrespect us know we also value or time. This approach may lead to considerable discomfort and strained relationships but can be very productive in promoting soul searching amongst friends and colleagues. Social functions like weddings and funerals should not be spared. Celebrants at such functions should have the courage to commence at the specified time, irrespective of who is absent. I have personally been to weddings where proceedings are well advanced before the bride arrives. I have also seen funeral services commenced before the deceased coffin arrives. Actions like these should be applauded and encouraged as the default. At the end of the day, all parties should learn to respect the set times.
Like Woodrow Wilson said, "we are here to enrich the world." We cannot claim to have achieved this if we fail to help address one of the major barriers that affect our people. If we fail at this we would have left this world more impoverished than what we met. In short, we would not have lived. I would end with this admonishment from Auliq Ice "If you have been told that you are late and unreliable more than once, then not only do you lack punctuality, but you also lack decency and seriousness, which is certainly very annoying."