Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

Tardiness, Self-worth and Being Present

So, you're late...again!?!!

In the realm of social psychology and psychodynamics, when we discuss chronic lateness, we typically do so in reference to passive-aggression and control. An individual who is passive-aggressive is, by definition, arrogant...and arrogance is bred, not by a sense of personal power, but, rather, through fear and insecurity.

In a previous post, I mentioned a friend of mine whom I characterized as a compassionate Zen Master, disguised as a 2nd grade school teacher. Another friend of mine - the one who prompted this post - might be described as a not-so-compassionate Zen Master, disguised as a hairdresser. The other day she said, "A person who is late all the time needs to realize that [s/he is] worth being on time." And that, of course, got me thinking...

A person who is chronically late is superficially motivated by the misplaced notion that s/he, his/her needs and his/her interests are somehow more important than the people to whom s/he is responsible. What actually underlies this sentiment is a subtle and much more pernicious sense of just the opposite.

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The chronically tardy, in large measure, have a perception that others do not feel them to be important, so they operate in a way so as to impose themselves on a situation - exerting control to feel in control - while in reality they are silently validating their own sense of unworthiness, whether consciously or unconsciously.

If we return to our discussion of self-worth -- a more nuanced definition of self-esteem that takes into account transactional social perception in a way self-esteem does not - we begin to see the interdependence of self-perception, other-perception and action that defines and drives this dynamic.

Until we see ourselves as valuable - self-perception - we will not recognize our value to others - other-perception. Not seeing our own value, and, by association, feeling that others do not regard us as valuable begs the question, "Why show up?"

And that is the crux of it. Why show up, indeed -- and showing up is about being present. From this perspective, we begin to see that being late all the time is just one piece of a larger dynamic that thoroughly deflects being present.

There is no telling from where the sense of unworthiness carried by the passive-aggressive individual that leads to this failure of presence might derive. Yes, we could get all Freudian and backtrack through it, but, really, what's the point? The fact is, it's an "is" -- a condition that exists in the here and now - so, it should be addressed in the here and now.

Although from a purely psychosocial perspective, passive-aggression may indeed be about power and control, imposing oneself, making a statement or personal and social disregard, at its core it's about showing up - about being present, about being "in" the here and now.

Presence is about the now. Anything that is not now, is not present. If we are not present, we are simultaneously living in the past and anticipating the future, working from a script that is a crucible for forging an expectation (read: future) based on our past.

In this case, this script says, "I am not valuable.", which leads us to the expectation that we have no value in the situation into which we are entering. We become stuck - mired in past fears, frozen by future expectations - and we lose the moment, we lose the momentum, and we are, ultimately, late.

No one lacks value. Each of us is unique and precious. Every moment that we spend in the world, others have the opportunity to share in the gift of us. Showing up, being present, being on time says, "I am worth your time, and you are worth mine."

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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