What Time Zones Do You Live in?

ONLY four hours left of the last day of 2010. I receive text and Facebook  greetings from family and friends, mainly from the Philippines, but also from other countries in other time zones.

That got me thinking of  Philip Zimbardo’s The Time Paradox, and the six time zones that he says people live in – two in the past , two in the present, and two in the future.

Those who dwell in the past are either “past positive,” remembering mainly the good things. Others focus mainly on regrets and frustrations and are “past negative.”

Those who live mainly in the present are either “present hedonistic” or “present fatalistic.”

He says that we are all born as present hedonists, focusing on experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain (think of sucking our mother’s breast or the milk bottle), or adults seeking to acquire more knowledge and to experience new sensations.

Those who are “present fatalistic” focus on the present because they think there’s no point in planning for the future. They see themselves “fated” by heredity, social status, or a social system that can not be transformed.

Finally, and he presumes this is where most of us live in, there are those who are future oriented, who can give up instant gratification for future plans that they believe can be realized. He says that one purpose of education is to make us more future oriented and “resist temptations” that are mainly present-oriented.

There is another future orientation which he says gives many people much greater sense of meaning and fulfillment – those who believe that there is life beyond the death of the mortal body, and that such life is more important than life here on earth.

Toward the end of his book, he goes beyond description and analysis to prescription: Live a bit in the past, but mainly as “past positive,” a bit more in the present as “present hedonistic,” and devote more energy and thought to living with a future orientation. And if your personal belief supports it, focus on the future beyond.

Despite the impressive data and scholarship that Zimbardo musters, I take his propositions with a grain of salt. More so after viewing his short piece on RSA Animate, where he stereotypes Catholic countries as present and past-oriented, and Protestant countries as future oriented, and correlates that to their economic development.

But his core message is instructive, that we should become self-aware of the different “time zones” that we live in, and work at a healthy mix.

One of our year end rituals with Girlie is to have a joint look back at the past year, and look forward to the coming year.

An honest look at the past and present yields many reasons for disappointment and frustration, even with ourselves. This is true also of our friends who share our history of social activism and a continuing commitment to social change. But we also find enough reasons to be thankful, especially for our friends and the informal community of those “who hunger and thirst after justice.” Since we choose to dwell on these, we are mainly “past positive.”

As social activists, we were never “present fatalistic,” but we were also hardly “present hedonistic.” Our future orientation tended to make us sacrifice other legitimate values, including time with family and community outside our activism. One positive sign of getting our balance right as we “grow” older is the importance we give to family and friends.

But we continue to find purpose and energy in our drive and commitment to “help create a better future” for the communities we serve and the country we love.

That is why as Girlie joins me in senior citizenship, we both take to heart the aphorism from the book How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. “Don’t retire. ReFire.”

Happy New Year! Ed dela Torre

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