Throwback: An Evening on Time

20 december 2021

On the 7th of December, we gathered around and talked about the role time plays in our lives. How can we protect our time? Does our time belong to ourselves, or others? A summary of our two guest speakers’ talk: Angelique and Abel.


Angelique starts off the evening with her thoughts. She has a great personal interested in the topic, especially since experiencing a burn-out. She had a tough year, started to doubt studying philosophy, and on top of that, her grandfather passed away. 

She recently came across a phrase that described what it was like to get into a burn-out. It was from Discipline, by Marli Huijer. “She put it like this: ’You keep running in your life, and suddenly there is a wall you run into, that you do not see coming’. It felt exactly like that, I was running from everything.” The experience made Angelique think about how society is structured, how the achievement-oriented society is weighing on our shoulders.

We have two different kinds of time, Angelique explains. “There is chronos time, the time used in our economic society, the time we see when we look at the clock. And there is kairos time, our inner experience of time. Think of when you’re on a holiday, time seems to move quite differently from times when you are busy. In modern society we tend to lose the balance between chronos and kairos. The best time is when these two are in balance. These days, though, external time seems to be ruling our lives.”

This is mostly influenced by the technological aspect of our society. All the technology we have buys us time. We stopped sending each other letters a long time ago. Now it’s phone calls, texts. “Most of us probably can’t even remember the time to call in to get the internet to work. We grow up with the idea that technology is always an improvement. An interesting analogy I found is the idea of a speedboat. Time and technology are a speedboat we hang on to. We don’t want to go overboard, so we keep hanging on. Though the boat keeps going faster, so imagine how hard it is to stay on it. It costs a lot of discipline, and we can’t always bring it up.”

Angelique explains this is one of the reasons for burnouts and depression, because people can’t keep up with the improvements. “Marli Huijer also talks about the rhythm of time that keeps changing. In the old days, we went to work at 8, came back home at 5, and then mostly relaxed. There was not much else to do. We couldn’t read our email on our phones. We lost that rhythm in our day. Time became a hole of infinite choices, but there are only so many choices you can make.”

Time as a commodity

Abel is a law student but likes to spend his time thinking about philosophical topics. “Time is seen as a valuable resource, we can provide it in exchange for something else,” he tells us. “Time at university in exchange for meaningful skills, in exchange for proof that we have gained those skills. And then we can use our supply of time in exchange from employers to get money, to provide us with other things we hold dear. Time functions as a commodity. We are a homo economicus, always calculating our time. Time holds no value in itself.” It makes Abel feel slightly uncomfortable, wondering if there is nothing more to time than simply for growing the economy and serving the capitalistic agenda.

Abel remembers some of the greatest moments of his life in great detail. “I remember them vividly, like holidays, cinema, dates. Time was flying by at that point, yet I remember it really well. This aspect is even more true for dreamers among us. I spend a lot of time thinking about what could happen. What if I had not turned left on the Ceintuurbaan? Would I still be in that accident? What if I decided not to open that dating app in August? Would I still have met that amazing woman I still know today?”

Imaginations constitute as much a part of us as memories. They make us who we are, says Abel. “Time holds an intrinsic value because of the memories. It gives us a way to shape ourselves and be unique. Time holds an awesome power independent from our own experience of it. Yet we should be aware: life is moving on in contemporary society, we need to give more and more of our time. Time is the most scarce economic commodity we have, but also the most reliable. It is absolutely certain that we will have time to give. It is a big thing that we sacrifice, and also something we should hold on to dearly.”

How can we hold on to our time?

Angelique recognizes that it’s hard to draw the line somewhere. “Sometimes you have to say no to things. Feel the freedom to do so, even though you have the time for it. It takes discipline because you need to realize that it’s valuable to take the time you have for yourself. Yet it is difficult in a society that focuses on how much time you put into your study or work.” She recommends us to read the book The Art of Being Unhappy by Dirk de Wachter. “Nowadays the standard is that we need to be happy all the time. If someone asks how you’re doing you’re supposed to say, I’m doing great! We need to find more comfort in the fact that life is just not perfect sometimes. In that uncomfortable feeling, we can find calmness.”

Angelique gives us some advice. “Cover up some clocks in your house. Look at how much time you spend on things, are they as valuable as the amount of time you put into them? Is it really valuable or are you doing it because it’s expected of you? We can’t expect society to change our experiences since it is built on economic efficiency. The duty lies in your own hands.”

We end the evening by asking each other what ideas or feelings we take home with us. One participant tells us that the only way to enjoy time is to be present and mindful, and not to stay in your head. “Time is only as valuable as we make it, we are always in control of that.”

Abel agrees with that: “You have to value time. People talking about burnout and how it affected them, derive from not valuing their own time enough. With the things I’ve heard today, I know a bit better how to steer clear of that. I’m thankful for that.”

Angelique hopes to have inspired us. “External time should not rule your life fully. Tap into your own personal feeling of time. Make sure that you’ll always have enough of it.”