What Do We Value?

“Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time” - Marthe Troly-Curtin

I remember spending one afternoon unable to sit still on my living room couch. I kept trying to relax but felt guilty spending an afternoon doing nothing. What a wretched thing to do, what a waste of time this nothing is! To make the matter more complicated, I was guilty about feeling guilty. I felt silly, however, this silliness didn’t release me from the anxiety. I became a prisoner in my own living room!

Our first post explored the question of how we would spend our lives if money were no object. That is, what motivates us beyond earning an income? Today we will focus on value itself , and will be approaching the subject from a cultural perspective. The question is really what do we value as a culture. It’s important to begin from this context since these values are woven into our lives and influence how we understand ourselves.

As a culture, we value objectivity. This can be understood as a two step process:

1) Experiencing ourselves in the world
2) Relating objects to out concept of self

First, objectivity as a mode of experiencing the world. When experiencing the world, we divide it up into two categories. We, the observers, are subjects and the rest of existence are objects or things other than self. For example, in science we study our world as if we’re separate from it, taking an outsider’s view of reality. Second, we value these objects by associating them with who we are. Specifically in America, the objects we surround ourselves with say something about who we are. The clothes we wear, phones we use, cars we drive, books we read, homes we occupy supposedly say something about who we are and what we value. This is not a novel idea, however, it is pervasive.

What’s more interesting is how we spend our time. Time is the currency of life and how we spend it speaks volumes about what we value. The mantra “time is money” become slightly more grim when reversed to “money is time”. By taking a look around our homes, we can measure each item (assuming we purchased it) by the hours spent earning the money to buy it. For example, the computer you’re using to read this post can range anywhere from 41- 275 hours if earning minimum wage. The worth of such time is dependant on how much we value the item in question.

My intent is not to invoke guilt, or to take a luddite stance and say we should all live off beans in a log cabin somewhere. We each require certain items to live a happy and productive life and that’s ok. This has been true for much of civilized human history. We like stuff. However, stuff takes time and energy to acquire and can easily become the motivating force in our lives. The same can be said for the people in our lives. Those we value most are usually the friends, family and significant others we spend most of our time with. Consider the term significant other, value is built into the phrase itself.

Furthermore, “time is money” is a put down of time. There’s always more money to be made while time is something we cannot earn or preserve. Who or what we spend our time on is what we exchange for our lives. The term value is generally used in terms of money i.e. Value Mart, Value City Furniture and so on. Imagine if experiences and items were priced by time amounts instead of money, I wonder if we would value them differently?

Intangible Moments

As individuals it’s important to ask if what the culture tells us to value is truly important to our needs and goals. If we don’t we may later feel as if we were robbed of our most precious commodity. Part of the reason objects have taken precedence over time is because they can be calculated and accounted for. They’re tangible. Though time is measured by the spinning of a clock, it cannot be stored nicely on a shelf. Time is no more the clock on the shelf than love is a heart shaped box. Objects stand as a symbol of time, a monument to the amount of it spent acquiring or participating in it’s acquisition. We fill our homes and social media with trinkets and photos as a means of preserving our fleeting moments, though always in vain.

Let’s return to my guilty afternoon. I realized that I was wasting more time and energy fretting about the wasting of time than I would have simply lounging in the first place. I reflected on the value of spending time resting and realized that my anxious state was an extension of an overall dissatisfaction with how I’m occupying the rest of my time. We owe it to ourselves to create space in our lives. If we value the way our moments are spent, then they are never wasted. Let’s see what comes from valuing time first, and use this as a measure of everything else. Only time will tell.

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Photo by Janos Balazs