The Ethics of Being on Time

I’ve been having an internal debate about the intersection of ethics and culture.

Punctuality is something I take pretty seriously. 15 minutes early is on time, arriving on time is late for me.

A few minutes here or there isn’t a big deal but being chronically late eventually says something to me about how much the other person values our relationship.

This is where my self-argument begins:

“Ok, but what about people who live in cultures where time is more fluid? Do you really think they are all horribly rude?”


“Why not?”

“Cultural expectations matter. I grew up in a culture that believes that being habitually late is incredibly rude. Ignoring that rule over and over again eventually says something about your character.”

“Because getting along with other people is part of living in a social group. There are rules we all must follow in order to facilitate this. Purposefully breaking them like this sends a pretty clear message:
I don’t care how my actions affect the people around me. My habits are more important than your time, our relationship or anything else.
And that’s a pretty unkind way to live. “

“Ok, but what if you wake up tomorrow and decide to dress up like Bilbo Baggins? Most people don’t wear costumes every day – is breaking that rule rude?”

“No. Rules that don’t actually harm others are negotiable. People might stare or wonder why I decided to dress that way if it isn’t Halloween but no one is actually going to be hurt by a hobbit costume. ”


There does come a time when even small annoyances like being constantly late negatively affects your relationships. If I can’t count on (general) you to be on time when we decide to meet for dinner or a movie how can I depend on you for far more important stuff?

What it boils down to is that how you treat someone in the small things is how I’m going to assume you feel about the big stuff. Anyone can say that they care but what shows how someone actually feels is in how they act when it would be more convenient to do something that helps them but harms someone else. (Yes, this applies to me, too. 😉 )


What do you think? Am I being too harsh here? Can you think of other examples of behaviour that is acceptable in one culture and rude in another?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorised

0 Responses to The Ethics of Being on Time

  1. Shok

    I’m in the 15 min early crowd. In church days early was necessary being the pastor. In truck driving being on time was expected. In pizza delivery it was 30 minutes or its free. In bus driving parents could set their kitchen clocks by when I would be there and in pedicabbing the early biker gets the hotel dispatches and special event opportunities like weddings 🙂

  2. I’m with you, a few minutes early=on time, on time=late.  My group of friends for the most part though operate under a “7 means we leave the house at 7… :15” mentality and it drives me up the wall for the reasons you’ve underlined above.  My husband however takes the opposite view and says our culture does not infact value punctuality as much as I do (in professional circumstances maybe, but not social ones) and since everyone runs on that “20 minutes late” schedule by not respecting and conforming to that I am infact the one being rude.

    To which I usually respond “Less talking, more HURRYING THE F UP!” because this conversation only ever happens when I’m waiting on him so we can go somewhere and I’m stressing out about the possibility of being late. 

  3. As you know, punctuality is my only religion, so I’d say you’re definitely not being too harsh. 🙂

    If you agree to meet at a certain time you’re essentially lying if you don’t show up on time, regardless of what cultural expectations are.

  4. This is a really well constructed post!  I have to say that for most of my life I have been in the early = on time group, but I have found since moving to a small rural community that the pace here is different than it was in the city.  Most people aren’t chronically late, but the definition of on time as softened so to speak so that if you are there at the appointed hour + or – 5 minutes you are definitely considered on time.  If I’m meeting someone somewhere, I tend to be on the minute or else a few minutes after because I get nervous when I’m in a place waiting for someone else.  Of course, if the person I’m waiting for has the same level of social anxiety we might never get together.  Also, life does happen–last minute stuff can crop up, but in those cases I do try to call to let people know.  So overall, I don’t think you are being too harsh and I would say that here as in the rest of life, we make time for what is important to us, and if someone is always late (more than say 5 even 10 min.) I would wonder how much of a priority I am in their life.  But then I react the same to people who say they would love to get together but they are just too busy.  Again, I love the way you have written this, playing devil’s advocate with yourself.

    • You know, I don’t necessarily think of that as “late.” If everyone does it and understand that 7 actually means 7:05-ish, it’s ok.

      I’d still personally show up before 7 but I wouldn’t be annoyed with others who didn’t. Well, unless we were meeting for a 7 pm movie or dinner. Those few minutes can mean the difference between getting seats together or a decent table and the theatre/restaurant filling up entirely. Small towns don’t usually have this problem, though. 🙂 

  5. Twyseschoch

    my favorite thing is an open house situation where any time within a 2 hour window is acceptable.  😀  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *