I’m a big believer in consistency. I try very, very hard to be consistent, my words and my actions. None of us are perfect in that regard, but I make it a point to try. And if it is one thing I notice about people it is their consistency or lack thereof. That’s why I have been troubled by my seeming contradiction in giving myself to however long a presentation is without fuss, giving myself to the person I am visiting without concern of time and yet being so frustrated when a meeting lasts for more than 90 minutes, due in large part because of comments and commentary by people that are far off the agenda. Is this a contradiction?
I used to think so, and I have spent a lot of time and effort to figure this out. I can go to a lecture and listen to a speaker for as long as necessary. I am the last to complain about the length of a church service. And when I visit I never watch the clock, unless there is some very important appointment I need to be sensitive to. And yet a meeting that lingers because people are straying from the agenda or listening to questions from the audience after a public lecture has ended can make me grumpy, cranky and most unpleasant. Why?
In the game rock, paper and scissors there is an understanding that one of these trumps another, and so on. Depending on which are in conflict there is a clear sense of what takes precedence. For me when attending a lecture the time and energy the presenter has invested in her/his remarks trumps my need to go at a certain time. Likewise when I arrive at someone’s home for a pastoral visit their time trumps mine. I give them all the space they need to tell me their story. They come first. At a meeting important matters like decisions about the integrity of the building, personnel matters, a fundamental change to worship practices, these all are agenda-type matters and require all the time necessary to make good decisions for the public good. I never complain about meetings that run long because important matters have to be discussed in full.
But at a 7 pm meeting, when several people have come from work without seeing their families, with important matters to be discussed on the agenda, to spend the first 45 minutes engaged in walks down memory lane, sharing information that has nothing to do with the agenda or providing needless detail about what a subcommittee has done (why have subcommittees if everything is committee of the whole?) is not just wasteful it is disrespectful and inconsiderate of others.
While my time is not as important as the lecture’s efforts to present interesting ideas or the person I am visiting who is telling me her/his story is it more important at 7 pm than the person who wants to tell us during an agenda item about the parking lot what it is was like to attend a pre-season Blue Jays game in Florida. The missing piece there is consideration, being considerate of time and the needs of others.
I still think I am consistent. I still have all the time in the world for church services, for lectures, for visits. I also have as much time as necessary to discuss important church or non-profit business. But if you want to share with me your recent conversation at Tim Horton’s with an old friend please save that for our visit at the Just Us café.