The cult of early is not the same as earliness

I’m concerned that some readers might have misunderstood my attitude to earliness in general, after reading all my posts on the cult of early. To make it clear: I do not have a problem with earliness in general. I have a problem with the cult of early.

In other words, I have a problem with the following assumptions:

  • that being early makes it OK to say you’re turning up at a certain time but then actually turn up at a different time
  • that your non-time-specific work is more valuable if you do it earlier rather than later
  • that workers on an earlier shift must be harder-working than the team on the late shift
  • that turning in excellent work just before the deadline is somehow “naughty” while handing in any work weeks before the deadline is somehow “good”
  • that it’s OK to laugh at people who struggle to meet their deadlines, even if you’ve done bugger-all yourself.

It might surprise readers to know that I’ve actually ended more than one friendship because of the other person’s lateness. Persistent lateness annoys me for the same reason persistent earliness annoys me: it shows that you’re not making an effort to stick to the agreed time, which means you weren’t being honest with me when we made the arrangement. I can handle failure and occasional mega-flakiness, which is lucky because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to look in the mirror. I just don’t like dishonesty or disrespect.

You see, one-off earliness or lateness doesn’t tell you much about that person’s attitude. It probably tells you more about the traffic on that day, or the reliability of the buses, or how worried they were about the meeting. (Most people will leave bags of spare time for travelling to a job interview, less for a casual coffee.) But over time you see patterns. The difference between deliberate and accidental lateness flattens out over a long time period. You stop caring what the reasons are; you just get tired of the fact that it always happens. You get tired of making allowances, of meeting them literally and metaphorically more than half-way. And it’s exactly the same with consistent earliness.

Either way, if someone has never kept to any arrangement, they probably don’t respect your arrangements very much. It doesn’t really matter if I’m sitting in a cafe wondering where the hell you are or feeling caught out because you’ve arrived on my doorstep an hour before I was expecting you. Whether you’re always 90 minutes late or always 90 minutes early, I know that you care more about your own issues than you care about meeting my expectations and being honest with me. You don’t really respect me. You might like me or even love me, but you don’t respect me. And it’s up to me to decide how I act on that knowledge.

The only reason the late person is ever more bearable than the early person is that they usually know they’re in the wrong. They’re more likely to text or ring to warn you that they’re running late. They’re more likely to say sorry for worrying you, or for keeping you waiting. Whereas the super-early person is just as likely to laugh at you or judge you for being unprepared or “late” as they are to apologise for their failure to stick to the agreed time. And the reason for that asymmetry is the cult of early.

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