In this piece I am thinking about the fact that the unequal distribution of TIME seems to be a crucial factor in our often distorted relationships with our BODIES.
Most of the advice about how we can understand ourselves better and live from our bodies involves having time: to think, dream, reflect, have ideas, notice things, experience pleasure, sit with pain, etc. Kate McCombs for example, in this excellent blog, offers some solid strategies for self-care that touch on most of these. Much of this makes total sense to me, but also I never get around to taking it because I don’t ‘have time’.
So time seems to me to be a fundamental aspect of the whole body thing, and a systemic issue which needs to be tackled urgently if we want to get past blaming ourselves for all of our so-called failings.
In activism there is much talk about where we put our money (e.g. boycotting certain companies because we disagree with their ethics, politics and/or working practices). But might it not be just as, if not even more, revolutionary to talk about where we put our time? After all, at least in capitalist structures, the two are intimately linked.
To varying degrees across countries, cultures and economic status, we all spend time on either paid work, unpaid work, leisure/consumption, or sleep (at least according to Jonathan Gershuny’s analysis of time-use, 2000). Our time-budget is finite: we all have 24 hours in a day. Within this, do we choose to spend time, for example
- with our children
- with our friends
- with our parents, grandparents, family
- on a protest march
- walking rather than driving
- taking a train rather than flying
- repairing something
- going to a local council meeting
- attending a neighbourhood festival
- helping someone with a task
- listening to someone we don’t know (yet)
- learning a new skill
- making something without wanting to gain profit from the results
- listening to our body and what it needs
- giving our body what it needs (sleep, movement, sex, food, solitude)
- having a little think without the goal of solving a problem
- dreaming, planning, reflecting on the world
‘Choice’ is of course a loaded word here: The choices to be made about time are tied up with money, and they can involve significant, sometimes impossible, risk to our livelihood, social status, and sense of self.
There will be those of us who have no choice but to repair something because they cannot afford to buy a replacement, which in turn might mean that they spend less time with their children. There will be those of us who cannot even contemplate most of what is on the list because their financial and family situation do not allow it. There will be those of us whose employment operates so much on the urgency of competing that every pocket of time must immediately be allocated to an activity that will give them an edge over their competitors, or risk dropping out. There will also be those of us who are drowning in time — who, for example, cannot work or participate in social activities for various reasons, and who can become paralyzed by feelings of ‘purposelessness’ if the only way to define purpose is according to how much an individual contributes to the machienery of labour and consumption.
Those things that drop off the list are frequently those associated with self-care and communal being (human beings rather than human doings, as Omid Safi writes).
The individuals who drive our organizational structures from the top are well informed of the benefits of self-care practices, and in principle they want their workers and citizens to stay healthy, operate at optimum productivity, be personable, and perhaps even have the ability to think creatively. The solution to the increasing sense of time-poverty that many of us experience is thus generally the advice to become better at time-management: figure out where time is being wasted, what your most productive hours are, how you can delegate — how you can, ultimately, perform the magic trick of making your 24 hours seem like MORE TIME.
Not-so-secretly, we all know that this is not possible. We are increasingly aware that the way time is organized in our current system is not sustainable for most of us. But we have little time to think of an alternative solution, and are generally made to feel that, if we can’t manage, this is down to our individual failing and the ‘choices’ we have individually made. This of course is a wonderful way of sustaining the status quo.
Taking time or making time are phrases that present an illusion of choice — they are a matter of choice to the same degree that shaving or not shaving your legs is a ‘choice’ for someone socialised as female. What we choose to do with our time has profound and potentially dangerous consequences, perhaps more so than anything else we can do. Perhaps a number of us — perhaps a large number of us — can risk to make more radical choices about how we spend our time. But in addition to this, for a real, profound change of direction to happen in how we can live sustainably as human beings in time, we need a radical reorganization of the systems within which we live.
So let’s put ‘time’ at the top of our manifestos. Time to make plans, form ideas, rest, play, listen, take in, digest. Let’s aim for a utopia of time that is nothing less than what we deserve, that is just as crucial as the utopia of world peace and equality, and see what we can get. Let’s give considered attention to time when we make any plans to improve our collective economic and social situation. Maybe the messy uncertainty of leaving the EU is the perfect space in which to push for such changes. It is in re-distributing time that the revolution happens.
More about Time?
A huge amount of literature deals with the subject of time, in various ways. Here are just some tiny titbits:
- Eva Hoffman’s Time and Simon Garfield’s Timekeepers offer two very different but equally thoughtful and funny overviews of our dealings with time.
- Jonathan Gershun’s Changing Times: Work and Leisure in Postindustrial Society gives a economic-sociological insight into time-use from the 1960s to 1990s across 22 countries.
- Vu Le on Time Inequity gives some useful practical suggestions how institutions might use marginalized communities’ time more equitably.
- Omid Safi writes on The disease of being busy and invites us to ask each other: how is your heart doing?.
 For the purpose of this discussion, let us assume that activism is a form of unpaid work
 There is plenty of research that shows that leisure/consumption time has in fact increased over the last few decades. His analysis does not however take into account the rise of zero-hours contracts and of a freelance economy, both of which profoundly affect the way in which the stresses of paid labour infiltrate all of our other time, and the degree of unpaid labour involved in gaining and sustaining this type of paid labour.