After I published my article last week about my daughter’s experience with one of the professors at the college she attends, I received a couple of interesting comments. One of the comments came from a lawyer I’ve known for more than 25 years. I saw him at the courthouse last Tuesday, and he said that he had just caught up on reading my February articles.
He told me that his wife had not yet read last week’s article, and he anticipated that she would not agree with what I wrote. I asked him if his wife is usually late for appointments and he said, “She’s never on time, but she always seems to have a good reason for being late.”
I didn’t tell my friend this, but a lot of people use the word “reason” as a substitute for the word “excuse.” It always sounds better when we have a good reason for our failures instead of a good excuse. Over the years, I’ve had some very lively discussions with my children about trying to justify their irresponsible behavior by giving me reasons, when all they were doing was making excuses for their behavior.
Anyway, I pointed out to my friend that I noticed that he used the words “on time” when he talked about his wife being late. I told him that there’s no such thing as being “on time.” A person is either early or late for an appointment. To be “on time,” a person must show up for his or her appointment and step through the door at the exact moment that the second hand crosses the number 12 on the clock. If the person steps through the door one second or more before that moment in time, the person is early. If the person steps through the door one second or more after that moment in time, the person is late.
People who are chronically late have the mistaken belief that they can be “on time” for an appointment. They never speak in terms of being early or late. They talk about being either “on time” or late. They fail to realize that there’s only two options: they’re either going to be early or they’re going to be late.
I told the lawyer that whenever a person has it in their mind that they’re going to be on time for an appointment, they end up being late. They put off leaving for their destination until the very last moment they think they can leave and then they end up rushing to get to the appointment “on time.”
If they hit two or three red lights on the way to their appointment, they end up being late and telling the person they were scheduled to meet with that the reason they were late was because of the traffic lights. The fact that they have a “reason” lets them off the hook and allows them to escape responsibility for their bad behavior.
I also told the lawyer that because his wife is chronically late for appointments, there is a strong likelihood that she makes more commitments than she is capable of following through on. Individuals who are chronically late routinely make commitments that they realistically cannot keep. If they were militant about following through on their commitments and showed up early for all their appointments, they would be forced to reflect on exactly what they were obligating themselves to and would end up cutting back on the number of new commitments they make.
People who are always late know at a subconscious level that if they end up failing to follow through on a commitment, they can escape responsibility by providing what they believe is a good reason for their bad behavior.
I’m not sure my friend agreed with what I told him about being late and making commitments. Instead of responding to what I said, he changed the subject and told me about an upcoming family vacation that he and his wife have been planning.
The second comment that I received concerning last week’s article was from a local college professor. Here’s what she had to say about my article:
The professor was not obliged but volunteered to help your daughter and provided a time when he was available. He followed through, but it was not at a time that was convenient for your daughter. Calling for him to be fired is totally unreasonable but very typical of what I have experienced with parents of the “me” generation. Did you or your daughter talk to him? Call him or go to his office hours? There are two sides to every story. I usually enjoy and learn a lot from your essays, Mr. Williams, and always look forward to them, but you are out of line on this one.
I agree that I was “out of line” to insist that the professor who failed to respond to my daughter’s emails should be fired. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to be a little harsh and aggressive when someone irritates me. Having said that, I do think that at a minimum, the professor should receive a written reprimand from his supervisor for his behavior and he should be required to agree that he will modify his behavior and work on doing a better job of following up with students in a timely manner.
Concerning the question of whether my daughter called or attempted to visit the professor during his office hours, she did not have his phone number and she was not aware of what his office hours were. In hindsight, it may have helped if she had attempted to find out his telephone number and had inquired about his office hours, but based on his failure to respond to six of the seven emails that she sent to him, my expectation is that he would have also failed to return her telephone calls.
The professor could have easily responded to one of my daughter’s emails and told her that he was overwhelmed and was unable to assist her with her project. He could have also responded with his telephone number or his office hours so she could call or stop by to see him.
One more thing: Even though the professor “was not obliged but volunteered to help,” as soon as he volunteered, an obligation was created to help my daughter and the other students with their projects. If he was not able to follow through on the commitment he made, he should have at least responded to my daughter’s requests by telling her he was not going to be able to assist her with her project.
The lesson I wanted to teach my daughter was that once a person shows that they are not responsible enough to keep a commitment, you cannot trust the person to keep any commitments in the future. After the professor failed to respond to two or three of her emails, she should have moved on to someone else.
For those of us who like helping other people, we need to be very careful about volunteering or obligating ourselves to commitments we simply cannot keep. I consider myself somewhat of an expert at this topic because over the years, I’ve struggled with being “on time” and with making more commitments than I could follow through on.
You will not read anywhere else an analysis similar to the one I’ve laid out for you here. By the grace of God, I figured it all out while I was attempting to permanently modify my own behavioral habit of showing up late for appointments. I wish someone would have shared with me 30 years ago what I’ve written over the past two weeks about being “on time,” being early for appointments, and making and keeping commitments. Unfortunately, I had to learn those lessons “the hard way.”
I appreciate the comments from my friend and the local professor.