Benjamin Marks
Benjamin Marks

Preventing the stereotype that Jews are often late

This article starts with its headline and opening paragraphs, thereby obliging the reader to also start there. If the author got distracted and delayed addressing the agreed topic, then it would be as though the author is late and has rearranged without consultation this “meeting” of author and reader.

The author initiated and confirmed the meeting. The reader fulfilled their end of the arrangement. If the first few paragraphs of this article were unhelpful to its primary message, then readers would be right to think less of the author’s ability to think clearly, communicate effectively, keep promises and respect readers.

Good journalists despise “burying the lead”; the lead being the lead idea, which should be in the lead paragraph. Burying the lead is when senility, cold feet, cold shoulder, cold draft and deadline coincide. Burying the lead is turning up late.

The first four paragraphs of this article hint at the harm done by burying the lead. The lead for this article is in the next paragraph (if any readers remain).

As someone regularly (and officially) identified as Jewish, I strive to counter (rather than confirm or accentuate) negative stereotypes. For example, Jews are often characterised (or caricaturised) as so self-absorbed and inconsiderate that they are often late, living in a different time-zone (Jewish Standard Time), traveling back and forth in a tardiness-generating TARDIS and reading English timetables right-to-left like Hebrew. To fight the negative stereotype that Jews are often late, I have discovered a solution. It is called: punctuality.

Punctuality punctuates; it communicates meaning. To avoid sending the wrong message, don’t be late. The late get criticised behind their back. The late decrease control over how they’re remembered. Lateness reveals information about honesty, reliability, thoughtfulness and organisational skills.

The late make the non-late wait; punishing and disincentivising turning up on time, reducing levels of trust in society, increasing transaction costs and decreasing quality of life.

Jews are often stereotyped as over-ambitious (doing every little thing to succeed), overly-intellectual (being seen to be a good reader) and pedantic (don’t eat that, don’t mix those, don’t touch, don’t work then, don’t sit there, say this first, every word is important, time is important, order is important, now we eat, there must be a better price, wear that, leave that bit hanging, cut that bit off, grow the sides more). Breaking those stereotypes by replacing them with worse is not the best way to improve public perceptions. A new problem is not always the best solution.

It is said that good luck is being in the right place at the right time. If that is so, then punctuality equals good luck.

It is also said that 80% of success is turning up. Modesty forbids speculating on the percentage increase if punctuality is added to mere attendance.

Another saying is that punctuality is the loneliest virtue. That’s such a beautiful line that it’s an argument for punctuality itself, to occasion its recitation.

I’m no historian, but I recall that those who made the trains run on time were unfriendly to those who were often late.

Punctuality involves being organised and allowing (within reason) for previous activities going overtime. Planning means planning ahead. It also means forward planning, strategic planning and smart planning. Planning is meant to be practical and to take the real world into account. Planning as pure theory is the operational assumption of the often late. The often late are the impractical ones.

“Late” and “not late” should not be used interchangeably. Being a few minutes late out of courtesy and thoughtfulness (usually only in certain social settings) is different to keeping others waiting out of arrogance and thoughtlessness. It is true that the proper time to turn up depends on experience and expectations, but not all expectations and precedents are good. What’s the difference between precedent and prejudice? That which persists can be good or bad, a germ or a gem, a stain or a stained-glass window. The appeal to precedent has to have more to it.

Jews pride themselves as the non-gentile percentile, on being smart and doing good. Yet what latte is to on-trend gentiles, late is to on-trend Jews: at least once a day to pack more in. And perhaps sugaring over the bitterness of those habits is why diabetes used to be known as the Jewish disease.

Some defend lateness with moral equivalence, pointing out others who are often late. To argue thus is to proudly avoid holding oneself to a high standard and to find leading by example distasteful. The chronic latecomer might as well plead: they can’t be doing anything wrong when they’re not there; and they are being blamed for something they didn’t do.

I’m punctual partly because it is basic good manners and partly precisely to counter the negative stereotype. This is a mitzvah, a good deed. It is also easier than being late, as the time I agree to turn up is the time I turn up. There’s a nice symmetry there, for those who like symmetry.

Punctuality makes me appear to be a man of my word; an honourable thing to be in most cultures. It also means no hurt feelings to placate or ignore and no excuses are required.

I am punctual by being punctual. I don’t attempt mind games on myself, like setting clocks fast and pretending events start earlier than they do. I wonder whether anyone doing such intentionally self-deluding acrobatic arithmetic thinks they are really fooling themselves.

Those without compunction struggle with punctuality; they cannot be talked to, but can be laughed at. Consider the case of those who regularly sleep through alarms. Affordable loud alarms have long been available. Now that smartphones are so accessible, we have thousands of alarms we can easily set for every few minutes with the default apps; even if we sleep through or snooze several, they will get us eventually; no one has ever pressed snooze more than fifty-seven times in a session. Therefore, those who repeatedly sleep through alarms choose to do so when they are wide awake; they cannot use excuses like tiredness, accidental alarm defusing or a big night of networking. The insincerity of those who often use sleeping through alarms as an excuse becomes obvious by asking, “This has happened before; how many alarms did you set this time?” Those who are consistently late do not want to be on time. Those who consistently apologise for lateness apologise insincerely.

Women have a nice way of making up for their lateness by looking good. In fact, they identify looking their best with make-up. (Perhaps it is to do with their in-built biological clock.)

Preaching punctuality is like drinking to dull a hangover. Chastising latecomers for lateness further delays getting to the main point of the meeting. Even more tedious would be writing an article dedicated to retarding tardiness. Overloading the already overloaded by loading them with another load to read and digest; that’s smart; the more time spent reading, the later they’ll be.

In the film industry they say if you’re on time you’re already late. Then, when you go to an Australian cinema, at the time we are told the film is to begin (as signposted everywhere and printed on the ticket), they show 25 minutes of ads. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking to the film industry for moral guidance.

Talking about films, the Judaeo-Christian-Spaghetti-Western tradition’s canonical parable, For a Few Dollars More (1965), shows that rudeness (whether in the form of lateness or belligerence) can reveal important information about the character and priorities of potential colleagues and contacts, including their ability to restrain themselves, stand up for themselves and focus on what is most important. Lee Van Cleef strikes a match on the hunchbacked Klaus Kinski’s neck, incensing short-fuse Kinski, who boils over with anger but is restrained from acting on it by his comrades (but not by the ever-goading Van Cleef), betraying commitment to something big that is evidently worth taking an insult on the chin for, as Van Cleef suspected. [See YouTube clip here.] Clint Eastwood witnesses that scene. 10 minutes later Eastwood insults Van Cleef: tells him to get out of town, steps on his shoes, slaps his face, knocks him off-balance and shoots his hat. Van Cleef responds proportionately with perfect poise. [See YouTube clip here.] Then Eastwood and Van Cleef team up, having established their joint commitment to something bigger and their mutual respect for unflustered morality in not sweating the small stuff. Good manners are often good for hiding what is important; bad manners are often good for uncovering what is important. This makes good manners bad and bad manners good, sometimes.

Lateness is rarely a crime. Usually it is a vice. Some vices can be attractive. (I’ll drink to that.) For example, we all see some value in shamelessness because we know there are occasions, hopefully moral, where we want to be shameless too. Doing the right thing is not always popular; therefore, some shamelessness is good. Tolerance, adaptation and sympathising are often preferable to proselytising, and they are also instrumental to it. If we want the late to mend their ways and sympathise with those who wait, those who wait should try to sympathise with the late. The latecomers and the waitforers are each other’s makers; not everything you ask your creator can be put in language you’d understand. That is a more convoluted than convincing defence of lateness, but I’m trying to sympathise.

Lateness can be defended for many good reasons. For example, preparing for meetings is said to be even more important than meetings themselves; therefore, if preparation time eats into meeting time, it is for the better. It is also said that we often don’t appreciate what we’ve got until it’s gone; but that’s probably taking things too far, and lateness is a good compromise.

The late great Jack Benny once started his opening monologue by saying nothing, just standing alone centre-stage, occasionally looking at his watch, soaking up everyone’s attention, saying nothing longer and slower. When he finally started talking, he explained, “Well … I guess I waited long enough … The reason I stall like that is because I figure, why should I start while millions of viewers are switching around to see what else is on? Every half-hour everybody is playing television roulette … They’re always turning the dial to this number and back to that number and then back to this other number. We’ve got a whole generation growing up that won’t be fit for anything but safe-cracking … or orange juice squeezing.” [See the episode (The Jack Benny Program, “Main Street Shelter,” Season 11, Episode 25, April 9, 1961) on YouTube here.] Rarely do meetings start with anything important, so many skip them and focus on what’s important. Perhaps this is a chicken and egg dynamic, but taking a stand by skipping the beginning (turning up late) is a strategy that many experiment with.

Another possible advantage in turning up late is that it means the meeting is not taken for granted and that more gets done per-minute with more intensity of focus when the meeting finally eventuates. The latecomer is important, but they still made time for this meeting; therefore, the meeting is more important than if everyone was punctual.

Moreover, guilt is such a strong emotion that the latecomer takes it upon themselves to prevent the less late from pangs of guilt. Furthermore, because to feel guilty about making others guilty is a real thing, choosing not to apologise for lateness can be a self-sacrificing martyr-making thing to do.

It could be that neither turning up late nor making people wait are so bad. In fact, I wrote all this over a few unscheduled slots of free time while waiting for a very late friend (who happens to be Jewish); while also waiting to hear whether an instant-classic world-changing masterpiece resurrecting a forgotten Australian journalist, that I submitted over two months ago to the most respected international journal (which happens to have a Jewish editor), has been yayed or nayed; and because I was looking for a distraction from the work I was meant to be doing (which is overdue).

Perhaps punctuality is only a small thing, but it would help towards improving how Jews are perceived. It is an easy way to fight against one of the major negative Jewish stereotypes. It has clear benefits, yet costs nothing! Yes, it is free!
Benjamin Marks is author, with corporate comedian Rodney Marks and management professor Robert Spillane, of Funny Business: Management Unmasked (Sydney, Australia: GOKO Press, November 2017). An even more Jewish byline than that soft selling of a politically incorrect dictionary of management terms (which would make a thoughtful Christmas present for your colleagues), and an even better way to advertise it, would be to say that Benjamin is single.

About the Author
Benjamin has never ghostwritten for anyone. Specialising in one-liners, his CV is a one-liner.
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