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It’s about Time

When people talk about time, it’s usually a lament.  We don’t have enough of it.  It goes too quickly or (depending on your situation) too slowly.

This week, my Good Faith co-host David French and I discuss time. But we aren’t offering advice on managing your life better or getting off social media and Netflix to add extra hours to your day.

Rather, we talk about the perspective of time. Your “time perspective” determines how you respond to the world, changes how you interpret events, and affects your motivation on whether to respond.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How your “time perspective” affects how you see issues such as extreme poverty and climate change;
  • How things aren’t as bad as you think they are;
  • How to resist a “gloom and despair” mindset;
  • What to do if you really want to change the world;
  • Why having a Biblical “time perspective” can affect your worldview;
  • Which problems are getting better and which are getting worse;
  • How your “time perspective” might shape your view of growing older;
  • A possible true reason you might have “checked out” of cultural engagement;
  • The downfalls of “recency bias,”
  • The importance of institutions for true progress;
  • How relationships might be more powerful than your positions;
  • How optimism is a more effective motivator for social change than pessimism;
  • Why a historical perspective is actually hopeful;
  • And why a Biblical perspective is the most hopeful of all.

DAVID FRENCH: We’re going to talk about perspective today. Perspective. It’s a word that brings to mind a certain movie, a Pixar movie: Ratatouille. I think you guys might, some of you might remember the climactic scene where Anton Ego comes in to give the ultimate test to the restaurant.

In the scene, he very cryptically orders and he says, “You know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective.”

And then he adds, “Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?”

DAVID FRENCH: It’s a memorable scene. It’s a fantastic scene. But you might be asking, what on earth does this have to do with the Good Faith podcast? Curtis, why are we wanting to talk about this?

CURTIS CHANG: By the way, by quoting Ratatouille, you just dated us. Have our younger listeners even watched that?  But it’s a great movie, and it does bring up this question of perspective. 

The reason why I want to talk about perspective, especially the perspective of time, is because of the widespread sense among people across the ideological spectrum that we’re in a moment of great crisis.  Things are going horribly, and we’re thrown off guard.

We think everything is crashing down on us, which produces this sense of disorientation.

One of the reasons why this is happening is because we’ve lost some perspective, especially around time. Your “time perspective” is hugely determinative of how you respond to the world around you. It changes how you interpret a current event, and it also changes your motivation on how to respond to the world.

Let me illustrate that quickly from the practical and personal realms.

Suppose, David, I told you, “I’ve got news for you, the stock market is down 5%.” 

How you respond to that is hugely determined by the “time perspective” we’re talking about.  Is it down 5% just today or is it down 5% over this past year? You’re going to respond differently to either of those things. 

You might say, “wow, that’s a big dip. That’s very alarming.”

Or you might respond, “Hey, I’m not a day trader, I’m a long term investor. I can wait this out.”

 Your panic and calmness are going to be affected by your “time perspective.” 

Or let’s put it in the realm of parenting.  Suppose your young child comes to you and says, “my stomach hurts.” Your first reaction is probably going to try to establish the “time perspective” on that. Is it just today? When did this start hurting? 

If he or she tells you the pain started today, you might respond, “Well, let’s see how it goes. Maybe you ate something bad? Let’s wait it out.”

However, if your child says, “It’s been hurting all week,” suddenly your alarm increases as your “time perspective” changes. “Wow. A whole week? That’s serious.”

If that child says, “It’s actually been hurting this way for all year,” then you really shift into some kind of immediate intervention.  

That’s an example from the personal realm of how time changes, how we respond, and how we interpret events. 

David, in the realm of politics and cultural societal wide events, why does time change how we interpret current events? Why is getting the right “time perspective” so critical?

DAVID FRENCH: One of the things we do in this podcast is not just talk about the issues, but also talk about what’s underneath the issue. Not just talk about the cultural development, but what’s underneath the cultural development.

What we’re talking about right now – perspective – is lurking underneath far more arguments than you might imagine.

We are in the grips in the United States of a massive degree of recency bias. A classic example of recency bias is the constant debates about sports. We’re always thinking the next great player is the greatest player, in part because we have the most experience with their greatness. We have lesser or receding knowledge of the greatness of people in the past.

Recency bias is very natural. But it’s currently on the rise.  Why? In part, because of technology.

I’ll give you a perfect example. My line of work is heavily populated by younger people. Newsrooms tend to be really young. So right there, you have a loss of “time perspective.” Then you add onto that this thing called Google, which has a recency bias in its results. That first page is going to be the most recent developments on any given topic. When I try to search beyond recency on Google, I have to put in dates and be more intentional about it.

When a younger population is researching through a tool that’s biased towards recency, we tend to lose that “time perspective.” That very loss of “time perspective” really warps our debates and is creating, interestingly enough, its own crisis.

I’m really interested in hearing Curtis talk more about the biblical, God’s-eye view of time. There are some pretty practical ways in which this “time perspective” is distorted, right?

CURTIS CHANG: One of the things driving extremism on both right and left is the sense that the world is falling apart. The world is just worse than it’s ever been before and that’s what should motivate us to take extreme action.

Or on the other hand, it kind of impels us to despair.  When large populations think the world is just destined for doom (and there’s nothing we can do about it), this hopelessness has its own dysfunctions. 

I see this especially in the younger generation where there’s this sense – again on both right and left – that things are getting worse and worse.

From my world here in the Bay Area, there’s especially a lot of despair in the younger generation around climate change.  It seems the world is just heading for a disastrous place. While they’re right to be concerned about that issue, there’s a loss of perspective of just how much the world is better and than it has been.

The good news is that our “time perspective” frames the way we see a multitude of issues and adjusting your perspective can be an antidote for despair.

[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]

HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French

PRODUCER: Kris Carter

The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.

Image Credit: Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

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