Could the person next to you understand time completely differently? Could this be a reason you and someone you love find yourself having trouble communicating? If you’re an English speaker, there are two ways that you could perceive time, and the way to determine that starts with this statement: “Wednesday’s noon meeting has been moved forward by two hours.”

So, what do you think? What time is the meeting now?

Before we get into answering that question, it’s time that we think about the way we perceive the world. How, maybe, in understanding how each of us looks at something as basic as time, we can understand so much more about each other.

Do you have a partner, friend, or loved one that you sometimes have trouble communicating with? Maybe you’re just looking at the world with a slightly different view!

Image: Alarm clock on a background with two different colors splitting the image down the middle

Source: Pixabay

Thinking about time and how we perceive it can sometimes feel like contemplating the edge of the universe. But before we go running away to a list of questions that will lead us off a philosophical cliff, let’s see what could make you and I land on different answers for the question at the top of the article, shall we?

Have you ever said something that you thought was so clear that another person just didn’t understand?

Language has a funny way of being personal sometimes. We may use different words to mean different things, or we may just perceive the world a little differently than one another. Either way, whether we’re giving directions or recounting the day’s events, you and your conversation partner may not be on the same page all of the time.

When it comes to talking about time, this is where things get interesting. As we mentioned, for native English speakers, there are two ways that you can perceive time, and if we’re talking to somebody with a different perspective, we may find ourselves a little confused from time to time.

So, if someone were to tell you, “Wednesday’s noon meeting has been moved forward by two hours,” what time would you write down?

Is it 2 pm or 10 am? And what does your answer say about how you see the world?

Here are the awesome guys from AsapSCIENCE to let us in on what’s going on!

‌If you are the kind of person that walks around in the world asking all kinds of questions, then head over to the AsapSCIENCE YouTube channel! They have fascinating videos covering a wide range of topics that will have all of your questions about science and the world answered!

How Culture Affects Time!

Did you know the culture you grew up in could affect your perception of time? When we talk about the “direction” of time, cultures have developed many ways to discuss the past and the future. Some cultures orient time by the cardinal directions, some see time as running up and downhill, others position time using local rivers—in one culture time makes an oblique angle following the direction of the river. 2 (If you want to learn more about this, and some other incredible time-culture facts, check out this video.)

Our languages may also describe time differently! For instance, English speakers usually describe the passage of time in terms of distance: “it was a long meeting” or “it was a short meeting.” Whereas in Spanish, the passage of time is discussed in terms of volume: “it was a big meeting” or “it was a small meeting.” 3

So, what was your answer?

I was a 2:00 gal, and honestly, I really couldn’t see how it would be any other way! When I first saw this video I proceeded to ask all of my loved ones for their answer, too.

But what does any of this say about us, other than just being a fun bit of knowledge? Well, think about all the little ways our perceptions differ like this. My mental model for how time works might be different than my partners’ (who fell into the 10:00 camp at first), and we may find ourselves frustrated with one another when we can’t understand each other. Something may seem perfectly obvious to me but not to another person all because of this small difference in perception.

Sometimes, these little misunderstandings add up, or they could lead to an accidental “big mistake”—imagine showing up to that changed meeting 4 hours late! I like to think of these differences in perception, though, as moments for us to step outside of ourselves and try to see the world through the lens of somebody else.

We so very often come up against people with completely different views of the world and say, “How can they think that way?” But what if we paused in those moments and got curious?

If we were curious about the reasons why we see the world so differently, imagine how our conversations would go! If we were to lean into learning more about somebody when they had a different perspective on the world instead of trying to get them to see your point of view, it would probably lead to far more productive and interesting conversations.

You can dive a little deeper into the way our perceptions differ—and how that can give us more perspective on each other—with a few of these great articles!

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Flipping Perceptions

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An Artist Using Graffiti to Change Perceptions

Artist, Shamsia Hassani, is using her graffiti to change society's perceptions. Her work depicts strong women and a brighter future for Afghanistan. Here is her story...

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The next time you say something that’s a little confusing to somebody else, or find yourself talking to somebody who sees the world in a completely different way, let it be a reminder to get curious and take it as an opportunity to learn more about the other person and yourself! You may find yourself with far less conflict, and many more deep conversations in your life.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

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Notes:

  1. AsapSCIENCE. “Which of These TWO Ways Do You Perceive Time?” YouTube, 25 June 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b0Nn9jE5Hc&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 15 Sept. 2020.
  2. World Science Festival. “How Do Different Cultures Think About Time?” YouTube, 15 Jan. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4klDmEViusA&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 15 Sept. 2020.
  3. Seeker. “How Bilingual Brains Perceive Time Differently.” YouTube, 23 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2sw-oRR2D8&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 15 Sept. 2020.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and the COO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV