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Happy Re-Newal Year: The Human Right to Time

By David Gallup

The New Year provides an opportunity to reflect on time, which is a universal right. How time is celebrated and marked varies worldwide yet impacts all world citizens.

Although many celebrate January 1st as the start of the new year, Chinese celebrate the new year in late January or February, Iranians celebrate in late March, Hindus celebrate in March or April, Buddhists celebrate in April, Jews celebrate in September, Wiccans celebrate at the end of October, and Muslims celebrate based on shifts in the lunar calendar.

When people celebrate the New Year depends upon the calendar in use, which has varied over time, culture, religion and government. Some of the almost 100 different calendars include the Egyptian, Solar, Lunar, Yin-Yang, Mayan, Aztec, Hellenic, Roman, Julian, Celtic, Runic, and Gregorian. So January 1st and all other New Year’s celebrations are a human construct, a method of distinguishing how our lives fluctuate in comparison to one another in the space-time continuum.

Why do we choose to celebrate a new year, to put a border on part of our lives with a beginning and an end? Perhaps because we are alive for an infinitesimal amount of time, we want to mark milestones of our survival. We want to recognize the impact we world citizens have had on each other and the world around us. We want to comprehend the preciousness of time and how far humanity has progressed.

The universe moves at its own pace whether or not humans notice how long it takes for the earth to orbit the sun. Though the universe does what it will, we humans want a feeling of control. We celebrate the passage of time, the arrival of a new day, a new year, and the appreciation of what has gone and what is to come to have a sense of agency over how time passes. Self-imposed limits, such as marking of time, provide an appearance of structure, stability and security in an otherwise unpredictable world.

This recognition of time’s passing — the desire to track it, mark it, measure it — and the feeling of being bound by it is characteristically human, though not only human.

Like humans, our animal cohabitants of the earth also instinctually perceive time. They feel its impact through their visual, olfactory, auditory, gustatory, and tactile senses as well as through balance, motion, and magnetism. Elephants, chimpanzees, dolphins, and magpies recognize moments in time, such as “mourning” the loss of one of their tribe. Even plants and bacteria can sense time through changes in light and internal biochemical processes. An appreciation of the concept of time, and how it is used, is important for all beings, and in particular, humans as world citizens attempting to live together peacefully.

Human’s arrangement of time helps us to organize how we behave and interact with each other and the world around us. Our memory captures snippets of time, allowing us to repeat helpful events and actions and to avoid harmful ones. Storytelling, writing and photography, distinctly human capabilities, extend our memory, allowing us to travel through time. We can visit the past, describe the present, or imagine the future. As travelers-through-time, we can evolve as individuals, as humanity, and as part of the universe. We are certainly time keepers. When we recognize our rights and duties as world citizens, we can also be time givers.

Do we become older and wiser over time? Does time give us second and third chances? Does time give perspective?

The only time we can really change is now, how we use time in the perpetual present. Every day provides an opportunity for living anew. Every day is a moment to make each other happy and to treat each other and the earth with respect.

Although time itself has no frontiers, we humans create borders of time to add order to our lives together. To maintain that order, however, as world citizens we know that we do not need to separate one human from another by physical borders. In fact, we all share time, and time is free, in the sense that time is available without humans having to expend any energy to create it. We do need to spend energy in how we choose to use our time. This is where human-made borders, divvying up the earth, favors some humans over others. Thus many people are deprived of their right to time.

How does our control of time empower some of us, and the lack of control subjugate others of us?

If you are living at a subsistence level, all you can do is spend your time working or looking for your next meal. Although we each have a duty to use some of our time to help others and to improve our communities, we also have the right to invest time in personal improvement and in enjoyment and wonder of being alive.

This right to time is affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Article 24 of the UDHR affirms the right to leisure — meaning that we do not always need to use our time exercising our “right to work.” Article 24 states, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

Article 27(1) of the UDHR provides another outlet for how we may use time. It states, “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also affirms the right to “participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.”

These affirmations of our right to leisure, to uncontrolled time, are another way of stating that work should not be the ultimate goal of how we “spend” our time. We say “spend” because time, along with being a human right, is also a commodity that has value — value that can be given, taken, shared, wasted, saved, lost, and gained.

We must cherish time. We must appreciate that we have a right to time. We must reaffirm our commitment to equality of opportunity and equality of outcome with regard to time; it is a duty of everyone to respect how each of us can use the time we have.

Just like having a minimum basic income, we need to have a minimum basic time allotment to spend on ourselves, not working or laboring.

Humans have great intellect. As time passes, we as a species must use our intellect to evolve how we use our time to achieve a sustainable, just and peaceful world. We can create a virtuous cycle of ever-expanding human wisdom and planetary improvement. In addition to promoting time rights and duties to each other, we must also ensure that we use some of our time to protect the earth, or our time will be nil. The time is now to recognize that we must implement a new era of human and earth harmony, together as world citizens.

Happy New Year! Happy New Now! Happy New World!


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