When you actually stop to ponder it, we think and talk about time and money in strikingly similar ways. We waste time and money; we spend them; we save them; we invest them; and we budget them. In terms of their value, then, we might say that time and money are about equal.
Yet, on further consideration, our valuing of time and money diverge in at least two fundamental ways.
- First, unlike the case with money, we can’t stash time away for later use. Once it has slipped by, it’s gone for good. It is this furtive quality of time that makes it inherently precious and valuable.
- Second, unlike money, which is always a means to an end, time can act as both a means and an end. Let me explain.
Spending or investing time to learn a new craft involves using it as a means toward achieving a desired end.
Time is also valuable as an end in and of itself. Sitting outside on my porch, I witness the arc of the sun as it approaches the color-laden horizon. In this time-space, I attune to the pulsing hues of sky and gentle sways of wind. I listen to the subtle exit of birdsong and entrance of the insectival chorus. I occupy this time-space and step into the cycling of day and of season. This act of being can be thought of as both a means and an end: time grants me the space (i.e., the means) to observe the sunset while I savor the inhabiting of time-space itself (i.e., the end).
Money promises something better down the road in the form of pleasurable consumption or freedom from debt. Money’s value, then, resides in anticipation of what is to come at the expense of what is happening here and now. Time, on the other hand, asks us to seek pleasure in our present life-world. Time’s value, then, lies in its orienting our attention to the unfolding present, to those special qualities of our fleeting and vital existence.