Last night I woke up thinking about time. It was the night before Yom Kippur, and my mind raced to whether I would have enough time to put up the Sukkah, whether I would have enough time to make the soup, and then strangely enough, it raced and repeated the phrase “time…the final frontier.” As a psychotherapist a lot of my clients have been shocked when they hear that I have not indeed read or watched Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings. I am sure plenty of you are gasping now. However, many years ago I did watch a lot of Star Trek. I knew the phrase “time the final frontier” was incorrect, but in my half asleep state I could not remember the actual phrase from the television show. When I woke up the next morning the first thing that popped into my head was “space”, space was the final frontier, but why had I changed it to time? What was it about time that was so important for me to think about?
Then I remembered.
Time has been on my mind a lot these days. As a therapist I hear a lot about time. Often people express their fears about running out of time, or they explain that they do not feel as if they have enough time in a day. Sometimes my clients and I explore how they are struggling to work within the system of time established by their family, their company, or society; sometimes we sit together (remotely) in the angst they feel as their psychological distress results in them not being able to constantly move at the same pace that society seems to expect.
During the time I have with each client every week, the concept of time is ever-present. As a result, I decided it was important for me to understand time in a greater context, in order to be able to collaborate with my clients about their individual struggles with time in a deeper and broader fashion. I began by working to understand the history of the concept of time.
Slavery, Industry, and Capitalism
Society’s views on time run deep. I recently read an article in the Atlantic entitled A Brief Economic History of Time. The author Derek Thompson writes “… the age of exploration and the industrial revolution completely changed the way people measure time, understand time, and feel and talk about time.” It is my understanding that the Industrial Revolution turned time into a commodity, and, as a result, how we spent our time became intrinsically linked to productivity and moved further away from the idea of processes occurring during the passing of time. The Industrial Revolution also led to the rise of industrial capitalism and the link between capitalism and slavery is important to understand as we contemplate time. Dina Gerdeman, in her article The Clear Connection Between Slavery and American Capitalism, remarks upon the writings of Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman. Beckert and Rockman write “In the decades between the American Revolution and the civil war, slavery- as a source of the cotton that fed Rhode Island’s mills, as a source of wealth that filled New York’s banks, as a source of the markets that inspired Massachusetts manufacturers- proved indispensable to the national economic development.”
I believe these ideas deserve a pause in time. They may even require a full stop in order to digest them. If capitalism has its roots in the enslavement of people and capitalism is a direct byproduct of the Industrial Revolution and the Industrial Revolution changed how we see time, then how would it feel to be moving in time as a black person or a person of color. The answer for me is that I do not know, I am white.
I recently had the privilege of listening to a TED talk by Brittney Copper entitled The Racial Politics of Time. Copper is an associate professor of Women’s and Gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University. I will not attempt to summarize this TED talk, because I don’t think a topic of this significance should or could be summarized, but I will share a few thoughts from Brittany Copper that are important. In an interview with WGIU she says “Time has a history, and so do black people. But we treat time as though it is timeless, as though it has always been this way, as though it doesn’t have a political history bound up with the plunder of indigenous lands, the genocide of indigenous people and the stealing of Africans from their homeland.” She continues by explaining to us “When white, male European philosophers first thought to conceptualize time and history, one famously declared, Africa is no historical part of the world. He was, essentially saying that Africans were people outside of history who had had no impact on time or the march of progress.”
I remember this every time I sit with a client who is a person of color. I am conscious that as we sit together in time, we are carrying very different messages about what time means.
Personal Culture and Time
I have also put a lot of thought into my own concept of time and what I was taught as a white, Jewish woman about time. The first thing that came to my mind was that I was brought up with the weekly idea that there was time to work and time to rest, an idea I still practice today. It is an idea that has always been meaningful to me. It has helped me find balance and at times saved me from being washed into the sea of competition and productivity.
I then began to think about my childhood. I remembered how my friends would all go out on Friday evenings when I was at home, pausing in time, or when it was a holiday and I was home celebrating while others were at school spending their time productively. I used to note whose parents went to work on holidays and whose parents stayed home, marking with pride that my father was usually at home. I remembered feeling out of sync with time, out of sync with the grind, with product making. I then recounted the feeling of returning back to time, and with that return the unspoken expectation that I would succeed and produce on time. I carried with me the complex feeling of being “othered” and not aligned with society’s views on time, the expectation to do even better when I rejoined in order to not feel so “othered”, and the privilege to be able to join in a seamless way that my whiteness allowed.
All of us, therapists and clients alike, come to therapeutic spaces with our own experiences and our own relationship to time. It is important that we, as therapists, remember that not everyone has the same relationship to time, and not everyone has the same privilege in time. It must be remembered when therapists begin conversations with their clients about what time they want to meet and how often, as they note what time clients show up and cancel, when they track how quickly someone speaks, or when they notice how clients react to the session coming to an end. It is just as important that clients know that it is valid to voice their personal and cultural relationship to time in order to ensure that they are fully seen and that no therapeutic assumptions are made.
In case anyone was wondering after reading and contemplating all that I have written, I did have enough time to make the soup and put up the Sukkah. I hoped and continue to hope that maybe this year we can look at time as the final frontier, or at least as an essential frontier. For we all deserve to be counted in time, and all of our time deserves to be counted.