Hello from Egypt! NLP and the language of time looks different from here. (NLP – Neuro Linguistics Programming)
Marhaba! Sweet summer – six weeks off from school for a teacher like me, more precisely, six weeks seasonal work in a five-star hotel in Cairo. Wow! Being an NLP student, from the very beginning, I was insanely inspired by the timeline model.
Perhaps it’s a personal thing as people keep telling me that I rush through everything I do: speaking like a gat, running instead of walking, hectically browsing around, always on (or even before) the dot, etc.
They may be right. My watch, unsurprisingly, is set ten minutes forward as if I was trying to catch up with it. Anyway, before departure, I got hold of the book “Timeline Therapy and the Basis of Personality” by Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall to dive deeper into this fascinating issue.
NLP And The Language of Time
Well, to be honest, I had problems emotionally associating to my past or visualizing the future in vivid detail.
How do you personally represent time? Probably in a similar manner to me from left to right, the past being to the left and the future being to the right. Our idea of time is reflected even in our language, as in ‘time waits for no man’.
In Arabic time is exactly the other way round, namely from back (past) to front (future).
And by the way, they also write from right to left. If you speak Arabic, you know their language has at least some verb forms reflecting the concept of past, present and future. All in all, the language concept is rather naïve besides a complex structure with a relatively complicated script (no short vowels e.g.), lots of ambiguities (on average 20 per word), phrasal constituencies, almost no grammatical rules (just get rid of the sentence’s subject if you want) or language planning, but an emphatic love of nominalizations.
Of course, the Arabic language has its own linguistic method of how making sensory predicates which may seem strange to other cultures of different internal preferences and strategies. Moreover, the method of representing time reflects a different way of thinking from what I know but gives great insight into another person’s map of the world. Presuming that everybody else in this world has a timeline, no matter the culture, it may completely differ such as in Arabic countries.
Ok ok, I’m getting to it.
Unlike Western time where one event occurs after another in a linear fashion, the Arabic times indicate that every event occurs at the same time.
They become able to handle several matters simultaneously without following a strict time schedule, perhaps the reason why they find it also easier to meet deadlines although still living for the moment. Let’s say the hotel’s head meeting is scheduled at 4 p.m. If the F&B officer in charge has not yet finished his current task– even if it runs to half past – he simply goes on with it. Fortunately, the other ones waiting to turn up mostly think and act in the same way, so no one suffers.
It doesn’t mean that the person waiting is of no importance. It’s that people simply act differently depending on the way they think about time. They experience it as a series of present moments, after all, there is no other time than right now. In the end, somehow, they get their work done: It’s just that things happen eventually, but invariably tomorrow. And if not, it hasn’t been of much importance anyway.
Nevertheless, with a good chunk of sensory acuity, you can easily overcome any feelings of strangeness, discourtesy, inefficiency, and impatience– which incidentally are mutual. Any system of time seems foreign to the other; we all construe our map as the territory. Or plainly put: ‘What a piece of bread looks like depends on whether you’re hungry or not’ as an old Arabic saying goes.
In Arabic terms it’s simply because things happen all at once, removing the whole notion of a future and how I perceived it so far. It even seems to affect a person’s value of life itself. Obviously, time awareness seems to be a feature of modern business-focused countries. The Arabic people have accordingly their own world of reality, another present-moment of experience which instantly made me think of my youngsters in class.
Obviously, time means universally the way they live their time in the permanent present, too. The future simply does not exist for them yet. These differences from country to country and at different ages only represent different methods of time storage between one person, of any culture, and another. Phrases such as “we’re running out of time”, “keep an eye on the time”, or “where’s the time gone?” do exist here, but please, sedately.
According to James and Woodsmall, Arabic time is associated more closely with what we know as the holistic, sensory right-brain thinking (for Europeans it’s left-brain, logical, sequential).
Another major distinction is the Arabic attitude towards the past. How smooth they manage to put things behind them and get on with their present life.
Once my boss told me, look, that’s all in the past, I cannot do anything about it, so I had best put my past out of my mind. And what about looking forward? Well, the future hasn’t happened yet, why shall I care? Only Allah knows about tomorrow, I’m living right now, so, who cares about the future. Arabic people do actually plan and organize things for the future but using a more balanced perception of time; it’s the present that takes a proper place in their lives.
Thanks to this notion of time, I could learn so much more from my past and future and yet value the present, in which I find the truest sense of my own fulfillment– I call it my-being-in-Egypt-element, once I began to appreciate how they handle time.
Think about this one: there’s no other time than right now. Cool!
And the ball began to roll: I gained a better perspective on some tricky matters in Germany, once- after just changing the time context, -I started feeling less worried about them by changing my outlook, and finally, me AND my life were gratefully enriched by these newly discovered additional perspectives. Well, I’m not sure if now I’m a so-called ‘Perceiver’ or ‘In Time’ person or not.
However, I’m sure of one thing: It is this light-heartedness and ease that jumped on me like a spark, making my time in Egypt so relaxing. That’s why I’ll do my very best to continue stick on to this concept after returning home. Unfortunately, my time in Egypt has nearly run out, there’s only one more week left. But hey, who cares about tomorrow…?In that sense, ma’a s-salamah!