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If a parolee is late for an appointment with his parole officer, or if he looks like he violated the conditions of his release, he risks being sent to the caboose.
Some civil libertarians have problems with this. You want to send people to jail simply for messing up with their parole officer? You’re going to make a crime out of being late or skipping an appointment with a justice-system bureaucrat?
But in this seemingly harsh punishment is a reminder that, with all the speedily changing social mores of each generation, there’s one that won’t die: Show up on time.
Even in the case of the parolee, missing an appointment is taken to mean more than just missing an appointment. There’s often a lot of information packed into blowing off your parole officer.
Skipping an appointment isn’t going to be enough for jail time. But it’s a signal that the parolee needs watching, that he might be trying to hide that he’s on drugs, or has left the state or doesn’t want to answer questions about what he’s been up to — or any number of things that constitute an actual violation of the terms of parole.
Fact is, without observing bad behavior, we judge people by the signals they send out that they’re on the wrong side of the sociopathic scale. That’s why, at sentencing, a lawyer will put his criminal defendant in a suit and ask him to show respect for the judge. It’s also why a defendant who cusses out a judge is apt to get jail time for contempt of court.
Maybe it’s not fair to put so much significance on being on time. Maybe we’re discriminating against the free spirit who doesn’t have an alarm clock.
But life’s like that. We look at a person and judge in a nanosecond whether he can be trusted, whether his life is a mess. We look at how he presents himself, and that includes showing up on time.
Canadian academic Jordan Peterson has become the world’s most important intellectual by writing a book about the “Twelve Rules for Life,” sensible rules about how to take command of your life and inspire trust. They’re old-fashioned, almost Victorian: Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie.
If I could, I’d add a 13th rule: Show up on time.
Showing up on time can be flexible. It depends on the context. If it’s for a dinner party, five minutes late is better than being exactly on time. For meetings in the army, the rule is show up five minutes early. And if it’s for a job interview, the rule is be there exactly on time.
What would you think of the guy who showed up 20 minutes late? Even if he tells you he had a good excuse, who cares? He’s just signaled that, if you hired him, he’d be unreliable.
It’s something I see in The Washington Post’s “Date Lab” column. Every Saturday the Post reports on a blind date the paper set up, with two kids who are trying to make a good impression on someone they’ve never met.
Afterward, they’ll each say what they did and how it worked out. They’ll almost always report that they showed up on time. If one of them was late, you could pretty much expect that the other party would be peeved, whatever the explanation.
If he’s not reliable in small things, he can’t be trusted with big things, either.
We might wish for a seemingly more rational world, where we look only for clear evidence of good or bad behavior, and don’t judge a person by how he presents himself. But that’s not the world we live in, and I suspect it’s because showing up on time tells us a lot about a person.
F.H. Buckley is a professor at Scalia Law School and author of “The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed.”
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