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Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Few consider it today, but punctuality is a corollary of loyalty. In another chapter of the Small Manual of Civility, we noted that a loyal man was a man of his word. He does not say one thing and mean another. If he agrees to do something, he does it.

This transmits to being punctual. A man who says he will be somewhere at a specific time, follows through on his word. To make someone wait, to disregard the time of others, is a lack of consideration for one’s neighbor.

Parents play an important role in establishing punctuality as an important goal for their children. First, they give good example. Second, they help their children make schedules, and then follow them carefully, and also see that they are punctual in the commitments they make at home and with others.

Here you have the translation of Chapter 14 of our Manual of Civility.

The Small Manual of Civility reminds us of the importance of the spoken word, of fidelity to a higher cause, of the chivalric ideal of loyalty. It invites us to put aside the theatrical and sentimental notions of the synthetic brand of loyalty that often comes from Hollywood, and adopt the true loyalty of the honorable man of Christendom. That is, to be a man whose word has meaning because he is a man willing to give his very life for the cause of God and fatherland.
In social relations, punctuality is one of the most important obligations of civility and good customs. It is one of the essential elements of order. Without it, one cannot succeed in any undertaking.

We could refer to many cases where the lack of punctuality harmed important affairs, upset magnificent projects, unraveled the most convenient arrangements, destroyed powerful plans of action, or even changed the direction of political and national events.

A battle during the Napoleonic wars
Let us look at only two episodes from the battles of Napoleon.

On June 14, 1800 Bonaparte, taken by surprise at Marengo, fell back under the Austrians led by General Melas. But later, General Desaix arrived with his forces. The French were fast to bring up and deploy these fresh troops, and the Austrians were slow to mount their attack. The result was the grand victory of Marengo that sealed the success of Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1800. If General Desaix would have been late bringing fresh troops, the French would have lost. His habit of punctuality – he did not know that a surprise attack was planned – saved the French.

In June of 1815, Napoleon was in Waterloo in an important battle with the English commanded by Wellington. Wellington was counting on a Prussian reinforcement to defeat Napoleon. Wellington had the advantage of a strategic position, but Napoleon quickly undermined his position. Everything relied on the arrival of the Prussians. On top of the hill at Waterloo, Wellington was keeping watch, counting the minutes that he could hold out...

When everything seemed lost, the Prussian army arrived, coming from behind Napoleon’s troops. Caught between two fires, the French army fell into panic, fled the field, and Napoleon lost the battle. With this defeat, the Napoleonic dream collapsed. If General von Blücher, commander of the Prussians, would not have been punctual, the fate of Europe would have been different.

A Late Dinner Guest at the Vatican, by Frank Moss Bennett

A late dinner guest at the Vatican
Frank Moss Bennett
Limiting ourselves to the general field of a good education, we can say that the lack of punctuality represents:
  1. A scorn for order and the rules that are the obvious expression of the will of God for us in our family and social lives.

  2. A disdain for the persons we deal with. When we oblige them to wait, their time is wasted and their affairs are disrupted because of our disregard. We can also cause them to become impatient.

  3. A contempt for ourselves, because one who commits to a certain time and thing should honor his promise.
From the social point of view, to make someone wait or not to carry out a promise in the pledged time is a lack of civility. From a moral point of view, it can be an injustice, because our lateness can prevent others from fulfilling their duties. How often, because of a lack of punctuality, a person can lose not only an important contract or good, but also the esteem and goodwill of friends and business associates.

In the eyes of the well-bred man, everything in his daily life has an importance. The duty of punctuality applies to an invitation, a walk, a visit, a family dinner just as it would to a critical political meeting, an important social engagement, or an action with serious consequences.

Victorians Rushing

Rushing does not always save time
Charles Philipon
Both the one who invites and the one invited have the obligation to be punctual. If one is a superior or in a position of authority, the lack of punctuality is more than a breach of civility. This can cause serious consequences not just for himself, but for others. If one is an equal or an inferior, his lack of punctuality can be an act of injustice, stealing time from others, which can deprive them of some good.

St. Therese of Lisieux was grand in the practice of the “Little Way,” which is to carry out every small duty well. She valued the virtue of punctuality so much that she said: “We should be so mortified that, when we are called, we should stop what we are doing immediately and answer the call.”

Youth should accustom themselves to follow a schedule in everything: rising, working, eating, resting, and praying. Not only does following a routine give the good fruit of peace and prosperity, it also teaches courteous behavior toward all - superiors, friends and inferiors.

The Spanish have a saying, Despacio voy, porque de prisa estoy. I go slowly because I am in a hurry. It is a good maxim for the person who is often tardy to reflect upon. Proceeding methodically often gets better and faster results than rushing. The person who is always in a hurry is usually the one who is always late.

Other consequences of being late

A painting of a young man who Missed the Train

Missed the train...
  • The student arrives late for classes, losing precious lesson time and receiving punishments.

  • The fireman arrives after the fire has already devoured the building.

  • The businessman does not pay his bills on time and is hounded by creditors, loses his good reputation, and can even fall into bankruptcy.

  • The doctor does not arrive in time to prescribe and apply the remedy, allowing the sick person to suffer needlessly and perhaps even hasten his death.

  • The soldier appears at the place of combat after the enemy has already invaded the country and smashed the resistance.

  • The traveler arrives late at the airport and sees the plane depart without him.

  • The hare reaches the end of the track, but still loses the race to the tortoise.

  • The foolish virgins present themselves at the banquet hall after the door has been closed and are left outside weeping and wailing because they cannot enter the feast.
Lewis Carroll

Man naturally loves delay,
And to procrastinate;
Business put off from day to day
Is always done too late.

Let every hour be in its place
Firm fixed, nor loosely shift,
And well enjoy the vacant space,
As though a birthday gift.

And when the hour arrives, be there,
Where'er that "there" may be;
Uncleanly hands or ruffled hair
Let no one ever see.

If dinner at "half-past" be placed,
At "half-past" then be dressed.
If at a "quarter-past," make haste
To be down with the rest

Better to be before your time,
Than e're to be behind;
To open the door while strikes the chime,
That shows a punctual mind.

Let punctuality and care
Seize every flitting hour,
So shalt thou cull a floweret fair,
E'en from a fading flower


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted June 25, 2007

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