We arrive at this point so regularly that we ought to expect the rush, the anxiety, the curiosity that take turns in our priorities every December. The year is ending; time’s up. There must be a meaning in a development that affects everyone, and still we search for meaning.
Over my writing career I’ve drafted the closing-out message, the looking-ahead message, and the stay-the-course message, taking the approach that suits my mood or seems to match the moment, whether that moment has been framed by anxiety or curiosity, or enthusiasm or dread. It fits the moment but never manages to resolve the dilemma. Why do we give so much of ourselves over to ‘time,’ its demands on us and its indifference to our expectations? Why do we feel so defeated by our failure to master ‘time’?
Now, anyone with a memory of my past writing will know I return to this subject frequently, regardless of the calendar. Time may be a taskmaster but history is a reliable teacher. We (and I) learn from the vast record of human experience, as well as our own experiences and mistakes, if we are disposed to receive that information with some patience and openness.
I doubt I am the only one who feels the pressure of time, and the frustration it induces when we sense we’re running out of it. And the sense of being beaten by time is only part of trap. The past year has given many metalcasters a sense of triumph or satisfaction – the assurance that government policies are now turned to favor them and their interests. “‘Make American Great Again’ has been more beneficial than anything in the past decade for American manufacturing,” one reader effused. Another one countered: “Not sure what tariffs will do to us.” “Tariffs are inflating costs that were not part of our budget forecast,” added another.
The past year has been a good time for foundries and diecasters, and for manufacturers in general, as FM&T’s annual survey of the industry’s decisionmakers has documented for us. Casting shipment totals have increased in line with industrial and consumer demand. But what has brought success or progress has also introduced new factors that must be understood, and managed. Some people see only the good, others see only new problems.
The trap of moments like this is the impulse to interpret success as an individual triumph – comparable to the more common mistake of reading failure into missed schedules or lost opportunities. Of course, we volunteer for these problems: we engage in professions and activities in which time is budgeted, allocated, incentivized, and monetized. We reward services delivered on-time. We reward ourselves with “time off” because we have made it such a rare and valuable commodity.
We have made ourselves into commercial beings — overly eager for any sort of reward we may gain by our skill or availability. We view the reward as affirmation. Having been rewarded, we want more. We’re willing to sacrifice more, often too much, to get it.
We’ve also disoriented ourselves by expanding the scope of knowledge that is accessible to individuals, and impulsively we confuse the facts we collect and the feelings or opinions that seem to spring from the same place. And we lose our selves in the technology that links all these variables, extraordinarily powerful tools that are not extensions of our minds or our wills, no matter how persuasive that illusion seems.
Of course we live in an extraordinary time, but all times are extraordinary according to the experience of those living and aware of them. We must re-determine the value of individuals apart from their commercial affect or potential for reward.
Time exists apart from any individual, and it will continue beyond the understanding or concern of any one of us. The great progress of human civilization over centuries and millennia is the result of incremental change, of humanity knowing well its own purpose and obligations. We should not celebrate or mourn our circumstances, but we should reconsider what we value.