If time isn’t a resource, then what is it?

A friend recently told me a story. It isn’t an Homeric epic but it has had some surprising consequences, nonetheless. The story, as it was related to me:

My friend had a problem with an electrical appliance. Because I’m a trained electrician I offered to help. My friend took me up on the offer, stating that he’ll pay me for the trouble. I said not to worry. He’s a friend and it would only take a few hours. Besides, it’s my day off so I’ve got nothing else on.

My immediate response to the anecdote was to think of all the things I’ve heard about the importance of time and the necessity of fiercely protecting it. There’s no need to name names or cite all the books and blogs and podcasts that tell us that time is our most valuable asset and thus we should spend it wisely. Second, I thought how I, personally, would be disinclined to give up a chunk of one of my days-off so easily. Psychoanalyse that all you like; it’s what I thought. Third, I thought of a book: Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson.

Initially, they describe how our mind functions according to a selection of basic metaphors. These basic metaphors can be viewed:

…as foundations upon which we build larger structures, like houses or pyramids.
…as seeds from which trees grow and, eventually, fruit sprouts.
…as particularly potent and connected nodes in a vast and dynamic network.

(Note: which visualisation you plump for also points to potential strategies for the disruption of your thought. Foundations can be demolished, new seeds can be planted, certain nodes can be connected, disconnected, or excised altogether, and so on.)

With that out of the way, they go on to discuss the idea of “Time as a Resource and as Money”. First, they say that “One of the most striking characteristics of Western culture is that time is conceptualised in general as a resource and in particular as money.” They go on to give some idiomatic phrases as evidence for the previous statement, cite other cultures and societies which do not have this metaphor at that their centre, explore time’s human-aspected nature, and try to position it in relation to other supposedly more basic metaphors like events and motion. I won’t elaborate further: read the book if any of the above has lit up your pleasure neurons. What I will do, however, is share both a realisation and a question.

The realisation is not particularly profound: I just began to think that the over-valuation of time is at odds with the nature of community. Sure, in the story above, one friend is giving up their time for another either because of the status of a current relationship or in a bid to strengthen it for the future. But imagine, if you will, a scenario in which the relinquishing of your time is of massive personal cost but only marginal overall benefit to a greater collective. Would you do it? I don’t know whether I would, which means that I don’t know whether I value my time or my belonging to a community more.

The question is also not particularly profound, but it is one I am still attempting to answer. Maybe you have a clue and can help? Here’s the question:

If time isn’t a resource, then what is it?