K is for Kairos
Updated: Aug 13, 2022
“Every kairos is a chronos,but not every chronos is a kairos.” Hipporates
The ancient Greeks had three main concepts of time: aion (αιών) , chronos (χρόνος) and kairos (καιρός). Personified as gods, aion represented the eternal time, chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, while kairos, the youngest child of Zeus, was the god of opportunity and signifies the right, critical, or opportune moment for decisive action; i.e. a time when conditions are right to achieve something worthwhile. Together, they explained humanity’s place in a temporal world as it moved forward through eternity. You can think of aion as the ocean, chronos as its current and perhaps kairos as the point of a breaking wave for a surfer.
Like us, ancient Greeks made a distinction between the quantity of time and its quality—between chronos and kairos. Today we all crave more ‘me time’ or quality time as if it is a special moment of time endowed with a better quality than normal time but every moment is filled with potential, so what determines our experience is how we use the time we have. Whether we enjoy it or not is subjective and not reflective on its intrinsic value. Our experience of kairos time is a personal one and we get out of it what we put in
Kairos is concerned with the notion of seizing the appropriate time to do something which will affect our future. Chronos is about measuring time, whilst kairos is about judging its significance.
As Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”
There is a time and place for everything and everyone. We shouldn’t attempt to force what’s not yet suppose to fit into your life. There is a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes in the bible:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…”
When the Greeks first translated the Bible from Hebrew, they expressed every reference to time in the above passage as kairos, not chronos.
How can we apply kairos today and live by kairos not kronos?
As we go through life we begin to appreciate that there is a better or an optimum time for the many and varied activities and experiences in our lives. It is no use trying to force something at the wrong time as we are likely to not do it as well, not have the desired effect and might miss out on other time-sensitive opportunities plus we are not using our time effectively or optimally at that particular moment. We have opportunities for kairos generally in our lives Eg parents have only a set amount of time to raise their children before they leave home and more specifically there are opportunities for creating kairos in our daily routines e.g. reflecting at the end of our day. For each of us, there is:
A time to strive for what could be; a time to accept what is.
A time to be with people; a time to be alone.
A time to withdraw; a time to reach out. A time to back down; a time to stand up.
A time to work ; a time to rest A time to hold on; a time to let go. A time to make plans; a time to throw out plans. A time to start things; a time to end things. A time to say yes; a time to say no. A time to embrace complexity; a time to simplify. A time to learn; a time to teach. A time to connect with like-minded friends; a time to reach out to those who are different etc etc
Our varied, contrasting experiences cover a gamut of emotions and feelings and they all have their proper place in our lives and gives shape to our lives. Our challenge is to be present each and every day with the time it is; to see and accept and even embrace the moment, and give us some kairos time to make the decision about what is the best use of it.
One way that we can do this is to establish daily kairos routines. If we think about it there is usually an optimum time for certain things each day. Eg if we feel centred by having 30 minutes to reflect on/plan our day, read, do some breathing techniques or affirmations etc we are perhaps going to feel their benefit more at the beginning of the day to start our day properly than midway through the day or at the end of it. We have an opportunity to set the pace rather than just wake and rush headfirst into it the day without any thought to the direction and pace. Another example might be that we wouldn’t choose to exercise immediately after we have eaten. Once we have worked out what these times and things are for us it is useful to think about the benefits of embracing each kairos moment during the day as a means of reinforcement and motivation.
We can also actively look for kairos moments when significant events occur; we can think about how we can make the most of the opportunity presented to us in terms of what we can do, learn, see or experience.
When we feel out of sorts or unfulfilled or lacking a sense of purpose, this is a sign that you're missing out on kairos moments. It is at these times that we need to take a step back and reflect on our activities and consciously make time for things that nourish our soul, investing in ourselves, rather than multitasking and trying to force things that perhaps are not aligned with our values or strengths.
Most of us are driven by the clock and have busy lives and deadlines. Having a chronos mind-set can often make us miss out on seeing what is going on all around us. Our eyes are trained on the clock, where we need to go, what’s next on our ‘to do’ list but if we live by kairos however, it isn’t about living by a schedule, but by living life in the moment and being fully present with people in that moment.
Kairos moments frequently occur when we least expect them and they seldom fit into our self-determined plan for the day which is why we perhaps miss them and view them as intrusions in our lives or distractions to our plans. When we are open to opportunities and develop flexibility it is then that we are likely to benefit the most. Each time a kairos moment occurs, we have the opportunity to make a choice whether to disrupt our plans and choose to lay them aside for the sake of a potential opportunity presenting itself or to stick rigidly to our plans even if the opportunity before us presents a better option in line with our core values and goals.
“I want my heart to be the thin place. I don't want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.” Anna White
Kairos moments are often referred to as decisive moments; they are positive or negative but never neutral and our question should always be “What we will do with this moment?” Will we have growth mindset, ‘carpe diem’ and do what's best for us, or will have a fixed mindset and succumb to the status quo ?
The chronos moves forward and there’s nothing we can do about it but Kairos gives us space to control our future and is never wasted.
“BEing time is never wasted time. When we are BEing, not only are we collaborating with chronological time, but we are touching on kairos, and are freed from the normal restrictions of time.” Madeleine L'Engle
“Kairos is a word with layers of meaning," says Eric Charles White
"Most usually, it is defined in terms of its classical Greek courtroom nuances: winning an argument requires a deft combination of creating and recognizing the right time and right place for making the argument in the first place. However, the word has roots in both weavings (suggesting the creation of an opening) and archery (denoting the seizing of, and striking forcefully through an opening)."
According to Diogenes, Protagoras the philosopher , was the first to expound the importance of the "right moment" in classical rhetoric. Kairos, or the idea of using your words at the right time, was also an important feature of Aristotle’s teachings. The time in which an argument is deployed is as important as the argument itself. An argument at the wrong time or to the wrong audience will be wasted; to be effective, you must also consider when you are speaking and to whom. Choosing your timing is essential to get your message across effectively
The Sophists (a group of intellectuals who made their living teaching different subjects) were particularly interested in Kairos and stressed the importance of ascertaining the ideal time and place. Kairos should ideally factor into all uses of the modes of persuasion, but some events are season sensitive. This notion is still used today; we can see its use and application in everyday interactions, political speeches and advertising eg the coca cola truck and polar bear or M&Ms at Christmas time, adverts for beer during periods of sport, ice-creams in the height of Summer etc
Kairos effectively asks you to consider the context and atmosphere of the argument you’re making (or activity you are planning) with respect to time and space i.e. should you wait, or is time of the essence? What may be appropriate one moment may be irrelevant later
When we use kairos effectively, kairos strengthens our ability to persuade others (or motivate ourselves) by considering how people are already feeling based on context. It works in conjunction with the other modes of persuasion (pathos and logos) to strengthen your argument (motivation).
Kairos is also important in respect to your audience when you communicate with others. It is important to think about your audience; their circumstances, what they bring to the table, how they think about the issue, and how they're likely to respond to your message.
In summary Kairos is concerned about doing the right thing, in the right place at the right time and when interacting with others doing so in the right manner. It is about intentionally defining your time as opposed to drifting through your life. Kairos is about living in the present and not dwelling in the past or the future over which you no longer have any control. In addition, to live optimally, we need in depth knowledge of ourselves and our situation so that we can add value to the moment.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Where can you see opportunities for Kairos in your everyday life?
What kairos routines can you deliberately create?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started: