Religion made the word "lazy" among the worst of all insults. I beg to differ. It's much more complex than that.
Variations on this are everywhere, but most particularly in religion:
The idle mind is the Devil's playground/workshop.
The ancestors who made themselves very busy on these American shores, Australian shores and elsewhere often carried this judgment with them: the idea that if I have time to think, I will think about the wrong things. I might make bad choices.
Yep. I do that when I'm busy, too. If anything, we've seen how being shoved into toxic productivity has likely carved such deep canoes of resentment inside us in our longing for a day off that we now spend a lot of time being pretty hateful.
Worse, religious teachings about sloth and laziness have lead societies-too many of them and often not indigenous ones- to assume that someone's body size is indicative of sloth and laziness, not of a slew of other natural conditions which are more likely. Especially when anxiety, depression and life-altering issues can bring us to a complete halt.
I'm going to toss out a few tidbits for the sake of discussion.
Here's an excerpt from Calvinist teachings around laziness:
First is the assumption that the Calvinist’s main motivation in life is to do as little as possible to honor God. It is an assumption of laziness and selfishness.
Secondly, there is the assumption that all Calvinists will rationalize their laziness by following the doctrine of election to its logical (yet unbiblical) extreme. But that is where a balanced view of Scripture mediates the sinful logic of man that would otherwise carry us away into a den of iniquity.
If you read carefully into this, there's a spark of deep truth. If you scan the larger article you understand that the original premise is, and these are my words only, that once someone believes they are saved, all the hard work is done and they can do anything they want from here on out. It won't matter, the thinking goes, because they have been anointed. Boy does that have modern repercussions among many so-called Christians, but I won't go there.
That truth however, has been twisted into attacking anyone for what someone else perceives as "lazy." I'm going to circle back around to this in a sec. Even though I am no fan of the Calvinist teachings, the greater problem, as with most religious texts, is how people have twisted it utterly out of context and use it to demean, diminish and destroy others, most particularly marginalized folks.
Author and Medium peep Devon Price writes:
So, from this ugliness spring body shaming, body age, size hate, any one of a number of our unfounded and damning assumptions about people. Usually anyone not as hyper-busy as we are. Our way, of course, is THE ONLY WAY. Because we need validation for OUR WAY no matter how insane OUR WAY may well be.
They are fat and LAZY? I beg to differ.
It isn't just that big folks are some of the most motivated, energetic and focused folks I know. It's much bigger than that, pardon the pun.
First, this smart article interviewing Price nails a goodly bit of our prejudice and terror around the term:
From the article:
Why overemphasizing "hard work" is problematic
We live in a reality where people do accurately recognize that that we live and die by our ability to work. And so there's this self-defeating but also really rational quality to our compulsive overwork that a lot of us have. It becomes really self-defeating to say, "I'm in this on my own. I need to work really hard and make a lot of money so that I can take care of myself." Because when you think that way, you also take on a much gloomier view of other people. Anyone else and their needs is kind of a threat to my own kind of rugged individualism and independence. So it keeps us really isolated. It keeps us judging our co-workers for not pulling their own weight because we're suffering so hard. [It] can kind of create this downward spiral of just workaholism and isolation.
I particularly like this quote:
I think when we start listening to laziness, we can really question a lot of unfair social standards like fat phobia. This social standard says that our bodies need to look a certain way and that we need to exercise and cook meals that look a particular way. And it's just all of this drive towards meeting a really arbitrary standard of perfection. When we stop pushing ourselves to kind of overachieve by this completely arbitrary metric, we can say, "OK, what actually feels good for my body? How do I actually want to spend my time?"
Since I have been guilty of this compulsion to work twelve-hour days, seven days a week, I can speak directly to this. I had to stop. Not only for my sanity but also for my health. Nobody cared.
Let me say that again. NOBODY CARED. Including some invisible entity in the sky, who, should s/he exist, would probably be far more appreciative of my taking the world we were given far more joyfully as it originally was created than to put yet another backhoe to work tearing all her trees down for more effing condos.
I instituted midweek Hump Days in order force myself to take mini vacations and get in the habit of being bored. By god lazy. Because in this sense it's damned healthy. VERY healthy.
But that's both external and symptomatic. The real message of this is much deeper, and interestingly enough, circles right back to the quote from the Calvinist beliefs, above.
John Calvin wrote:
“Whatever is taught in Scripture, for instance, about the corrupt nature of man, free justification, and eternal election, is turned by many into an encouragement to sloth and to carnal indulgence. Such persons are fitly and justly pronounced to be swine.” (author bolded)
On this, I agree. Because far too many folks, having walked through some kind of religious ritual which they honestly believe gives them the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, honest-to-God believes that this is all they gotta do. One and DONE. That is what Calvin is addressing.
While I am not fond of much else Calvinist, on this the Great Bearded One and I are fully in alignment. For when we make a commitment, no matter whether that is to some invisible someone in the sky or to another human being or more importantly to ourselves, the real work only just started.
After the initial enthusiasm about the newness has worn off, just like having lost 100 lbs, now we find out what it looks like to keep on slogging. Keep going, trying harder, sticking to it, challenging ourselves, whether it's weight loss or dropping the weight of hate off our shoulders. Or committing to a relationship through the inevitable nasty bits and disappointing parts.
The rest is lifelong Deep Work. And much of that Deep Work is done in the still, terrifying silences of our inner world, where we must come face to face with the laziness that Calvin is addressing, and which I will address here.
In one of my favorite spiritual books, the question of Laziness is addressed in precisely that way.
Laziness is a deep-rooted, common weakness. It appears in all of us. If it is physical, it is easy to detect. I don't like to get up from my comfortable chair, sofa or bed. I don't like to go two blocks out of my way to do something I should do for myself or someone else. I don't want to move faster or do a task which may require physical effort. I may not even want to bend down to pick something up. Whatever I may do, I don't do it as well as it could be done. With each thing I attempt, there are many levels of quality possible in how it is accomplished. How carefully do I make my bed? Do I properly set the table? In my work,* laziness is when I see what could be done, what is possible at my level or a little beyond, and I do not do it.
-John Fuchs, Forty Years After Gurdjieff
*Here the term "work" refers to spiritual development, Deep Work and work on the self.
Fuchs goes on to discuss everything from avoiding balancing a checkbook, to the kinds of everyday laziness like not making an important phone call. We all do it. ALL of us. It is part of the human condition to default to comfort, and in this case, laziness. We avoid things that require greater effort.
Deep spiritual work takes the greatest effort of all. It takes sacrificing time we'd prefer to spend watching a show or texting gossip. It demands that we forfeit a favorite activity to BE in the presence of what we perceive is Greater, and give it our full and humble attention. Come to terms with what we don't wanna do, and trade that laziness for what can make us far more than who we are right now.
The only times that I can really do deep personal work, I have to be deeply quiet. The greater the intensity of my busy-ness, for my part, that is for me proof of what I am avoiding. I suspect it's true for us all. We lambaste others for being "lazy" when compared to the gerbil wheel onto which too many of us have stepped and cannot dismount for fear of being seen as lazy and morally bankrupt.
The greater truth, I suspect, is that our laziness about facing the real work we came here to do, which is deep and profound spiritual labor, drives us to find any way to avoid it. We become so busy with busy-ness we can use to claim moral superiority. We're too busy to take time to be quiet, which is far, far harder than meeting another self-imposed deadline.
There is nothing morally superior about working yourself to death. Nor is there anything morally superior about attacking people for being big, or Black or anything else one's carefully-curated and edited religious beliefs allows us to demean.
In a weird sense, that is laziness to the extreme.
We are often too lazy to do the deep work of spiritual growth, and instead, buy ourselves a hall pass by saying we're saved, and leap into toxic productivity to prove to everyone how superior we are. An overstatement? Not by much. All we have to do is look at Price's articles above to see how inculcated the hatred for soft, quiet people has become.
I'll give you a very simple example of what it looks like to be lazy, and then how to fix it. This may strike you as silly, but hear the underlying message. Yesterday I drove to Yachats to buy sourdough for my neighbor. In a moment of laziness I bought a second loaf for myself. I love that bread.
That bread does not love me.
I smelled it all the way home. Dreamed of butter and honey on that hot bread. Curled around the final corner and opened my garage door, dreaming of hot, buttery, honey-covered bread. Stopped. Closed the door, backed up.
Then I drove to my neighbor's house and gave her both loaves.
That's work, on a very small scale.
Bread really does make me ill for about a week. And no matter how much I love it, it's just no longer worth the discomfort.
I am reclaiming parts of my life, such as not watching a movie at night and instead, reading books which challenge and move me. I have a houseful of them, unread. Netflix would like to own my aging ass and all my attention.
I'm not giving my life to Netflix. I have increasingly less of it to hand to something that only wants my money.
Fuchs writes, and I tend to agree, that:
Laziness is self-love. We baby ourselves. We do what we mechanically (habitually) love to do, what we prefer to do, enjoy doing, and turn away from any effort we would have to make if we turned to the (Deep work).
In other words, instead of going to the gym, out for a hike or a bike ride we settle in for the umpteenth time to watch Game of Thrones. Instead of chopping vegetables for a healthy salad, we order Pizza Hut triple cheese. Instead of reading a book which supports personal growth and development, we scroll for hours, losing precious time to the Black Hole of social media.
There are so very many things I'd prefer to do. Most of them do not bring me into the kind of health, vitality, energetic life and spiritual growth to which I aspire. That is why it's called work.
Laziness is mis-labeled.
Learning to be quiet is very hard work. And in the deep dark of that quiet, we find a whole other kind of strength, growth, confidence and personal joy.
I would argue that for so many of us it's harder work to give ourselves a long, quiet, lazy day. We could do some important thinking, perhaps even redirect. It is laziness to default to extreme busy-ness. "I haven't got time for that" is a lie. We have time for what's important to us, with some exceptions.
We deserve the exception to the societal damnation of lazy. It has nothing to do with what we think it means.
Is it time for you to rethink what it means to be lazy?