Laziness is Not a Sin

May 7, 2017 at 7:22 pm

If your family was like mine, you probably grew up believing laziness is not only a sin, but one of seven deadly sins.

Maybe it wasn’t taught directly — or maybe your family wasn’t even religious — but the subconscious belief that lying around doing nothing is “bad” or “wrong” or a “waste of time” is the unspoken premise of all of civilization.

To have idle hands or an idle mind is considered sloth – “a habitual disinclination to exertion” – and sloth has been damnable ever since Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise.

My Family

In my father’s family especially, our worth was measured by how hard we worked. My grandfather is still praised long after his death for working three jobs, around the clock.

It didn’t matter that he spent his “golden years” unwinding from the long, hard days of his “youth” with a bottle of whiskey in front of a football game every night, instead of connecting with the family he’d worked so hard to create… what mattered, in the eyes of his culture, was that he’d made it.

He’d made it from the factories of New York to retirement on the beaches of California. He had a big, beautiful house, an emotionally estranged wife, and seven kids who were all hard-at-work themselves now, trying to make it to their own obscure promised land.

Occasionally, the family had time for a big Sunday dinner. While it was great fun for me and the other kids, I realize now it wasn’t that fun for the grown-ups.

My grandmother and aunt worked for hours in the kitchen, while my dad and uncles worked on a car or some broken appliance in the garage. Occasionally, the grown-ups joined us in the pool, but it took several beers to relax enough for that.

My grandma would tell the grown-ups “dinner’s ready” three or four times before they’d walk away from their projects. Once they finally got seated, they “scolded” my grandma and aunt (in a way that was actually praise) for always being the last ones to sit down and eat, because they were serving everyone else.

While we ate, the grown-ups talked about work and the economy and inflation and how “kids don’t know the value of a dollar these days.”

Afterward, my grandfather whistled while he washed the dishes and hand-picked any crumbs from the carpet – his proud contribution, before retreating upstairs for a nightcap. And then the rest of us were off to get ready for work and school the next day. He and my grandmother were alone again with all the hard-earned fruits of their labor.

While my grandparents’ house was a magical retreat for a child on summer vacation, I was always aware that the cost for my little secret garden was decades of hard work by my elders. I was told to enjoy it while it lasted, because one day, like Peter Pan, I would have to grow up and join the ranks of the working men and women who keep America “great.”

As I got old enough to help around the house, I took note of how my dad praised me for being such a “hard worker” and how he seemed to wish my sister could pull as much weight.

He woke us with loud music on the weekends and called us “lazy-bones-Jones” if we wanted to sleep much past sunrise.

I was taught that if a man refused to work, he shouldn’t eat. I was praised for my eagerness to get a job as soon as I legally could at 15, and patted on the head for every promotion. I heard my pastor say once that I should work for my corporate bosses “as unto the Lord” – because even when they weren’t watching, “He” was.

When Did Lazy Become a Four-Letter Word?

The book Sex at Dawn speculates that the “Garden of Eden” myth represents a true story about “the fall” of humans from gathering and hunting to agriculture.  (See Agriculture: The Worst Mistake Humans Ever Made.)

In short, humans traded a world where  wild fruit almost literally fell into their laps for one in which they had to “earn” their bread by the sweat of their brow … and today, those of us who don’t toil in the fields are compelled to toil in factories or at our desks.

Jarawa gatherer-hunter

The books Origins and Against Civilization also make a compelling case that the lives of gatherer-hunters were idyllic. Prior to agriculture, the authors argue, humans lived in harmony and balance with nature, enjoying total freedom, free food, clean air and water, and plenty of time for leisure and love-making. Many of the remaining hunter-gatherer tribes today, still have no concept of work, bosses, rulers, war, poverty, murder or rape. (See Once Upon a Time There was No Such Thing As Work.)

But somewhere along the line – sometime after we learned we could cultivate wheat – everything changed. After discovering we could dominate and cultivate plants, we dominated and domesticated animals… and then other humans, and then Earth itself… and we called it “civilization.”

Egyptian slaves

But civilization (city building) is a pyramid scheme. It is inherently unsustainable, as it relies on an ever-expanding base of slaves (or wage-slaves) and natural resources to keep citizens fed and “entertained” enough not to rebel.

So, for thousands of years, in order to keep civilization from collapsing,  priests and politicians have convinced us that “laziness” is a sin, and that our “work ethic” is the true measure of our goodness and worthiness as human beings.

Lazy and Loving It

After all my conditioning, it’s no wonder there’s no label that triggers me more than “lazy.” Even the slightest suggestion I’m not pulling my weight sends me into a frenzy trying to prove the opposite.

My partner and I used to waste hours arguing over who worked the hardest. We dreaded each other’s shameful glares whenever one of us was caught “doing nothing.”

I became aware of just how deep my conditioning ran a couple of months ago, while lying in my backyard tanning and meditating.

“What if my neighbors see me?” I thought. “They’re probably wondering how I can afford to lie around in the sun in the middle of a weekday.”

“Shouldn’t she be at work, or doing dishes, or taking care of her kid?” I imagined they’d gossip. “Shouldn’t she be doing something to contribute to society?”

I realized almost immediately how silly it was that I felt the need to justify relaxing. I understand the desire for a sense of fairness in a society of overworked, over-stressed people. No one wants to feel like someone is living high off the hog at their expense. But I remind myself that our condition is not natural – that work is not natural – and I no longer judge myself for not wanting to do it.

Jarawa gatherer-hunters, not hard at work on a weekday

Since that day, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to live the laziest life I can possibly live – not at the expense of others, but at the expense of all the unnecessary crap I’ve been conditioned to think I need and should work for.  My partner and I are in the process of selling his food truck business and almost everything else we own, to go live the simplest life we can in a camper trailer, adventuring around the continent.

My goal is to work as few hours as possible and to lie around in the sun until I’m so bored I can’t stand it!

Why? 1. Because civilization doesn’t feel worth all the work. 2. We have better things to do/be.

RELATED: Man calls Work “Unnatural” – Goes on Permanent “Vacation”