Go to the ant: Reflections on the meaning of laziness

Ants carrying leaves on a log
(Photo by: Christan Holzinger)
Ants carrying leaves on a log (Photo by: Christan Holzinger)

I should be working. 
I should be reviewing my OChem reagents, the steps and products of glycolysis. 
I could be filling out the reams of multiple choice questions on my Pearson homework.

Because I could be, I SHOULD be. Instead, I’m eating lunch, doing nothing, really. 

Is that … a shred of Laziness I detect? That small, nagging feeling that if I’m not doing something useful — for myself, or for anyone else, if I have time — I am useless. Lazy. Slothful, sluggish, sinful.

Go to the ant, you sluggard. 

What does laziness/slothfulness even mean? We tend to use it as the opposite of work. “I didn’t get my essay in on time — I spent the morning being lazy,” we say, as if sheer willpower were the problem. And sometimes it is — a brain that is trained not to respond when we tell ourselves we’ll do something. 

But that’s not what laziness is. Laziness is something closer to apathy — lack of care, a developed blindness. Laziness is the failure to see the pain of those around us because it’s too much work, failure to join in their celebration of some small victory because it would involve setting aside our own productivity. Sometimes, we’re lazy because we’re too busy working.

In addition, the common way in which we use “laziness” implies a certain definition of work. But as with other words, the definition of work is flexible. As a history major, this is something I think about a lot; even 100 years ago, “working” might easily mean guiding a plow being pulled by a horse in a dusty field in the beating sun. When I tell someone now that I don’t have time — I have to work — that is not remotely what I mean. Language changes how we think, and changing our definitions can change how we act.

Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise. 

She is admirable not because of the work she does — anyone can work. She is admirable because of her wisdom in planning ahead, the thought she gives to her schedule so that during the winter, she can rest: “having no captain, overseer or ruler, [she] provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.

The opposite of laziness is not not working — it is care, attunement, attentiveness. Wisdom, even. This can be hard work. As the year settles into its  more regular walking cadence after either slowing down from a summer sprint or standing up from a summer snooze, I urge you to consider, generally.

Consider what it is you consider work and why. Would you benefit from expanding your definition of “work” to preparing a meal for yourself intentionally or taking seriously your easiest gen-ed? Or would you benefit by expanding your definition of “play” to your most difficult class, diving just a little deeper into the things that interest you, purely for fun?

Sometimes, we’re too lazy to rest. It’s harder to stop and think than it is to keep charging forward on the eternal treadmill of work. So go to the ant. Consider her ways and be wise.

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