Idleness is Difficult

“It is not necessary for a man to be actively bad in order to make a failure in life; simple inaction will accomplish it. Nature has everywhere written her protest against idleness; everything which ceases to struggle, which remains inactive, rapidly deteriorates. It is the struggle toward an ideal, the constant effort to get higher and further, which develops manhood and character.” –James Terry White

Idleness is very difficult for a human to handle.

William James saw that war mobilised a society and gave man clearly meaningful activity. He recognised the importance of keeping people busy and saw that there were benefits to war of allowing states to give structure to peoples lives, to get them busy. In the absence of war he viewed that it was important to have large-scale building schemes to keep people busy.

Today, governments have lost the right to impose work on its citizens.

Society’s function is to give meaning to courageous risks by individual members. Risks to the individual that benefit the group need to feel deeply meaningful.

If society fails to give meaning to difficult actions taken by individuals acting with freedom, we will avoid freedom and fall toward lethargy and apathy.

Freedom is a burden.

Totalitarianism arrives when many prefer structure & certainty over freedom.

What acts are meaningful in our society?

Even the strongest of us need to feel that our lives are given meaning by our society.  A sense of meaning comes when we take on commitments to causes bigger than ourselves and allow others to hold us to those commitments.  Antoni Gaudi didn’t build the Sagrada Familia because he was paid to do so, but because he committed his life to it.  He is famous today, but he did not seek fame in his lifetime.

Today, we value those who accumulate wealth, fame, facebook likes, youtube views, instagram likes, cool clothes. The accumulation of money is not a bad thing, but the hoarding of money is.  We place value on the hoarders over the accumulators.  In the words from the Bhagavad Gita: “you have a right to your labour, not to the fruits of your labour”.

We have a right to be proud of the quality of our work.  It is a positive pride.

We do not have a right to be proud of the wealth that our work allows us to accumulate.  This is a dangerous pride.

What acts require individual courage and sacrifice, but make society better for us all?  

Do I personally value people for their achievements, and not for the work that went in to the achievement?  Sadly, I find the answer is often a “yes”.  I don’t like this.

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

Exit mobile version