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BEAN Minneapolis Blog

The Value of Laziness

What are you doing? Yes, you. You, who's reading this blog post right now on your glowing screen. Are you working right now? (Seriously, leave a comment.) Depends on your evaluation of what you are currently doing, a lot can be discerned about your attitude toward work and leisure.

There is a old question that people should ask themselves more often: "Do you work to live or live to work?" Both world views have their own unique pluses and minuses, but in this global free market consumption-driven time, the fervor of work has begun to take over the globe. Being a workaholic is often seen as a badge of honor.

But does the world still value slackers?

Laziness has such negative connotation in the English language. "Idle hands are devil's best tool" is another common saying that drives home the disdain for people who lay about. There is one nation that seems to symbolize this hostility toward leisure to the English-speaking world: France.

As I am writing this blog post, France is in the grip of a massive national strike because the government has raised pension retirement age from 60 to 62. Schools, trains, buses, government offices, gas stations and stores are all closed. As most nations are embarking on painful belt-tightening measures, much of the world can't quite understand why the French cannot work harder and sacrifice more for their future growth.

Yet, that accusation misses the point of the French strike entirely. It's not that people don't work hard, which they do. It's that work for most French is simply a mean to an end, which is to pursue leisure activities such as to read, to dine with friends, to enjoy a good glass of wine and to dream. "Work is the curse of the drinking man" says another sarcastic old saying.

In the French classic "Montaillou", the intruders to the small French village could not understand why the villagers seem to be laying about all day. The farmers worked the field for sure, but they only worked the minimum necessary to feed their family. Every chance the villages got, they sat about under the sun with their friends, laughing, drinking and eating. No matter how they were lectured by outsiders, the villagers refused to shift their priority in life, which was to enjoy life itself.

Idle day-dreaming plays an enormous role in shaping even scientific progress. Scientist Friedrich August Kekule dreamed two snakes biting each other's tail, forming a circle, which led to his discovery of the shape of the benzene ring. Archimedes of Syracuse was taking a leisurely hot bath when he came up with the framework of displacement and density of matter. Einstein took long naps to refine his thoughts for his general theory of relativity. Laziness can be surprisingly productive.

So, go ahead and turn off your glowing screen and take a nap. See where laziness takes you.


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