We all know someone who is considered lazy. By lazy, I mean consistently and characteristically so, not just the occasional brief lapse of industry that we all experience from time to time. What makes a person lazy? Let’s see if we can shed some light on this issue.
Laziness is defined as the lack of desire to act or work or to do an act or work generally expected of a person. A lazy person is considered unmotivated, and there is a lot of literature devoted to the subject of re-motivating them, most of it involving willpower and breaking tasks down into manageable units.
Most of us might consider laziness to be a minor character flaw, but historically, there is much more to it than this. Sloth, which is considered synonymous with laziness, is one of the Catholic Church’s Seven Deadly Sins (the others being pride, gluttony, anger, envy, avarice and lust). Why would the Catholics be so concerned about sloth? But lest you think the Catholics are being unduly strict, many religions as well some ancient philosophers also condemn laziness. Confucius believed that earthquakes and natural disasters were warnings from above that the “son of Heaven” (the Emperor) was too lazy. Even benign Buddhism condemns laziness as one of the Five Mental Hazards (the other four being sensual desire, ill will, worry, and doubt). Much ado, it would seem, about waiting until April 14 to begin working on your income taxes.
My take on all of this is that laziness, as we generally conceive of it, doesn’t really exist at all. Laziness isn’t the result of a lack of motivation, which can supposedly be remedied by the application of willpower and motivational techniques. The phenomenon we understand as laziness is a result of conflicting motivations, not of the lack of any.
Consider, for example, the plight of any man or woman who has been seeking to get their career on track but has been unable to do so. They may be working some menial job or not working at all, supported economically by others. Rather than suffering from lack of motivation, I’m suggesting this person has the same desire to succeed in his/her career as anyone else, but that this desire is thwarted by an equally powerful (though less well understood) conflicting motivation. The struggle between the competing desires, the alternating one step forward, two steps back motif, eventually wears them down to the point where they stop trying and resign themselves to their situation.
Another example is that of weight loss. There is no shortage of people who want to lose weight; many can’t get started and many of those who do enjoy initial success only to lapse back into their old patterns and find themselves six months or a year later right back where they started (only more discouraged). You might say they are lazy or lack willpower, but the truth would be that they have failed to recognize and deal with the part of themselves that needs to eat for reasons other than their basic nutritional requirements. Perhaps eating serves as a source of comfort or security and is perceived as being too precious a commodity to relinquish under any currently imaginable circumstance.
What someone in this situation requires is not more willpower: the application of greater force, however well intended, is only met by greater resistance. What is needed is a better understanding of the force opposing the conscious goal and a more constructive strategy toward achieving it. Once the opposing goal is identified, it can be worked with. The primary reason it would be so resistant to change is due to a lack of understanding. Once you’ve seen it, understood it for what it is and accepted it within yourself, the conflicting goal becomes amenable to management.
And this is why I think the Catholics, Buddhists, Confucius and even Zoroastrianism protest so much. It’s not so much a stricture against not accomplishing enough in the physical world as it is an admonition to be unflagging in working on yourself, unraveling the inner conflicts and turmoil and dissolving archaic demands in order to get closer to God on the one hand or closer to realizing your true nature on the other.
Any area where you ascribe laziness, in your life or in the lives of your loved ones, can be worked with if you employ the proper approach. Avoid any tendency toward forcing, pushing, straining, nagging, etc and instead seek to know and understand the nature of the conflicting force. This motivation, misguided and unproductive as it may be serves an important function in your psyche’s makeup and should be treated with deference and respect. You are working only to modify the disruptive manner in which it expresses itself, not its underlying intent, which is essentially protective and benign. It’s like what you read in management or child rearing texts: condemn the behavior, not the individual.
While our initial response may be to attack and amputate these conflicting and troublesome aspects of ourselves, the best and longest lasting result is achieved through taking an accepting and compassionate approach. When you think about it, you realize we can all use a greater sense of acceptance, compassion and tolerance in ourselves, our relationships, our communities and our world.
I’m interested in your reactions. Please comment or “Like”.