Idleness is generally condemned, and work worshipped. An idle mind, it is said, is the devil’s workshop. A boy who attends all the periods in school in a state between sleep and waking is praised, while his class-mate with a tendency to play truant is frowned upon. A sickly student who is always shut up in his study and burns midnight oil is held up as the pattern of a scholar, while his cheerful companion fond of lying on the meadow or sitting on the sea-shore for hours on end is regarded as a loafer. It is not of course my intention to condemn work. The point is that too much has been said in praise of work, and something deserves to be said against it and in favour of idleness.
Idleness includes several activities which are beneficial and healthy, though they are not usually classified as forms of work. As Stevenson says in his essay “An Apology for Idlers”, idleness does not mean doing nothing; it means doing certain things which are not recognised as useful and respectable. Contemplation, day-dreaming, love of nature, fondness for the open air, wanderlust – all these are usually considered to be forms of idleness, but are they not pleasant and beneficial? In fact, they are the springs of happiness and spiritual development and, in many cases, of art and literature. The boy who plays truant does not necessarily waste his time; he may learn in the street, “that mighty place of education”, or in the great school of Nature. As regards the educative influence of nature, it is enough to quote the well known lines of Words-Worth:
One impulse from a vernal wood May teach us more of man, of moral evil and good, than all the sages can.
Idlers live intensely and drink at the fountain of life. They are wiser, if not more learned, than the bookworms. They are healthier and happier, if not wealthier and more powerful, than the industrious.
Too much industry, it must be realised, is harmful to the body and the mind. Culture is the product of leisure. Besides, what is the end of the hectic activity and incessant toil with which the world hums? A considerable part of it is directed to exploiting the poor and the ignorant and enslaving the weaker countries politically or economically. Too much stress on industry results in competition, exploitation and war. If the war-mongers, the power- seekers and the capitalists had been idlers, the world would have been a happier and more peaceful place to live in.
Difficult Words: To play truant – to stay away from school, frowned upon -disapproved of. Pattern – model. Wanderlust – strong desire for travelling, hectic – feverish, restless.
Incessant – constant. Exploiting – using for a selfish purpose.