Portrait of an Idler

 Portrait of an Idler


 (San Lazzaro, 1848)


Laziness is a hatred of work, as though the idler’s happiness were contingent on not doing anything in life. In this indisposition we see a contradiction in man’s nature: the idler wants to live a long life without working. Yet this amounts to a short life, for a long life consists in putting one’s time to good use. Just as diligence prolongs a man’s life, idleness shortens it. The idler waits for the days to pass without stopping to think that every passing day means he is one step closer to death. There is nothing in this world that belongs to us except for time, which is why squandering one’s time is the most lamentable form of prodigality. Yet this is just what the idler does.

Laziness turns man into a living corpse, who is always moving but never going anywhere. It is easier to do a thing yourself than to ask an idler to help you. Ask him to do something and he builds a mountain of resistance against you. Send him somewhere to fulfill a task and he comes back and says that he could not make it because goblins took over the streets. He would not get out of bed in the morning, if he could. Whenever you talk to him, he is constantly yawning. Hand him a book to read and the first thing he does is turn the pages to see where the chapter ends. Ask him to help you with something urgent, “Who’s got the time to do that now?” he responds, or “Sure, I’ll do it right now” but then takes his sweet time until someone else does it instead. The idler always looks as though he is bored of life. If he sees a diligent and hard-working man, “What an airhead that guy is, rushing all the time… he doesn’t have any gravity” he says, thinking that his laziness gives him gravity. Give him a task to do, “I can do it tomorrow,” he says, but he doesn’t do it. He thinks that tomorrow he will not be lazy. If you tell him that you have work to do, “you’ll have work to do until you die, you need to take it easy a little” he says, and proceeds to deliver a panegyric on laziness. If he needs something that is just across the room, he calls someone from outside just to get it and hand it to him. Even in his own home, he is like the wasp who eats others’ honey, as though he is entitled to benefit from the labor of others for the sake of his own comfort.

            For it is not just that laziness is a disease, but the mother and nurse of many diseases. Indeed, the idler is ever tilling the ground of his own diseases. He finds the success of hard workers hard to believe. He attributes their success to luck without realizing that the right hand of luck is work, and the left, brains. He envies his neighbor who eats and dresses well without realizing that while he is asleep or playing games, his neighbor is hard at work. A lazy body makes for a lazy mind, so neither does the idler think carefully. The mind of man is like a key; laziness, its rust—if it is used, it shines; if not, it decays. If the idler sees you hard at work, “you cannot pay your bills by merely working hard,” he says. But when it comes to his own bills, he says “if I cannot pay my bills, too bad; let my debtor worry about it.” As the Turkish proverb says, “Debt is a goad to the courageous, but not to the lazy”.

            Finally, laziness is a rebellion against the natural order, for every creature in this world fulfills its role but the idler. If the ass could speak just once, he might ask man why he has come to ignore his lazy fellowmen only to whip the ass to make it to work hard. But the ass does not even need to be able to speak to impart this lesson, for man is capable of learning from brutes as well as inanimate creatures. That is why Scripture sends man to the foot of the ant to learn diligence and give up his lazy ways.


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