Busy Idleness

I’ve never taken a day off work just because. There was always an errand to be run, a trip to go on, something to do. My parents were always busy, whether work, gardening, cooking, household chores… Shopping trips were purposeful – we’d go somewhere to eat a specific bak kut teh or because they wanted to buy new lights for the living room. So I never actually carried out my “grand plans” of whiling a day away, book in hand, drink on the table, legs propped up on a comfy sofa in a book or reading cafe.

So the leave I have today feels a little strange, foreign even. I took it on a whim to play badminton and get the blood pumping. Now the rest of the time will be filled with washing clothes for the Chinese New Year, dessert with some good friends, and bible study at night. (See, even a day meant for idling and lazing has become purposeful. It’s in the genes.)

But then I read about we are too occupied to notice it, which led me to the ‘busy’ trap. And then there’s the rebuttal that it’s because Gen Y is just too lazy. (Authors in order of appearance: Paul Barnwell, Tim Kreider, Rachel Ryan)

Well, I’m a Christian so it’s back to the Bible. God made work, and it was meant to be a beautiful, wonderful thing. But then Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and work became really tiresome as a result. Thought #1: Work is supposed to be painful.

Then the Bible pretty much says sloth is a sin, such as in Proverbs 13:4, 12:24, Ecclesiastes 10:18. But the Bible also said God rested on the seventh day after creating the world, setting a pattern for us. And throughout Numbers and Leviticus, we see periods of rest for the land, rest for the debtor, rest for servants, rest for animals. Balancing the two, thought #2: Rest is necessary.

Going back to the articles, Kreider argues that we sometimes occupy ourselves just because. Ryan rebuts that this generation is so wrapped in the idea of entitlement, and tapped in to technology that we’ve both gone “soft” and must keep busy.

I think it’s all true. No, this isn’t a cop-out. Rather, our identities are so tied up with what we do, and there IS this perception that those who are constantly busy are successful. Just like how the hot-shot bankers/lawyers/[insert any other profession] who are glued to their Berries and running from one meeting to the next have arrived, and the desk drones aren’t.

And the desire to attain that ideal of success leads to us needing to be in the know, constantly connected and not missing out on anything. Which adds to the busyness. A vicious cycle, a downward spiral.

This is the game of life, the rat race. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Not all the time anyway. There can (and in my opinion, must!) be times set aside for idling, letting the mind explore the big wide world outside. It’s important! As Kreider wrote, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Life’s more than numbers, statistics and making money. At least, I think it is. And I will take that leave to read, idle and while my time away. Just because.


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