Idleness gets a bad rap. When someone describes you as being ‘idle’, it is invariably meant as an insult. And let’s not forget that “the devil finds work for idle hands”, which clearly equates voluntary inactivity with spiritual evil. These days even the government are getting in on the act, condemning people who have had idleness thrust upon them through unemployment and who are now forced to subsist on benefits, for their inactivity, telling us that it is unfair for them to be doing nothing whilst their neighbours still have to get up for work every morning. However, I think that they are all wrong. Indeed, I’m here today to praise idleness. All of the condemnations of idleness make the same mistaken assumption that being idle is synonymous with doing nothing. This is clearly incorrect, as a brief mechanical analogy will make clear. When, for instance, we allow the engine of a car to idle, whilst the vehicle doesn’t move, the engine is actually running – idling simply means that it isn’t in gear and harnessed to the transmission system. The key point is that the idling engine is working and producing power, it just isn’t converting that power into automotive motion. It is the same thing with human idling – whilst the body appears inactive, the mind is actually busy.
Which, for me, is the whole point of being idle – it represents an opportunity to take myself out of the frantic rush that is modern everyday life and spend some time just contemplating the really important issues. Actually, they don’t have to be important issues, just things that matter more than the trivia of office politics, social climbing and celebrity nonsense which seems to dominate our lives these days. Just thinking is a hugely underrated activity in this country. Actually, that might be one of the reasons for the constant attempts to demonize idleness – the UK’s inherent anti-intellectualism. There’s a dismaying suspicion of any activity that doesn’t have an obvious physical – and therefore ‘practical’ – manifestation. Pathetic really, especially bearing in mind that most of the UK’s social and economic problems seem to be the result of a lack of thought, either on the part of individuals or organisations. Anyway, to get back to the point, I can thoroughly recommend regular periods of pure thought as way both of unwinding and just thinking things through. I find I make much better decisions as a result. It’s also most enjoyable – I’ve spent many a happy idle hour lying in bed, crashed out on the sofa, soaking in the bath or even just sat in my car whilst parked in a lay-by, thinking.
Of course, as I’ve already indicated, when idle one doesn’t just have to think about important things: you can also take the opportunity to contemplate some of the more trivial aspects of one’s life. Indeed, you don’t even have to think about anything real. I’ve enjoyed some great flights of fancy when idle – I frequently have my best ideas for stories for this site whilst idling. Sometimes one doesn’t even need to actively think – instead, if you are in a public place, or by the sea or in the country, to give a few examples, just let the background sounds around you wash over you, enter your consciousness and fill your mind. Be at one with them. Believe me, being alone with yourself and your thoughts can be very relaxing and therapeutic if you are feeling stressed. But the very idea of being alone with oneself can be highly problematic for many people. They just aren’t comfortable with themselves. Which, undoubtedly, is another reason for the widespread disparaging of idleness. But really, learning to be at ease with yourself and to enjoy being alone is another reason for practicing idleness. Trust me, being alone is tremendously liberating – you are free to do and think what you like, beholden to no one and nothing.
So, is it any wonder that the establishment is so against idleness? They can’t have people enjoying themselves, can they? The fact is that we are conditioned throughout our childhoods and adult lives to believe that working is a desirable and natural state, that to be doing nothing is abnormal and, well, evil. However, I agree with the Ancient Greeks, I believe that work is a disutility, a curse placed upon man by the Gods, which straight-jackets us into mundane and borings lives of mind-numbing and soul-destroying routine and drudgery. Consequently, I have no qualms about enjoying the pleasures of simply doing nothing. But the majority of people have been so indoctrinated by the tyranny of work that the very idea of ‘doing nothing’ is anathema to them. They can’t bear to be still and feel guilty if they aren’t doing something ‘productive’. I know, I used to be like that. For many years I deceived myself into believing that I could embrace the world of work and deny my natural idleness. But the relentless focus on always ‘doing something’, even when I wasn’t working, gradually ground me down. I became uptight, ill-tempered and unhappy. So I taught myself not to feel guilty about being idle, and I’ve no doubt that indulging in this idleness has left me feeling far more relaxed and better balanced as a person.
But the modern workplace seems determined to deny us any opportunity to idle. With the techniques of the production line now being applied even to offices, not only does every minute of the working day have to be accounted for, but opportunities for innovation, initiative, individuality and creativity have been all but eliminated. Which, of course, is all part of the plan. If people are allowed time to idle then they’ll have time to think and, perhaps, time to start questioning the system. Which, in the modern workplace, is considered a very bad thing. Independent thought must not be allowed. Which is why it is more important than ever to embrace idleness. I urge anyone reading this to take fifteen minutes, two minutes, even, out of their working day just to sit back and do nothing but think. Not only will stepping back like this, even for a few minutes, allow you to see things more clearly, but will, most probably, be your only opportunity to do anything creative in your working day. I have no doubt that society’s insistence upon suppressing our natural desire to express ourselves creatively is incredibly harmful and the root of most of the modern world’s ills. So, until the next time Sleaze hounds, go out there and be idle, learn to love doing nothing and make the world a better place!