Listlessness and boredom are a feeling of aversion to a certain obligation. In a certain sense it is linked to time: how to fill it, how to use it. That is why we find many popular expressions that refer to this apathetic way of filling time as “killing the hours” or “passing the time”. There is a whole entertainment industry that aims to turn this empty time into a consumer product.
Laziness, the natural child of listlessness, exists. A sparkling joke attributed to the American comedian Groucho Marx portrays it: “There were three of us and we worked as one man. That is, two of us were just loafing around”. At the antipodes of industriousness and diligence is this capital vice of laziness, also known in the monastic tradition as acedia. We can easily recognise its symptoms: amorphous laziness, disheartened and sad idleness, “garbana” they call it in some villages… widespread to a greater or lesser extent in our social groups.
If we go further in our observations, we can distinguish two variants that nuance the concept. Although they look the same, they are not the same:
– Not having to do anything: not being obliged, not needing to do anything; being free, having free time, to be able to do other things (read, go for a walk, go out with friends…). This is not laziness.
– Having nothing to do: It is that idleness or inactivity that manifests a lack of objective or purpose. If it is not a circumstantial situation but a structural one, this is the “mother of all vices”, as the classics used to say.
It is the latter that the Christian tradition regards as a grave spiritual danger. For it is not simply a physical sluggishness, but a paralysis of the spirit that prevents us from emerging from mediocrity. It is a grey vortex that extinguishes the deepest longings of the soul… It has nothing to do with the “dolce far niente” – so necessary and indispensable at times – understood as rest for those who have carried out an undertaking or a job with effort and need to regain their strength.
The catechism teaches that “against laziness, diligence”. Diligence means love or interest in something; interest that awakens a positive motivation to act… A doctor, a bus driver, a baker… need it. If, on the other hand, they were to act with reluctance and disinterest, they could cause irreparable damage to the health of others through their negligence. St. Paul’s warning: “Awake from sleep… The night is far spent and the day is at hand” (Rom 13:11-12).
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Charles Deluvio)