I don’t know about you, but whenever idleness creeps over me I begin to feel uncomfortable and usually end up doing something, anything, even if it’s not at all important and I do it mechanically. Idleness brings with it, at least in my case, a sense of loss, of wasted time. However, though my conscience may be appeased by ceaseless activity, the results are not necessarily favorable. I can easily end up undoing something simply because I do it too much, or doing something that should have not been done in the first place, just to avoid idleness.
Too much idleness is, of course, bad, for it begets laziness, indifference, neglect, neurosis even. “If we do not keep [our minds] busy with some particular subject which can serve as a bridle to reign them in, they charge ungovernable about, ranging to and fro over the wastelands of our thoughts,” says Michel de Montaigne in his essay On Idleness. And in the same essay he adds, “When the soul is without a definite aim [it] gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere, you are nowhere.”
But I ask myself, if more people were more idle, wouldn’t we have fewer conflicts, fewer wars, less pollution, less waste, less of everything that’s bad? We may have less of all that is good, too, I suppose, but then maybe we would still have plenty of good things left to enjoy ourselves?
Besides, doesn’t idleness help us cool off a little? It’s not exactly meditation, I grant that, but it encourages our thoughts to wander away from our immediate concerns, helping us to relax, to realize that those big issues in our lives that we keep worrying about are not as big as we make them to be.
In our times, especially when we are surrounded by technology, we can easily keep ourselves busy without being meaningfully busy, without doing something worthwhile. We can easily be meaninglessly busy in front of our computers or our tablets, to say nothing of our smartphones.
In the end, it’d say idleness is neither good nor bad, but what we make of it. We are more likely to cause harm, damage, and pollution by being busy, than by contemplating our navels. But then if we contemplate our navels too much, our risk of dying of hunger significantly creases.
What I propose is that we try to be less meaninglessly busy and more meaningfully idle. It’s for our own good.