Guest Author: The Virtues of Wasting Time

The Virtues of Wasting Time

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten Sep­tem­ber 4, 2010 by Fran­cis Shiv­one — Many thanks for his insight!


leisure benefitsI have long held the belief that the aver­age Amer­i­can does not have enough respect for the fine art of wast­ing time.

Before you indict me for being un-Amer­i­can, I do not mean being lazy. On the con­trary, enjoy­able time-wast­ing is the result of a life employed with nor­mal work. Noth­ing makes leisure as enjoy­able as work, if you know what I mean.

Wast­ing time is doing noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar, enjoy­ably. It may include gar­den­ing, cook­ing, knit­ting, day dream­ing, fish­ing, read­ing, sit­ting by the win­dow, or any host of oth­er things.

Wast­ing time is not usu­al­ly tele­vi­sion-watch­ing, or brows­ing the web, or play­ing video games. Healthy wast­ed time is con­tem­pla­tive with no pri­ma­ry pur­pose attached to the action except its enjoy­ment. It is a nap. A walk. A cross­word puz­zle. It is fish­ing when catch­ing a fish is a sur­prise not an expec­ta­tion. Some­times it is just get­ting bored. (The mod­ern mind needs a lit­tle bore­dom, or a time when all the “alerts” in one’s body and mind are put into sleep-mode, and sor­ry for the com­put­er metaphor).

The high water­mark of time wast­ing has a serendip­i­tous qual­i­ty to it, like a walk that ends in an enjoy­able but unplanned con­ver­sa­tion, or a detour into a used book­store that leads to a book you have long want­ed.

Leisure, the word once used for the con­tem­pla­tive times of one’s life, is con­sid­ered by clas­si­cal philoso­phers to be a hall­mark of an advanced civ­i­liza­tion, and is only pos­si­ble when the neces­si­ties of life have been sup­plied.

But unlike leisure years ago, mod­ern leisure is orga­nized, cod­ifed, and usu­al­ly has a mis­sion attached to it. Some­thing to give mean­ing to the action. It is the dif­fer­ence between the pick-up base­ball games at the park when I was a kid and the uber-orga­nized Select League base­ball today. It is the dif­fer­ence between the aver­age sim­ple wed­ding of 1950 and the aver­age stage per­for­mance we call a wed­ding today. And social­ly, it is “net­work­ing,” (a damnable word) instead of meet­ing friends at the pub for a pint and a smoke. Even dying can not escape our desire to infuse more mean­ing into our lives, or so sug­gests the movie, The Buck­et List.

I am not sure all the rea­sons we are the way we are, but cer­tain­ly one rea­son is that our mod­ern ethos equates “suc­cess” on earth with suc­cess in heav­en, as seen in the count­less “God wants you to be healthy and rich” reli­gious tele­vi­sion broad­casts, and in the non-reli­gious but iden­ti­cal, “Suc­cess in Life” pro­grams.  Some­where in the last few hun­dred years we have replaced self-sac­ri­fice with enlight­ened self-inter­est, the Fiat of the Vir­gin Mary with the self-empow­er­ment Ayn Rand. Will to Pow­er is the spir­it of our age, as demon­strat­ed in the “per­son­al brand”  talk I hear every­where these days.

But I am get­ting off course …

Plan­ning and orga­ni­za­tion are all good things, as is the accu­mu­la­tion of enough wealth to live a hap­py life, but the end is the good life not the plan­ning of a good life. One of the joys of liv­ing in Amer­i­ca is that it “works.” I love that about our coun­try and I am con­tin­u­al­ly amazed at how effi­cient we are. But effi­cien­cy is not a god by which all is judged. It is a ser­vant of hap­pi­ness not its mas­ter. Life is not a per­for­mance to be cap­tured on video, there is no audi­ence applause at the end of it.  If one can take any­thing from our Bud­dhist friends, it is that the moment, the now, should be the focus of our atten­tion.

I am as guilty as any­one to falling prey to our suc­cess-dri­ven cul­ture, for­tu­nate­ly, some­times, it just seems strange.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Josef Pieper / Leisure: The Basis of Cul­ture

Walk­er Per­cy / Love in the Ruins

Max Weber / The Protes­tant Eth­ic and the Spir­it of Cap­i­tal­ism

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