Laziness

Laziness does not exist.

People do not choose to fail or disappoint. No one wants to feel incapable, apathetic, or ineffective. If you look at a person’s action (or inaction) and see only laziness, you are missing key details. There is always an explanation. There are always barriers. Just because you can’t see them, or don’t view them as legitimate, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look harder.

Maybe you weren’t always able to look at human behavior this way. That’s okay. Now you are. Give it a try.

Laziness Does Not Exist: But unseen barriers do

We never think we deserve a break. Through all the burnouts, stress-related illnesses, and sleep-deprived weeks we endure, we remain convinced that having limitations makes us “lazy” and that laziness is always a bad thing.

This worldview is ruining our lives.

Laziness Does Not Exist

So when I see a student failing to complete assignments, missing deadlines, or not delivering results in other aspects of their life, I’m moved to ask: what are the situational factors holding this student back? What needs are currently not being met? And, when it comes to behavioral “laziness,” I’m especially moved to ask: what are the barriers to action that I can’t see?

There are always barriers. Recognizing those barriers— and viewing them as legitimate — is often the first step to breaking “lazy” behavior patterns.

Laziness Does Not Exist: But unseen barriers do

When those kids were still young, they received some support, and some sympathy. But the longer they struggled, the less patience and compassion they got. Eventually people stopped talking about those students’ needs or limitations. Instead, the conversation became about how lazy they were. Once someone was deemed lazy, they were much likelier to get yelled at than they were to be helped. If a kid was lazy, there was no fixing it. It was their fault they were missing assignments, failing to grasp hard concepts, and not putting time into anything “productive” after school. Lazy kids didn’t have futures. And, the world seemed to be telling me, they deserved what they got.

Laziness Does Not Exist

“I had all sorts of labels growing up, you know, the bad kid, the stupid kid, the lazy kid. And then eventually I became the special ed, not-normal kid. I had a set of learning and attentional differences that weren’t treated as differences. They were treated as deficiencies, as abnormalities. And so I went on a journey to understand my own journey; my own struggles with feeling less than as a human being, and then ultimately on a journey to understand how we’ve created a culture that values the myth of the normal, as opposed to the reality of the different.”

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

I realized then that my struggles were part of a much bigger social epidemic, something I’m calling the Laziness Lie. The Laziness Lie is a deep-seated, culturally held belief system that leads many of us to believe the following:

  • Deep down I’m lazy and worthless.
  • I must work incredibly hard, all the time, to overcome my inner laziness.
  • My worth is earned through my productivity.
  • Work is the center of life.
  • Anyone who isn’t accomplished and driven is immoral.

The Laziness Lie is the source of the guilty feeling that we are not “doing enough”; it’s also the force that compels us to work ourselves to sickness.

Laziness Does Not Exist

For centuries, the word stupid, combined with various intensifiers like bad, lazy, willful, or weak has been used to create a moral “diagnosis.” That moral diagnosis has ruined millions of lives.

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When we say someone is lazy, we’re saying they’re incapable of completing a task due to (physical or mental) weakness, but we’re also claiming that their lack of ability somehow makes them morally corrupt. It’s not that they’re tired or even dispirited in some way we might sympathize with; the word implies that they’re failures on a fundamental, human level. The idea that lazy people are evil fakers who deserve to suffer has been embedded in the word since the very start.

Laziness Does Not Exist

I also came to see how the thing that we call “laziness” is often actually a powerful self-preservation instinct. When we feel unmotivated, directionless, or “lazy,” it’s because our bodies and minds are screaming for some peace and quiet. When we learn to listen to those persistent feelings of tiredness and to honor them, we can finally begin to heal.

The laziness we’ve all been taught to fear does not exist. There is no morally corrupt, slothful force inside us, driving us to be unproductive for no reason. It’s not evil to have limitations and to need breaks. Feeling tired or unmotivated is not a threat to our self-worth. In fact, the feelings we write off as “laziness” are some of humanity’s most important instincts, a core part of how we stay alive and thrive in the long term.

When people run out of energy or motivation, there’s a good reason for it. Tired, burned-out people aren’t struggling with some shameful, evil inner laziness; rather, they’re struggling to survive in an overly demanding, workaholic culture that berates people for having basic needs.

The people we dismiss as “lazy” are often individuals who’ve been pushed to their absolute limits. They’re dealing with immense loads of baggage and stress, and they’re working very hard. But because the demands placed on them exceed their available resources, it can look to us like they’re doing nothing at all. We’re also taught to view people’s personal challenges as unacceptable excuses.

Laziness Does Not Exist

The Laziness Lie is a belief system that says hard work is morally superior to relaxation, that people who aren’t productive have less innate value than productive people. It’s an unspoken yet commonly held set of ideas and values. It affects how we work, how we set limits in our relationships, our views on what life is supposed to be about. The Laziness Lie has three main tenets. They are:

  • Your worth is your productivity.
  • You cannot trust your own feelings and limits.
  • There is always more you could be doing.

The Laziness Lie is deeply embedded in the very foundation of the United States. The value of hard work and the evils of sloth are baked into our national myths and our shared value system. Thanks to the legacies of imperialism and slavery, as well as the ongoing influence that the United States exerts on its trade partners, the Laziness Lie has managed to spread its tendrils into almost every country and culture on the planet.

Laziness Does Not Exist

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic parent and retired tech worker. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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