“The way of the slothful is a hedge of thorns”, said the preacher. But many men would prefer this hedge of thorns to steel and thorny way that leaded to perfection. If we are a little more frank we will recognize the fact that all of us would like to be idle. Work is good, but work is hardly a pleasure.
People may sing as they work, but that is only to cheat themselves out of the strain and dullness of it. One may write an essay on ‘the cares and snares of wealth’. But everyone would like to be among ‘the idle rich’ who do nothing for their livelihood and hardly anything for the good of others. We blame the rich, because we have a secret admiration for them. This may sound cynical, but it is nonetheless true.
We are not rich; hence we cannot afford to be idle:
But all of us not ‘the idle rich’. We have to work for our livelihood and keep body and mind engaged. If we do not do so, we will have to suffer sooner or later. If a poor man does not work and expects the manna to fall from heaven right into his mouth, he behaves like a fool.
The poor must work to support themselves. The ambitious must work to better their conditions. No one becomes great through sheer idleness. One may become rich in that way, if a rich relative suddenly dies. But one cannot become great without steady and long work. This is as true today as it was in the days of Methuselah.
One may however live upon the earnings of another and lead an idle life. In many Hindu families where the joint family system prevails, we have many such idlers. But these are the people who are at the root of all troubles in the family. One may not trust in God, even the atheist must believe in the devil, for he is every where, “Idleness offers up the soul” says Dr. South, a clergyman, “as a blank to the devil, for him to write upon it”. Let us also remember what the good Dr. Watt wrote for the children
“In works of labour or of skill,
Let me be busy too’,
For satan find mischief still
For idle hands to do.”
This is very simple and amazingly true. Even when you are sitting in the arm-chair and doing nothing, your mind is thinking out things. That is the trouble with man. The mind is never idle. If you are not engaged in any work, the mind is free to think of useless and then, pernicious things. A busy mind has no time to think of such things.
“An empty vessel may be filled with poison, but a full one has no room infusion.” Idleness is indeed the parent of all vices. It is the idle rich who, in their carving for sensation take to debauchery and drinking.
Such idleness is bad for the body too. Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy thus describes the idle men. “Idle persons can never be well either in body or in mind. Wearied, vexed, loathing, weeping, singing, grieving and suspecting, they are continually offended with the world, and disgusted with every object therein. Their lives are painful to themselves; and burdensome to others. Their bodies are doomed to endure the miseries of ill health and their minds to be tortured by every foolish fancy.”
In the Bible we read “Idleness is the rust of the mind, the bane of the body.” We also read that when God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden he employed him to water the garden and to till it. Even in that blessed state man was not allowed to be idle. We read in history that when Hannibol sent his sturdy and brave soldiers to attack Capua, they were so corrupted by luxury and idleness that they could no longer resist the foe they had so frequently defeated. Idleness always impairs physical efficiency. The military authorities know it; hat is why they have daily parades.
Three score and ten, is the span of life granted to man. We cannot simply waste it. We should usefully employ our time; otherwise our life would be meaningless. Even the rich should do something solid. Man does not live for enjoyments, feeding and sleeping only. That is the bestial state and man must do better than revert to that condition. Man’s life is a great thing:
“How good is man’s life, the mere living, how to fit to employ
All the heart and the soul and the senses for every in joy.
Enjoyment gives employment to the body only, though it ultimately injuries it. We should try to be complete men by giving employment to the heart and soul and the senses.
Even when we are rich, idleness is not ideal state:
In this respect the slothful rich men of India – Zamindars, Rajas and Maharajas (now no more) took a leaf out of the book of the European millionaires. Most of them like Henry ford, actually worked in their office; though they could afford to keep efficient managers and retire. When they had a holiday they took to mountain climbing, yachting and similar things. In their spare moments they organize and financial philanthropic movements. Of course they take rest and enjoy whatever money can buy. But they detest the slothful vice of the Indian Rajas.
Fact is human body craves exercise, just as the mind does. If you do not give it exercise you do something abnormal. The abnormal is never healthy. “The human heart is like a milestone in a mill: when you put wheat under it, it turns and grinds and bruises the wheat to flour: if you put no wheat, it still grinds on and grinds itself away”. What is said of the human heart is true of the human muscles too.
Conclusion—a kind of regulated and judicious idleness should be cultivated:
A kind of judicious and regulated idleness may be cultivated by all who can afford to be idle. If you have plenty of money, you may cultivate this kind of idleness. In Arnold Benett’s Mr. Probak we have the picture of such an idle man. He is not idle in the sense our Maharajas were. The body should be kept in fit condition by exercise or play. The mind may be profitably employed in studying literature, journals, etc.
In enjoyment the excess point should never be reached. The company of well-tried and trustworthy friends may be enjoyed. In this way even idleness may turn out to be profitable.
Recreation and idleness:
In India the parents often confuse recreation with idleness. If the body is resting after a tiring day, it may not be idleness; it may be something quite different. The poor fellow is simply recreating his used-up energies. Failure to understand this often leads to undesirable consequences. The typical good boy in India is always a sickly, poor specimen of humanity who does not find any interest in life and who is not fit for any healthy occupation.