Not Lazy, Just Stupid
by Ryan Tibbens
We're not being lazy; we're just being stupid.
In the last month, how many times have you been too 'lazy' to do something that you knew you should do? How many times have you been fully aware of the behavior you desire, but did something else? How many times did you explain that dissonance with the term 'lazy'?
Too many. Me too.
'Lazy' has become our comfortable and socially acceptable way to justify stupidity and vice. 'Lazy' means "disinclined to activity or exertion : not energetic or vigorous." It means that you didn't want to do something or couldn't muster the energy for it. But when you know that you should do something, don't you usually want to do it? Exhaustion and fatigue are excusable: they indicate that you've already dedicated yourself fully to a different endeavor. You are incapable of doing more. But if you know and believe that you should do something, and also know that you could, but you don't, what is that? That is not lazy. That is stupid.
If we were more honest about our reasons for not doing (or sometimes doing) things, if we were as quick to acknowledge stupidity as we do laziness, we would be better people. We would live more productive and meaningful lives. People say that knowledge is power, but that is not true. Knowledge creates options, and options create power. Options are powerful because they let us know what we can do. If we never take action, then our other options, and all the prerequisite knowledge, was inert and useless and stupid. In many eastern traditions, focusing on 'being' is more important than focusing on 'doing,' and while I am inclined to Taoism and Buddhism myself, I believe that enlightenment results from 'being' and 'doing' becoming one. Buddhists believe that life is suffering and that suffering results from striving, from want and desire. Taoists have a similar take, but with less suffering overall. True enlightenment is derived from synthesis of realism and idealism -- know what you actually are, and know what you should be; then work (do) so diligently that 'being' becomes 'doing' (and 'doing' becomes 'being'). A great deal of our sorrow in life results from doing things that do not jive with what we are (and from being what we are without doing what we should). You are who you are, and who you are is what you do. (And what you eat, but that's for a different essay.)
Somehow, most people believe that it is better to be lazy than stupid. We delude ourselves into believing that 'lazy' is a decision, which means we have power, which means that we could have done the other thing. But that isn't true. You can only do what you do. We think that 'stupid' is thrust upon us by the Universe, that no one chooses 'stupid.' While it is true that people rarely choose 'stupid,' it is also true that most 'lazy' is just poorly labeled 'stupid.'
I've had a general sense of this concept since my late teens, but it wasn't until I heard a throwaway line in Joe Rogan's interview of Steven Pinker that I found the words for it. Rogan asks, "Do you meditate?" And Pinker responds laughingly, "You know, I don't, but I think I should." They both laugh, and Rogan replies, "Well, you're such a smart guy. Like, why would you, why would there be anything that you think you should do that you don't do?" EUREKA. Pinker, still laughing, says, "It's a really good question, 'cause, 'cause clearly I'm not that smart."
If you are a smart person, and you know that you should do something (not could, not would), why wouldn't you do it? It is either the vice of indifference, which equates to stupidity when you are indifferent to things that benefit you; or it is stupidity, which is, well, stupid. 'Lazy' is a fine claim when we're talking about friends going out and you don't really want to go and don't see any clear reason why you should; you're too lazy (see the definition) to participate. But if you know that you should go with your friend because it is in your best interest or it will help your friend, which is also to your benefit, then you're not being lazy -- you're being stupid.
Take no offense to all that second person. It truly takes one to know one. I am as guilty of stupidity as anyone else, perhaps more. In fact, I'm morally worse than most people because I know that laziness is really just stupidity, and yet I continue to act stupidly and blame laziness. However, I've come to equate laziness in meaningful situations with stupidity, and I believe that stupidity is among the worst three human experiences (Malice, Indifference, Stupidity). I'm working on it. I know that I should be less lazy, and so I am, incrementally but steadily.
Most of us avoid stupid behaviors, or at least try to. We are, or want to be, smart. Somehow the sin of sloth has been rationalized away -- we're all just so very busy, so very tired, that we think we deserve to be lazy. Rest is important. Stillness is important. Reflection and quiet and being are important. But simply choosing not to do something that we know we should do, that is not laziness; that is stupidity.
Get back to work, dummy.
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