The “Laziness Lie”

Cailee Zeraat, Contributing Writer

The word “lazy” first became popular in the 16th century when the Puritans came to the United States. The idea stemmed from their religious beliefs, which revolved around the notion that those who couldn’t work hard and focus on their tasks were damned to go to Hell when they died and were unable to receive the salvation of God. As such, with the rise of the slave trade in the United States, these Puritanical religious ideals were pushed onto enslaved people to justify their brutal treatment and their use as free labor, as they promised them religious salvation and rewards in the afterlife. Thus, the use of laziness as a justification for slavery began.

While slavery has been abolished, the obsession with productivity has long since prospered, trickling into the workplace, academia and even the home. How many times have you been described as lazy? Was it your manager at your part-time job pushing you to stay busy, even when there was nothing to do? How about your parents nagging you to get out of bed on a Saturday instead of “doing nothing”? Society widely uses the idea to shame people into being productive; however, when are you actually “doing nothing”? You’re doing something when you watch TikToks in between classes—entertaining yourself. You’re doing something when you nap—recharging your energy. However, these activities are often used against people. But what do they all have in common? You’re doing something, but you’re not doing it for anyone else. And that is where the “laziness lie” comes from, courtesy of Dr. Devon Price’s book “Laziness Does Not Exist.”

The laziness lie is the idea that working hard is good, but wanting free time is morally wrong. Laziness became a deficit to overcome, with shame and ridicule following anyone who ever dares take idle time for themselves. Unfortunately, the laziness lie prospers in the U.S.; we are a capitalistic society built on the foundational concept of “hard work pays off.” If you work hard, you can make money for yourself and for those above you. However, this is not always true. How many people work 40-hour weeks at a minimum wage job, barely able to afford rent? How many people give up their weekends to finish an understaffed project at their job, with no bonus in sight? These people definitely work hard, but their hard work hasn’t paid off. Why? Because they are victims of the laziness lie: working hard with the hopes of a reward, but never given their due. 

To the Case Western Reserve University student, this lie is prevalent in all aspects of college life. It’s not uncommon to hear students chatting about how busy they are between looking for internships and taking 21 credit hours their first semester. But why can’t we just slow down? Why are we feeding into this lie that we need to be busy all the time? As a response, some might say, “Well, I need work experience!” or “I need a job to make money!” Well, I do too, and I already have these things. And I am working on them consistently—but consistently is not the same thing as constantly. You don’t have to work constantly to progress in life. Because life is not just about making money and getting straight A’s. In fact, you couldn’t even do those things without psychologically deteriorating from a lack of rest. Progress does not have to happen in four years. It doesn’t even have to occur in 20 or even 50 years. You have your whole life to make progress. It is perfectly okay to slow down, take a breather and use your idle time to simply be idle.

Working hard is exhausting, and in reality, it’s not even always necessary to succeed. You don’t need to force yourself to constantly be doing something, especially when you barely take time for yourself. The internal pressure to work hard without limits is unhealthy and disregards the natural boundaries for attaining happiness. Tiredness and needing to take a break is not failure. It’s just a momentary but extremely necessary step towards achieving your goals. It’s time to step away from the laziness lie and be kind to yourself.