Lost in deep reverie, perilously close to the reach of Morpheus, we find ourselves, spiritually and meditatively, in the company of the great philosopher, Aristotle. While thus visiting, I remembered that it was that great sage that famously and wisely observed, “We are busy [so] that we can have leisure.”

We have, of course, eternally extolled the great wisdom of the sages. However, by stark contrast, we have consistently expressed contempt for the inane, pedestrian aphorism (see previous writing, “The Arrogance of Aphorisms”) they are uniformly and consistently, devoid of reason or any empirical utility, whatsoever, and are the exclusive and willing inheritance of only lazy, seldom used minds.

One such particularly despicable, and unfortunately traditional, admonition is “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” This gross perversion of the human intellect is downright insulting and immensely irritating, especially in its implicit view of the innate evil inclination of mankind.  In view of our intention that “Leisure” be the theme of this writing, it appears that a further look at this atavistic travesty may be useful, possibly even, somewhat illuminating.

To “part the curtain” in said critique, one is enabled  to evaluate the mind-set and the degree of rationality, of the folks who find  guidance in this behavioral rule, by its reference to the medieval existence of a “devil,” a malevolent entity that superstition says, urges man to sin. Contemporary humans, of every stripe, understand that man’s potential to do good, or otherwise, stems from his socialization and resultant self-image, and not some superstitious third-party agency.

It takes only the most elementary analysis to conclude that the “idle hands” concept, (even, possibly, as a metaphor) deprecates the capabilities and the essential nature of mankind in a most insulting and defamatory way. Inarguably, the greatest evolutionary gift to mankind is his developed capacity for reason, the essential basis for his successful presence on this planet. Indeed, most primates do have “hands” and also employ tools for food gathering, but lack the extent of reason and advanced self-awareness of man (remember Adam?). In addition to manual labor, let us also contemplate Descartes and Socrates as well as Silicon Valley.

It is especially vexing to understand this express admonition which, inarguably, states that to the extent man is busy, he will have no opportunity to practice his predisposition to do evil.  This is, indeed a jaw-dropping , pessimistic and negative appraisal of the nature of man.

The metamorphosis of our society, from essentially agrarian to a largely industrial one, resulted in new emphasis on the importance of work and production; this necessitated a proportionate decline in the personal life of the individual. The societal promulgation of the significance of work and production so penetrated man’s collective psyche that he began to associate his identity and self-image with what he does for a living. While it is true that the concept of “work” is philosophically and etymologically distinct from the conception of “morality” it became, too emblematic of value in our society which placed an inordinate emphasis on profitable production; the same has developed into a secular  mantra under the name “work ethic” ; those who are seen as lacking that ethic are often the recipients of overt societal disapproval. This new measure of human acceptability and worth has made scheduled retirement a difficult passage for many who were caused to associate their identity with their work. Retirees who have developed personal resources and interests, unrelated to their employment have an easier transition; in fact, many see this period as a grant of freedom to be themselves at long last, and to pursue the interests cultivated on weekends and other breaks from work. For others, the adjustment may take longer. It is hoped that most retirees will avail themselves of their new opportunity to uncover the person they always were and the interests they would have pursued, if not for work. While society benefited from his previous employment productivity, it, and especially he, will doubtless also benefit from his freedom for self-enhancement and personal self-realization.

Leisure time is not best described, merely by the freedom from work obligations, or release from the duty to produce commercial goods and services. Indeed, leisure time affords the rare and valuable opportunity to be personally productive, intellectually and otherwise, and to freely explore subjects deferred by necessity to work.  There is great joy in the realization of discovered self-determination, of being free to be yourself on an unlimited basis, as opposed to limited work breaks and weekends.

To those who, are so effectively brainwashed by industrial dogma that they continue to adhere to the opinion that the practice of leisure is a waste of valuable time , Aristotle would again observe (as he did when, in his day he received  similar opinions ) that it was their leisure that enabled the Egyptians to invent the study of mathematics. You go Aristotle!


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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