A Reason To Be Lazy This Summer
(FORTUNE Magazine) – After writing a book (My Job, My Self, Routledge, 2000) that established once and for all that we are what we do, Al Gini decided that we work too much. Himself included: Gini, 58, is a professor of philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, a co-founder and associate editor of Business Ethics Quarterly (yes, he's heard the jokes), a regular contributor on Chicago's NPR affiliate, and a consultant. Now, as summer nears, comes his seventh work, The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure, and Vacations (Routledge). We caught up with Gini to talk about Aristotle, the bends, and Zen paradoxes. --E.T.
Q: Doesn't every generation think it's working harder than the previous one?
A: You're right, every generation judges reality by itself. But we've been ratcheting up the hours we work. According to the Department of Labor, we've lost 16 hours of leisure a week in the past 20 years. Right now, the average worker (white-and blue-collar) averages 49.5 hours per week and 50.5 weeks per year. And that's not including chores, kids, commuting ...
Q: You quote several great minds--Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Ogden Nash--on the value of leisure. Why will people listen to you if they haven't listened to them?
A: Well, it's the teacher's desperate attempt to repeat the lesson. My argument of how we don't do nothing well comes from my own profile as a worker.
Q: So it's not a problem that you're an admitted workaholic?
A: The best drug counselors are former addicts! Any serious addict will tell you he wishes he could quit--even as he puffs away on his next cigarette. I'll tell you something: I had a near-death experience. My life was saved by someone I was dating. She became my wife. I realized that my future is shorter than my past. I've got to take time now because, like it or not, time will be taken away from me.
Q: Can I ask what happened?
A: It was a diving accident. Got the bends. She was my diving partner.
Q: But when you say we have to studiously work at doing less, well, far be it from me to tell a philosophy professor what a paradox is--A: It's a Zen paradox. It's like in all the retirement literature: You have to prepare to retire. The importance of being lazy doesn't mean to do nothing, but to not always be busy with something connected with your job. It's about stopping working, doing something you would rather be doing, or the gentle art of doing "no thing."
Q: I wonder if all this isn't a luxury in a lame economy. People are out of work or losing their jobs, and you want them to relax?
A: When you're talking about vacations you're talking about a post--Industrial Revolution phenomenon, one that's dependent upon a sufficient economic livelihood. Melville's whalers, Dickens's sweatshop workers, and Upton Sinclair's packers didn't worry about vacation time, personal days, and sick leave. Vacations as we know them are a middle-class phenomenon that has spread only since World War II. Working is a badge of honor. But to do something well, you have to step away and not do it for a while.