Skip to content

Digital detox

A Brief History Of Idleness

Content Area


A Brief History Of Idleness

We rush from one appointment to another, are always available to answer hundreds of emails. Don’t forget to go to the gym, do your daily shopping, cooking, and of course read a good book. On our holidays we are either infinitely active, climb cliffs or sail around a continent or we show everyone back home how amazing sophisticated we are by posting a relentless series of images of castles, churches and temples on Facebook.

We see, hear and experience so much like never before. Every second impressions, stories, pictures line up. But do we hear ourselves? Where are we in all this noise?

Doing nothing is also called idleness and it’s not what it seems to be at first glance. Because idleness “is the call on leisure, the relaxed acting free-of-duties, not the recovery of particular or physical stress. It goes with spiritual pleasures or light fun activities, but may also mean the pure idleness. ” (translated from German Wikipedia)

Idleness Is The Beginning Of All Vice

In former times idleness was a privilege of the nobility. The nobility wasn’t idle, but organized art, culture and social affairs. Martin Luther ended up this division and stipulated the class society. Everyone should carry out his Christian duty and work until he drops. In this life “idleness is the beginning of all vice” and sweet idleness had to be saved until the hereafter.

After almost 300 years, this “Protestant Ethic” had comprehensively gained acceptance and since at least in the industrial society a man was thought to be successful when he was diligent and hard-working. The man about town, the ne’er-do-well, the loafer was considered to be lazy, loathy and living at the expense of the community. The meritocracy had arisen.

In this meritocracy there was no place for idleness which does not mean simply doing nothing but to reflect, to be engaged with yourself, to discover new things, to be creative, so to speak hold mental exercises. But idleness isn’t that easy to measure like the output of a factory worker. Another simple measurement had to be implemented: presence. Employees had to be in the offices and therefore were considered working. To perform the same mental activity at home or an entirely different place only caused the suspicion of the boss. In the world of corporate control culture the one who is present and looks strained and stressed reaps praise and promotion, because these are evidences of hard work.

It was expectable that this would create ridiculous activism in companies, which is as absurd as ineffective. Today somebody is considered important if he is constantly accessible and picks up the phone with each ringing, no matter what situation he is in. Emails must be constantly checked and we apologise if we answered a mail only after two days.

Stress Continues In Free Time

In a further step, our leisure industry has sold us successfully that we must not be idle in the time we are not working. You are not training for a triathlon? Come on, do  at least some yoga. Cooking has to be celebrated, must be costly, not to mention the time we spend buying the fresh ingredients at street markets. A fast trip to Paris or New York over the weekend, music festivals, visits to a theatre – a permanent stream of “Must-Dos” drives us further. Just sitting there, enjoying the moment, with our own thoughts? What?!

“Work is winning over more and more the good conscience to its side: the desire for enjoyment already calls itself “need of recreation,” and even begins to be ashamed of itself.  “One owes it to one’s health,” people say, when they are caught at a picnic.  Indeed, it might soon go so far that one could not yield to the desire for the vita contemplative, (that is to say, excursions with thoughts and friends), without self contempt and a bad conscience.”- Friedrich Nietzsche

Some people may be afraid of what they will find when they are alone, in silence. They rather go to the next group meditation courses or collective mass yoga exercises in the park.

And then there are our small mobile friends. They are always near and save us from the silence with ourselves. At the bus stop waiting for the bus? Boring more info here. Get your smartphone out of your pocket and throw yourself into the constantly updating timelines on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Just a peep at what friends are up to. Our brains instantly get that small pulse, the loved distraction, the entertainment snack. None of us has to deal with the cold turkey that comes when we are missing distraction.

Okay, is everything bad and do we have to sit in contemplative ecstasy, after we have thrown all our gadgets out of the window and quit our jobs? Of course not. It’s like always in life. All in good time and in moderation. Idleness, rest and contemplation, silence and creative engagement with ourselves. Let us re-learn to do nothing. It’s an art.

Artists and scholars knew this. Friedrich Nietzsche drove into the Engadin to write his “Also Sprach Zarathustra“. Richard Wagner was inspired by the gardens of the villa in Ravello for the stage design of the second act of his opera Parsifal. And the East-Italian city of Ravenna has inspired Dante Alighieri, Lord George Gordon Byron or Gustav Klimt. (Found at Karrierebibel)

One does not need to travel in order to settle and develop his creativity. A walk is enough, according to a study by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz from Stanford University, to get better ideas and to stimulate inventiveness and associations.

Has idleness a permanent place in your life? Can you still do nothing? How do you create such moments in everyday life? Tell us about your DIGNIFIED moments and write about your experiences.