Sunday, June 13, 2010

On the Virtue of Wasting Time.

I have long held the belief that the average American does not have enough respect for the fine art of wasting time.

Before you indict me for being un-American, I do not mean being lazy. On the contrary, enjoyable time-wasting is the result of a life employed with normal work. Nothing makes leisure as enjoyable as work, if you know what I mean.

Wasting time is doing nothing in particular, enjoyably. It may include gardening, cooking, knitting, day dreaming, fishing, reading, sitting by the window, or any host of other things.

Wasting time is not usually television-watching, or browsing the web, or playing video games. Healthy wasted time is contemplative with no primary purpose attached to the action except its enjoyment. It is a nap. A walk. A crossword puzzle. It is fishing when catching a fish is a surprise not an expectation. Sometimes it is just getting bored. (The modern mind needs a little boredom, or a time when all the "alerts" in one's body and mind are put into sleep-mode, and sorry for the computer metaphor).

The high watermark of time wasting has a serendipitous quality to it, like a walk that ends in an enjoyable but unplanned conversation, or a detour into a used bookstore that leads to a book you have long wanted.

Leisure, the word once used for the contemplative times of one's life, is considered by classical philosophers to be a hallmark of an advanced civilization, and is only possible when the necessities of life have been supplied.

But unlike leisure years ago, modern leisure is organized, codifed, and usually has a mission attached to it. Something to give meaning to the action. It is the difference between the pick-up baseball games at the park when I was a kid and the uber-organized Select League baseball today. It is the difference between the average simple wedding of 1950 and the average stage performance we call a wedding today. And socially, it is "networking," (a damnable word) instead of meeting friends at the pub for a pint and a smoke. Even dying can not escape our desire to infuse more meaning into our lives, or so suggests the movie, The Bucket List.

I am not sure all the reasons we are the way we are, but certainly one reason is that our modern ethos equates "success" on earth with success in heaven, as seen in the countless "God wants you to be healthy and rich" religious television broadcasts, and in the non-religious but identical, "Success in Life" programs.  Somewhere in the last few hundred years we have replaced self-sacrifice with enlightened self-interest, the Fiat of the Virgin Mary with the empowerment Ayn Rand. . . but I digress. . .

I know that planning and organization are all good things, as is the accumulation of enough wealth to live a happy life, but the end is the good life not the planning of a good life. One of the joys of living in America is that it just works. I love that about our country and I am continually amazed at how efficient we are. But efficiency is not a god by which all is judged. It is a servant of happiness not its master. Life is not a performance to be captured on video, there is no audience applause at the end of it.  If one can take anything from our Buddhist friends, it is that the moment, the now, is to get our attention.

Our way of living is to video now, experience later. It is odd and I am as guilty as anyone.

But I am getting old and old people have thoughts like this.

Written with my apologies to the following authors and their books:

Josef Pieper / Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Walker Percy / Love in the Ruins

Max Weber / The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism


Scott said...

Is it "wasting" time if it is relaxing, recreational, restorative, enjoyable, peaceful, contemplative, meditative?

Francis Shivone said...

Must every word be taken only in its literal meaning, Scott?

Lynn said...

Blessings upon Scott, and upon your response; I was bridling [a nice, Jane Austen verb] at your equation of knitting with wasting time. For me, knitting is frequently a consecration of my time, a way of making love that will not get me into ecclesiastical trouble. Nice juxtaposition of Mary and Ayn Rand, though I have read most of the latter and appreciate her in small doses, even when I disagree with her. There are other, more recent authors whom I also enjoy in small doses (i.e., they are liberals of the sort who are so open-minded that their brains fell out) who write exquisitely; I would give you names, but I just woke up from a nap...

Victor Shivone said...

I often talk about playing at the park and how nice it was to participate in an activity without the rigid rules of organized sports. I understand what you mean when you say wasting time. I think too much of our time as parents is organized with our kids sports, and activities. Many vacations are tightly scheduled, to the point that you need a vacation from your vacation.