February 21, 2013
Classically, the vice of sloth (laziness) had two components:
1. acedia – a lack of caring or indifference
I would argue that the negative aspect of individualism that exists today in 21st century is furthered by acedia. The sociologist Robert Bellah says it well:
A brilliant Midrash explains how the traps of laziness affect one’s learning:
How many of us just want “a little more sleep!” There is no viable excuse for anyone of us to not be addressing global poverty for at least 5 minutes each week (the time of clipping our nails) yet we manage to find 20 excuses while maintaining the memory of our soup-kitchen volunteer experience from 3 months earlier as our justification to comfort ourselves from facing our entrapment in sloth.
It is, of course, not only the privileged and powerful who struggle with energizing themselves to transform the world. The oppressed are also plagued with this complex problem. The great Brazilian educator and author of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire wrote:
Now this is certainly not sloth but rather a different example of one of the many inhibitors placed in our minds and souls that prevent liberation. Hegel called it our subordination to the consciousness of the master.
The Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that sloth can be sinful in two situations: when one is in despair to perform what is spiritually good or when one is so regretful about their wrong-doings that it becomes preventative for them. I personally believe that we can think of a number of other psychological reasons outside of the “sin” category and perhaps our framework can be more positive focusing on alacrity and motivation rather than our sinfulness.
Psychologists have found that life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with consistent minor accomplishments (victories) than for those who express interest only in massive accomplishments (Orlick 1998). Laziness is not conquered as a major life goal but every moment of our existence. We must seek little victories and the research shows this can lead to a more meaningful and happy life.
To this effect the Grah (Vilna Gaon) found it meaningful to argue that the reward of doing mitzvoth is so much greater than the effort expended.
May we all be blessed with the passion, motivation, and will to conquer the inner force demanding complacency, conformity, and ease of existence.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America!"