Morality Series: Sloth

Intentions Count

Intentions Count

Other than writing about it, does anyone ever use this word except for the animal or when referring to the sin? Do we know what sloth means? Is it laziness?

Sloth is the most difficult of the seven biggies to define precisely. An old-fashioned definition might sound like defiant sorrow turning away from God’s good intentions.

Is it really a bad thing? Is the problem its tendency to lead to other problems? I knew it fit with laziness, but it also goes with apathy and a list of other goof-off words.

Thomas Pynchon wrote a great piece about how sloth is tied to writers. Read it all here. I like this paragraph:

“Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. They are approached all the time on the subject, not only for free advice, but also to speak at Sloth Symposia, head up Sloth Task Forces, testify as expert witnesses at Sloth Hearings. The stereotype arises in part from our conspicuous presence in jobs where pay is by the word, and deadlines are tight and final — we are presumed to know from piecework and the convertibility of time and money. In addition, there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, “The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee”, by Thomas Pynchon

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If this is a sin, it’s not one we commit. In fact, it seems we commit nothing, we do nothing, and we don’t much give a shit about anything. As I understand it, sloth refers to our mental, physical, spiritual, and pathological states, usually with a strong religious twist. Even the Buddhists have their five hindrances, of which Sloth-torpor is one defined as a heaviness of the body and dullness of the mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. That sounds like it needs a DSM IV diagnosis.

With greed, I wrote that we know it when we see it. I’m not sure sloth is as easy to identify. I don’t take the word sin seriously, but sloth is one item that may not get enough attention. Like the others, it is not healthy if it’s a person’s choice for a way of life. I can accept go with the flow, but like many of the big seven, it can be unhealthy when taken to a wrong extreme. And, it can lead to other behavior that is even more damaging. I think that much of what we might perceive as sloth, in others or ourselves, is either a medical problem like depression, or an existential crisis. Here is another example from Mr. Pynchon:

“Any discussion of Sloth in the present day is of course incomplete without considering television, with its gifts of paralysis, along with its creature and symbiont, the notorious Couch Potato. Tales spun in idleness find us Tubeside, supine, chiropractic fodder, sucking it all in, re-enacting in reverse the transaction between dream and revenue that brought these colored shadows here to begin with so that we might feed, uncritically, committing the six other deadly sins in parallel, eating too much, envying the celebrated, coveting merchandise, lusting after images, angry at the news, perversely proud of whatever distance we may enjoy between our couches and what appears on the screen.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee, by Thomas Pynchon

I like saying that I’m lazy, or that it’s a lazy day. I should say relaxed or comfortable, but lazy adds a pinch of ironic guilt. That troubles some folks, but I think it natural. On my calling card, the leading skill is Leisure Aficionado; a reference to many of my goals in retirement. It got less attention than Pleasure Seeker did.

Sure. Sometimes.

Sure. Sometimes.

The opposite of sloth is said to be diligence: careful and persistent work or effort. I have always liked persistence, and for a long time, I liked some work. Maybe it was the doing that I liked – my ability to make something happen; or maybe it was the fruit of my labor that was my reward. My writing is kind of both, but mostly my reward is the result. That is also my motivation to do it again. For about five years, I ran – anything from five kilometers to marathons. For marathons, diligent training and persistence are keys to success without much injury. I’ve met no slothy runners. To endurance runners, any day with less than five miles is slacking off.

Is it sloth or depression?

Is it sloth or depression?

One more issue regarding sloth: this whole concept that people who choose to be lazy or sloth are deliberately committing sins is nonsense. People want to feel good, to contribute, to have purpose and success. That is what is normal for humans. We’re unaware of other’s mental, physical, or spiritual health. So, we should focus on ourselves and what’s best for us. If anything is a sin, it’s judgment.

 

 

The song Alphie by Lily Allen is a hoot, and refers to the pot induced lethargy of her younger brother. Yes, the Game of Thrones actor – same guy. But it could be sloth. This Youtube version is a bit edited, but worth a look, nonetheless.

We should look upon our own sloth with a critical eye.
Too little or too much may be unhealthy.
Live life to the fullest as long as possible; always look both ways and mind the gaps.

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6 thoughts on “Morality Series: Sloth

  1. I’m feelin’ rather slothy (is that a word) right now sittin’ in my easy chair readin’ blogs. Of course, I’ve already put in 11K steps on my Fitbit this mornin’ so I figure I can take a break. The music video cracked me up. And the author you quote sounds like quite a character! But on a more serious note, I think you’re right that we have to be careful not to judge what we may consider sloth in another. Focus on our own stuff, and find our own balance. Sometimes a lazy day is just what the doctor ordered!

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  2. I may be incapable of sloth. Sloth might very well be the opposite of anxiety disorder, although I have noted anxiety isn’t listed as a virtue.
    Body, often busy. Mind always on. Sleep never enough. I am one of those people who has to force themselves to get into bed or meditate or breathe. I can’t enjoy a massage because I can’t relax. I’m not good at that stuff. Best I can do is go zen, or cleaning or painting or quilting. Then I’m in the zone and I’m a bad wife/mother…
    But then I start to feel unwell, and I can watch tv when I feel unwell. Then I guess that’s pretty lazy, although I’m awful fidgety for a potato 🙂
    I don’t know that I know any sloth-sorts. Might it be a rarer sin? Or a more hidden one?

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  3. As i get older (and older and older) I tend more toward the sloth than the rabbit. And so what. There are probably people who are sinfully slothful, although I think a clearer definition might help. The motto on my blog says, “Life is too short. Eat dessert instead.”

    It seems to be more of a biblical mandate than anything. And a judgement on someone else, rather than something we can define ourselves as being.

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