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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology

The civilization of the idle

Fri, 08 Feb 2019 09:32:00 +0000 Published in El Diario Montañés and Las Provincias

We are supposed to be already in the "civilization of leisure", advocated by the English economist John M. Keynes at the beginning of the 20th century. Machines (technology) would progressively free us from the salaried work , which would translate into more free time. In 1964, Joffre Dumazedier published "Towards a new civilization of leisure".

Although Keynes' predictions were only partially fulfilled, they served to raise awareness of its importance. Leisure ceased to be considered as a residual aspect of life and came to be seen as an autonomous reality and a civic right. But a part of the population, by the force of inertia, continues to see it as in earlier times.

 For some people the new status is a valuable opportunity to practice active and creative leisure, while for others it is a problem: they fear that this added and unexpected time will prompt them to think more about themselves and wonder about the meaning of their life. The latter has led many to escape into consumerism and banal entertainment. The problem increases for those who believe that the terms leisure and idleness are synonymous.

The expected culture of leisure is becoming the subculture of idleness and the civilization of the idle. Idlers are those who appear unexpectedly when you have "hidden" to finish an urgent work ; those who, when you are fishing (leisure), ask you: "Are they biting or not?"; those who spend many hours "watching" construction sites and observing card games in bars; those who spend a lot of time in a hammock with no other occupation than counting clouds.

 What was always called idleness is now called "disconnecting" A possible more positive disconnect would be to see leisure as the transition time needed to connect with oneself, with a life that has meaning beyond work and productivity.

There are three main types of leisure: inactive (idleness), passive and active. In passive leisure the subject is not mobilized, but is at least a receiver of stimuli (e.g., reading, listening to music or watching television). The opposite extreme to idleness is active and creative leisure, in which a person is both a receiver and a sender of stimuli, which requires moving on one's own initiative. For example, playing chess, practicing with a musical instrument, participating in a group sport, etc.

Nowadays, idleness is very attractive for people of any age. Some surveys confirm this. To the question "What will you do on your vacation?", the majority answer is "nothing".

True leisure is not passivity, but a change of activity. "Leisure is affirming one's own personality by creative acts or attitudes. Leisure is the recreation of the diligent man or woman, but not of the lazy, since a life of leisure and a life of idleness are two completely different things". (J. A. Pérez Rioja: Education for leisure).

For the Greeks, free time was active rest and noble leisure, destined to learning and to the development of the personality. Aristotle said that "we work in order to be able to have skolé (leisure) afterwards; in order to be able to devote ourselves freely afterwards to those occupations that we like and that develop our spirit."

 Leisure is an attitude staff to be developed. For Pieper "leisure is a state of the soul. It is a form of that quietness which is a budget for the perception of reality. It is the attitude of receptive and contemplative perception in being." (Leisure and the intellectual life).

Victor Frankl maintains in "Man's Search for Meaning" that idleness awakens the existential void or inner emptiness in which man sinks when he discovers that his life lacks meaning. He adds that this happens because "the unemployed person lives the emptiness of his time as the emptiness of his intimacy, of his conscience. Being without occupation gives him the sensation of uselessness, and he ends up believing that his life has no meaning". For this reason, he proposes the achievement of the meaning of life through suffering accepted and referred to the "supra-meaning", in clear reference letter to God.

Idleness atrophies both body and spirit. In contrast, active leisure contributes to physical and mental health. For John Neulinger (1981), leisure is not only a promoter of quality of life, but the essence of it; it is not a neutral state of mind, but a positive state and an important value. This criterion has been shared by many eminent people in history. For example: "Happiness resides in the leisure of the spirit" (Aristotle); "Idle life is an anticipated death" (Goethe).