My dad likes to tell the story of the time when, as my soccer coach, he instructed my team to run a lap. I was four years old at the time, and in response, I spun around, plopped on the grass and said, “I won’t!” Seeing my example, my dad says, my teammates dropped down one by one, echoing my insubordination. He had a full-scale revolt on his hands. No lap was run.
I was a smart kid, I guess. Somehow I knew that laziness can be — and historically has been — a form of rebellion impossible to ignore. Strikes, sit-ins and simple refusals to do unjust work make it impossible for anyone who’s responsible for getting something done to get it done, and therefore change happens fast. Now that I’m responsible for succeeding on my own, however, I find myself struggling against my own natural, revolutionary tendencies: I’m just lazy.
There’s more to this than self-indulgence, though. In a world where success can be life-threatening — as the tragic story of the 21-year-old Bank of America intern who passed away this summer shows — I sometimes find it hard to motivate myself to participate in a system where success earns you more suffering than pleasure. My friend Evan describes his own struggles with laziness this way: “We conflate anti-traditionalist sentiment with our own desire to relax.” When the goals I’m pushed toward seem problematic or even just lackluster, it’s easier for me to avoid reaching them than to carve out different ones for myself.
People have always been lazy, obviously, but I find that my various technological outlets encourage my sloth-like behavior. Beyond the mere fact of how distracting it is do work on the same computer upon which you could also be watching any movie you wanted at the drop of a hat, there’s a pro-laziness cult that guarantees the Netflix binger some measure of approval from her peers. If you’re like me and spend most of your free time on the Internet, you can’t avoid people glorifying their indulgences. BuzzFeed loves to fill its pages with “listicles” (ugh), encouraging you to stay clicking mindlessly on its website. Conveniently, these articles reassure you it’s OK to sit in front of the computer all day — after all, it doesn’t hurt their traffic. People pretending to be embarrassed about how many episodes of "Orange is the New Black" they’ve watched that night clog my social media feeds. For a while, laziness was even on the air, crooned to me by Bruno Mars.
And I think Evan’s right. Speaking from a Princeton-based focus, we’re incredibly lucky to be here, but many of us — by no means all, but certainly a large portion, including myself — were aiming to attend a university of this caliber from a very young age. I worked really hard to get into this school, but I was never really given the choice. It was just what people in my family and in the families around me did. I know that makes me sound privileged, but I’m not complaining: I’m thrilled to be here. I do think, however, that some of my laziness is a way for me to say — as a student who knows how to apply herself, manage her time and work hard — “You’re not the boss of me anymore.”
I’m not saying we should be working all the time. Time to relax and recharge is super important, but hours in front of screens are not restorative. I just don’t want laziness to be so cool anymore. I’m pushing back against our cultural acceptance of slovenliness, lethargy and sloth. I’m refusing to laugh at yet another joke about sleeping all day and watching Netflix all night while eating an entire pizza.
As Princeton students, we have access to extraordinary resources, both internal and external, and that means people demand a lot of us. From professors to parents to preceptors to friends, we have serious responsibilities, and we take them seriously. What we forget, though, is that we don’t have to do all of them. If we are feeling overwhelmed and uninspired by our commitments and find ourselves shirking them, hoping they’ll go away if we watch another episode of "Breaking Bad," we should realize that there’s a bigger problem here. When four-year-old me refused to run that lap, she was demonstrating her ability to refuse to do what was asked of her, a right that people should always have, especially when they are not four years old and are able to present more profound arguments than that the task demanded of them is unpleasant. We earn that right by actually doing what we should do and learning to tell that wheedling, lazy little voice: “I won’t!”
Susannah Sharpless is a religion major from Indianapolis, Ind. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.