We have lost the ability to be idle.
In school, we segue from one assignment to the other, from one deadline to the other. There is no time to be idle, the popular view goes. Work and feelings of intensity (and by extension, emotional states of anxiety and stress) reinforce, and amplify: the pressure of work makes us nervy and unsettled. In a very curious manner, we think that the accomplishment of tasks will alleviate these sentiments; yet, work never ends. We know that these notions form a terribly vicious cycle, but our mind-sets are so entrenched and traditional structures – which we’ve grew up with – so overwhelming that we simply submit ourselves to these conventions.
Perhaps we’ve been influenced by broader economic and social considerations. After all, at the workplace, we need to be productive, to be seen by our superiors to be doing our projects all the time. Employees shun flexi-work arrangements encouraged by the government, because perceptions associated with absence are often negative. Competition means that we need to one-up our counterparts, to stay ahead of the promotion game. Idleness is stigmatised.
And yes la – social media does things to us (I promise this will be the last time I problematise these online platforms). When people post their purportedly illustrious achievements, we feel selfishly inadequate. When they post little work accomplishments, we feel stupidly pressured to do something so as to up-our-game, whatever that means. In retrospect, I’ve been doing this to myself and others all the time, and these habits are mightily unhealthy. Therefore, for a start, I will stop claiming on Twitter that one of the #3thingstobegratefulfor is that I’ve completed a piece of assignment (unless it’s been a really tough and challenging one), that “it has been a productive / effective” day, or that “I have done so much work today”.
I like to be idle. I have been learning to enjoy idleness. In the past few weeks when schoolwork has been so ridiculously exhausting, I stop trudging through the nonsense. I say fuck it, I’ve had enough. I clear my table of everything. I watch Ricky Gervais and his hilarious stand-up performances. I lie on my bed, doing absolutely nothing. I walk around the campus in the night. I run distances, and it feels great. I start to put silly worries into perspective, clear my mind of ridiculous comparisons, and think about nothing, y’know.
This will be a long road to recovery, to accept idleness. But I’ve made the first step.