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“You will break the bow if you keep it always bent” (Greek Proverb).
IN A WORLD WHERE “MANAGING MULTIPLE PRIORITIES” HAS BECOME A SURVIVAL SKILL, WE FIND OURSELVES CEASELESSLY BUSY. Rarely do we relax, and even when we do, we book a time slot for it in our day planners, as if relaxation were simply another item to check off our agendas. Plainly, we are a driven people. But what is it that drives us? Whatever it is (and truthfully, there are dozens of different possibilities), we need to be exceedingly careful these days. Unrelieved activity will kill us. The bow will break if it’s always bent.
Is it productivity we’re concerned about? There are doubtless many good things to be done nowadays, but those who know the most about real productivity understand the need for adequate downtime. Relaxation doesn’t take away from our productivity; it adds to it. Winston Churchill said, “I found I could add nearly two hours to my working day by going to bed for an hour after luncheon.”
Do we feel guilty when we’re doing nothing? I remember a conversation years ago with the girl who ended up graduating with the highest academic average in our college class of several thousand. She had dropped by my apartment one afternoon, and greeted me with the usual, “Hi, whatcha doing?” When I said, “Nothing,” she was aghast! “Don’t you feel guilty?” she said. “Not at all,” I replied, and I went on to introduce her to the concept of “creative inactivity.” I believed then, and I still believe today, that we need to get over the idea that relaxing by doing nothing is morally wrong. Having worked, we need to relax.
It’s certainly true that doing something different is often the best way to relax. Anatole France went so far as to say, “Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another.” I’m not sure we can only find relaxation by taking up another kind of labor, but even so, France’s general point is well taken.
I’m still confident, however, that there are times when it’s not only not wrong to do nothing, but nothing’s the most beneficial thing we can do. And if we can’t ever — at any time, under any circumstance — bring ourselves to do that, we need to ask ourselves, “Why?”
“He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing” (Cicero).