Redefining Lazy

According to Merriam Webster, lazy is defined as disinclined to activity or exertion; not energetic or vigorous. Although this particular definition masquerades as neutral, it has taken on a decidedly downward tilt. Among its brethren in the synonym department, torpid, lackadaisical, enervated, good-for-nothing and shiftless come up. See what I mean?

Why can’t he just be called lazy?” my friend asked about her 20 year old son who had not returned e-mails or taken care of other college related business.

It was difficult for me to answer completely, and clearly it was partially rhetorical anyway. She was frustrated with his inaction, understandably. There could be consequences both financially and academically, which could be avoided by attending to said correspondence.

However, the characterization of lazy continued to gnaw at me, niggling at my perception of him and the pejorative nature with which the term has become associated. I am not this young man’s parent, but I know that he has participated successfully on his track team in high school and college. He woke himself up at six every morning this summer, made his lunch, and started work at seven. That does not read as shiftless to me.

In fact, the theme of someone being mislabeled lazy has arisen several times in the past week of my therapy practice. It is not unusual for a clearly bright child with attention deficit disorder (without the behaviorally evident hyperactive piece) to seem to be purposely avoiding work, when the truth is that the child may have forgotten what the request was, or been distracted by something compelling.

Children are not given to laziness. If you see them on the playground running bases, jumping rope, or wielding a hockey stick, nothing remotely close to indolent will come to mind. 

Some people are shy about talking with others, and it can be anxiety provoking to make phone calls. It is not unawareness of the consequences. It is the challenge of straddling the insurmountable hurdle to pick up the phone. 

“What if I don’t know what to say?” “What if I sound stupid?” It’s difficult to describe what the roadblocks look like. Questions in the anxious mind may seem ridiculous to the outside onlooker but it is indeed real to the person experiencing it.

Someone who is depressed will also have to scale inner walls in order to do what is necessary in his or her life, and in more extreme circumstances is not even able to accomplish this. “Just exercise a little; you’ll feel better,” friends advise. Absolutely, walking, biking, yoga, any kind of movement can help, but the depressed person may be unable to muster this motivation even in the face of dire consequences. In fact, it can be one of the clear indicators of the depression itself. It is not belligerence, it is not disobedience nor impudence and it is not laziness.

People mostly want to live their lives in a way that makes life easy, better. 

When was the last time you said to yourself, how can I make grocery shopping take half the day instead of an hour?

Loafing should come into play more often when we need a break. We all need to be lazy sometimes: recharge, rejuvenate, re-energize. If we can follow our own natural rhythms, we may feel completely unable to clean the kitchen one day, but the next we may have more oomph, and getting the oil changed seems like a small errand, not the equivalent of leaping across the Grand Canyon.

Sure, there are lots of tasks that are not on our personal schedule. For most people, work hours are dictated to us, not by us, and we need to muster the industry to do what’s necessary.

But for those of us who can’t it is usually not because of laziness. Scratch just a little deeper, and you will find attention challenges, anxiety or depression heading up the resistance charge, each one needing care and kindness before it can join with the motivation to follow through. Save lazy for describing summer, and the positive notion of allowing for stillness, refilling of the well, and crazy hazy goodness.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.