The daunting task of doing nothing


by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

At the risk of espousing pop psychology, even if you aren’t inclined to market yourself as a Type-A personality, most people have some difficulty justifying themselves by doing nothing. I wager the majority of us prefer to fulfill our dreams by doing something. As a result we happily drag ourselves out of the lair every morning, pacifically and routinely prepare ourselves for another day in harness and head for the mines at least resignedly if not in fact with a whistle on our lips and a skip in our step. The undertaking may indeed be encumbered by the fear that no matter how hard or how long one works you’ll never get ahead; but nonetheless on the balance most of us are satisfied to play out the role of production if for no other reason than to avoid the stark possibility that we’ve accomplished nothing.

Even the most industrious of the herd will however accept that time for refreshment is a necessary element to any human activity no matter how extravagant. Like sleep the need eventually overcomes one. In the winter months my little business hibernates. As such I have occasion to divert myself from the ordinary preoccupations of rural conveyancing and estate administration. Thankfully I am not one to allow "administrivia" to accumulate so I haven’t the default prospect of having to address what are often festering side-lined duties. Instead I have initially what is the cheerful panorama of nothingness before me. I say "initially" because unless you have some experience in these matters it isn’t long before the delight of the moment dissolves into something less entertaining. You see, doing nothing is work. It is I find much easier to have an obligation or commitment upon which to rely. Even the slightest occupation frequently succeeds in delaying that singularly uncomfortable realm of vacate thought. To digress for a moment, it is in this regard that I question the theory behind the Protestant Work Ethic which, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, appears to be founded on nothing more than work for the sake of work, quite apart from any uplifting features which may otherwise be attributed to the concept. Anyway, leaving aside for a moment that philosophical debate, the frozen truth is that from time to time in one’s life one must face unemployment in the eye.

It is undeniable that the idle hand can quickly work some terrible mischief. No doubt this contradiction to the commendable features of one’s previous endeavours is the direct result of lack of originality since I do not think it can be denied that the preference is always for utility and composition rather than inutility and disintegration. But it is this lack of originality – or what I earlier hinted was lack of experience – which precipitates the dénouement. To ride out the harbour wave of the unexpected, one must anticipate and be prepared.

Frankly I can’t say that I’ve ever given myself over completely to consideration of the prospect of doing nothing. By contrast my inclinations tend to the opposite. Yet I am prepared to acknowledge that whenever the occasion should arise to address the dreadful subject of inactivity, the proverbial bull must be taken by the horns, and that one mustn’t capitulate and do something wasteful like watch television or worse. Note, if you will, the slur upon wasteful inactivity. This demonstrates to the careful reader that, just as in activity, there is good and bad inactivity (sorry for the confusing alliteration).

I believe it is safe to say that true inactivity (not merely supplanted activity) leans more towards the cerebral than otherwise. That is, the obtuse effect is thought which sadly for many is more than a bit limiting. The unfortunate aspect of this limitation is that it is likely quite unfounded; it is just that because people so often haven’t any practical experience in clinical thinking, they avoid it as a child might first avoid trying to ride a bicycle. Discover however the joy of doing so and all fears are allayed! By this I mean one must tackle the frightening challenge with gusto! To return once again for a moment to those Type-A personalities, too often the governing characteristic of the disability is merely over-riding impatience. Obviously patience must be part of the thinking process; to presume otherwise is to suggest that all good things happen in other than good time. If one is eventually successful in protracting the abuse of doing nothing, I easily hazard that it won’t be long before the time is up and the chance to return to more hands-on projects will occur. This perhaps sounds as though I wish to rush through these down-times or camouflage them in preference for the real work of living, but it is only because the immaterial results of doing nothing are so much less palpable than regular commercial graphs. But I don’t for a minute extend that