The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

Does Laziness Exist?

Ville Kokko

Posted on June 10, 2018 07:08

0 user

Calling people lazy is a way of holding them responsible for what they (don't) do. A thought-provoking piece by social psychologist E. Price shows this is an example of how ascribing responsibility is not always a good thing.

In a piece published on Medium, social psychologist and university teacher E. Price writes that "laziness does not exist." It's well worth reading the original and I don't have the space to summarize it much. An important quote:

"People do not choose to fail or disappoint. No one wants to feel incapable, apathetic, or ineffective. If you look at a person’s action (or inaction) and see only laziness, you are missing key details. There is always an explanation. There are always barriers. Just because you can’t see them, or don’t view them as legitimate, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look harder."

Price's examples range from homeless people who might be working hard, but we assume they must be lazy or else they'd be better off; through people struggling with illness or disability that makes it harder to perform; to students who genuinely procrastinate but do so because they can't overcome some obstacle that may be invisible to outsiders.

All of these cases look like laziness to the eye of someone who doesn't face the same obstacles and thus only sees another person not doing what looks easy.

Procrastination might be the most interesting case in the sense that it really involves the person doing "nothing." They're not working hard at coping with homeless life or struggling with illnesses, they're just... not doing what they're supposed to be doing. Yet "[w]hen a person fails to begin a project that they care about, it’s typically due to either a) anxiety about their attempts not being “good enough” or b) confusion about what the first steps of the task are." (Same source.) Without solving such problems, there's no point in just thinking about how you're supposed to be doing it and it's bad that you're not. (I read a brilliant book recently that helped me greatly with both of those problems.)

In my previous TLT, I wrote about how it's good to hold people responsible in order to make them act responsibly. This shows the other side of the coin: you have to know when it's not the right thing to do.

In a sense, telling someone they're responsible is like giving advice. You need to know when it's good advice to tell someone to just get a grip and (not) do something, and when the problem lies deeper so that such advice is useless. Our sense of who's responsible for what follows much the same logic: one is responsible for what freely chooses, not for what one can't help.

So is laziness a usable concept? Is it ever a good way to guide someone to imply that they can just stop making the choice to be lazy? Maybe in the occasional case, but as Price's examples show, the inclination to do so is often or even usually misguided. "Laziness" also has an accusatory tone, always a dangerously blunt instrument. Using "laziness" helpfully and fairly requires precision much like hammering a nail with a sledgehammer. Usually, it's best to resist the inclination.

Ville Kokko

Posted on June 10, 2018 07:08

Comments

comments powered by Disqus

We have all self-diagnosed ourselves with senioritis one time or another in our lives whether it was our first semester of...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest