Maybe you’ve come across this quote attributed to computer zillionaire Bill Gates: “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
I want to be on record saying this right now: If I ever have to undergo brain surgery, I don’t want the lazy neurosurgeon. (“Yeah, just nick that out. He doesn’t have to remember the color blue, right?”)
Laziness makes the news a lot. Jobs, for example. Unemployment in the United States officially stands at about 5 percent. But when you factor in the people who have given up looking for work, and folks working part-time who would rather work full-time, that shoots up to about 10 percent. (That’s not a Republican talking point, either. It was pointed out the other day by some guy named Bernie Sanders.)
So if you’re not looking for work, are you lazy? Polls vary on that question, but the results rise to 100 percent “yes” if the person surveyed is my mom, when I was in high school. By the time I graduated college I was working my fifth job. The best moms are a sure cure for indolence.
Laziness grabbed more headlines recently in Spain. A man has been fined nearly $30,000 for failing to turn up to work. For more than six years. Possibly as many as 14 years. All while getting paid.
JOAQUIN GARCIA was hired by the city of Cadiz as an engineer in 1990. In 1996 he was assigned to help supervise the construction of a wastewater treatment plant – but he claims he was bullied, and the new job required very little actual work. But he didn’t want to tell his bosses because he was afraid of losing his job.
So, to better assess his situation, at some point he took a long lunch – a really long lunch.
City officials finally figured out he was gone when the deputy mayor of Cadiz showed up in 2010 to present Garcia with an award for 20 years of meritorious service. But he couldn’t find him.
Nobody could find him. It turned out that the city thought Garcia was being supervised by the water board, and the water board thought Garcia was being supervised by the city.
Meanwhile, Garcia spent most of his time catching up on reading philosophy and becoming an expert on Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
You could use a lot of adjectives to describe Spain’s most famous goldbrick. But was he actually, by definition, lazy?
Let’s ask an expert. British psychiatrist and author Neel Burton describes laziness like this: “A person is being lazy if he is able to carry out some activity that he ought to carry out, but is disinclined to do so because of the effort involved. Instead, he carries out the activity perfunctorily; or engages in some other, less strenuous or less boring activity; or remains idle.”
ARMED WITH that definition, I’ll tell you about another government employee I read about.
This guy couldn’t get a teaching position after college, so one of his school buddies pulled some strings to get him a job as a federal office clerk. He wasn’t really qualified for the job, but he was well-liked around the office. And he needed the money while he worked on his Ph.D.
After two years this guy was passed over for a promotion – from third-class clerk to second-class – because his supervisor still didn’t think he was qualified. Two years after that he finally got promoted.
But a few years later, this guy left his government job for a slightly better job – Professor Extraordinary in theoretical physics at the University of Zurich.
The guy who struggled to even get promoted as a clerk – a patent clerk – was Albert Einstein.
He could’ve been a really good patent clerk if he had concentrated more on his job. But it’s thought that he spent a little less time thinking about patents, and more time tossing around ideas about the equivalence of mass and energy, and fine-tuning his physical theory about the relationship between time and space.
Maybe that’s the “less boring activity” Dr. Burton was talking about a few paragraphs ago.
There probably is something very profound that can be said here about the nature of true laziness vs. mere boredom as you strive for greater heights. But – gosh, I really don’t feel like doing it right now.