If you’re of the working class you should really take some time today to read this brilliant essay from Bertrand Russell, titled “In Praise of Idleness”.
Written in 1932, Russell challenges the idea that there is virtue in work and casts a vision for what our world would be like if we worked less and leisured more. It’s fascinating to consider how relevant his argument is so many years later given the fact that we are mainly knowledge workers now.
Besides the applicability to our own attitude towards work, Russell takes a full on charge at the dominant story of “growth” that pervades our business thinking nowadays. I read recently that Twitter is in trouble with investors for not attracting enough new users. This begs the unpopular question: when have we reached enough? The dominant force in business is more, more and more. Achieving the same sales targets as last year is taboo. We need growth, is the incessant message. Russell, amidst the flourishing beginnings of capitalism, challenges this thinking and is even more relevant for us today.
In addition, idleness is taboo. Max-Neef lists idleness (rest) as one of the nine fundamental human needs. Work, as it stands today, is not a satisfier of this need. So I wonder how we can reform the way we think about work, business and find ways of fulfilling our need for leisure and rest as a resistance to the story of growth that saturates our working world?
Some quotes to tantalise you:
“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.”
“The road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”
“Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessities of life for everyone.”
“Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia (indigestion). The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion.”
*Thanks to Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) for pointing me towards Russell’s essay.