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Jewish World Review April 24, 2001 / 2 Iyar, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Sluggards, Unite -- FOR all their many crimes, the Germans occasionally provide the world with something worthwhile -- a Mercedes here, a river of beer there, and now a fellow named Peter Axt, whose picture should go above every thinking person’s mantle, and bedstead.

Axt is a professor -- and a scientist to boot -- in the news for pointing out the obvious: Laziness is the key to life -- or at least a long, pleasant life. As Reuters quotes this crucial kraut: "People who would rather laze in a hammock instead of running a marathon or who take a midday nap instead of playing squash have a better chance of living into old age." These wise ideas permeate a new study entitled "On the Joy of Laziness."

As one who beat the professor to the hammock long ago, I can attest to his genius. I have been lazy all my life, and have benefited accordingly. Laziness is the fountain of youth; it is no fluke that I was recently carded for beer (cashier was no doubt looking for tip: mission accomplished). Thanks to my dedication to the Horizontal Way, my wife has enjoyed professional achievements that would have been strangled at the altar were I one of those self-centered go-getters lionized these days. My children have never cried out in the night: "Where is daddy?" -- for daddy has almost always been nearby, stretched out like a well-worn rug. My pets have known what it is like to look down on their master, and this has pleased them greatly.

The word lazy, of course, must be given some context. There is the type of laziness that lands people on welfare rolls and otherwise comes in the way of the reasonable deployment of their gifts and talents. We might liken that to binge drinking (real binge drinking, not the sissy definition promoted by the government and its collaborators).

Enlightened laziness is what we're after -- the ability to recline peacefully while haunted achievers incessantly yank weeds from the ground, whack balls over nets, wash and wax cars, do deep knee bends in the shower, alphabetize their bookshelves, teach their pets to walk on their hind legs, wash their used aluminum wrap, floss their teeth, yank hair from discreet moles, and otherwise pursue the empty perfections of the robust class. The ability to refrain while others strain provides a gentle and sublime glow to life. If others would come to know this truth -- and to live it -- what a better world this would be.

The driven are the demons of our common existence, and not only the extreme cases. The achievement obsession taints society from the top almost to the very bottom. Kids, especially those born into upper-income homes, are ushered out of the womb at a full trot and spend their early years learning how to scamper full-bore up the slag heap of life. Once they reach their appointed treadmill, they turn to the job of inciting insomnia, ulcers, shingles, hives, seizures, paranoia, and nervous collapse in those unfortunate enough to work or live near them. This continues until they are either murdered, retired, or have the good sense to jump out of a high window. Those of us who have attended funerals for such people often note a terrifying noise from within the casket: It is the corpse, still twitching.

Those of us who watch life from the sauna, recliner, and chaise lounge find the frantic pace of modern life highly disturbing. Where are these people going, and why do they need to get there so quickly? Our creed is far different, perfectly expressed by someone whose name escapes me: The beggar who suns himself by the roadside knows the peace of which kings dream.

Indeed, laziness must be achieved, and once achieved it must be steadily nurtured. This is no easy task, for the frantic impulse is fed at every turn. Benjamin Franklin, a neurotic bustler if ever there was one, did incalculable harm. Poor Richard, indeed. Early to bed, early to rise, puts a scowl on your face and a glare in your eyes. The fixation is also present in the famous painting of the Last Supper by the Italian guy (where do all those names hide?). The Good L-rd and his fellows are shown sitting stiff and upright at a long table, just like the German High Command. Historians know, of course, that the participants were almost certainly reclining on pillows while they ate. The table itself was probably shaped like the proverbial Lazy L.

Yes, the road to relaxation runs up hill, at least at first. One must retrain the mind and senses to savor the Stop sign, seek out the slow track, let sleeping dishes lie. But know these truths: Speed bumps are our friend. Slow and steady does win the race. There is no greater sound in nature than the lazy yawn. Achievers will lavish ridicule, scorn, and malevolence upon you, should you choose this path. They have their rewards. At the end of the day you will be the last one sitting, and things only get better. In the fullness of time, someone will come along and put wheels on your chair.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


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03/27/01: Can you hack it?
02/13/01: We’re All New Yorkers Now: In praise of provincialism
02/09/01: Mind your manners and NEVER say "Monica Lewinsky" --- or you may well get sued!
01/30/01: A Stiff Warning: Bushies beware
01/26/01: Babes in Boyland
01/23/01: Dubya, First Philistine? It depends on how you define the word 'artist'
01/19/01: Goodbye L.A., Hello Nashville
01/12/01: Elvis and the Rock of Death
12/07/00: Col. Sauls-ders roasts some ducks
11/23/00: Democracy may be under siege, but now comes the fun
11/21/00: The dolt vote
11/15/00: Now what will we do for fun?

© 2000, Dave Shiflett