The Life of Leisure
The state of Maryland has developed a new tool to evaluate citizen life called the Genuine Progress Indicator. It adds environmental and social indicators to the usual economic factors, counting up 27 variables in all. The concept is based on legitimate social science methods and proposes to more accurately reflect how we really think about the quality of our lives.
Among the list of non-economic factors – cost of farmland change, value of higher education -one factor caught my eye -leisure.
Frank Skinner at the Maryland Department of Labor claims 1969 as the high point of leisure time per capita and estimates Marylander’s lose about 12 billion dollars a year in lost leisure time. I guess the only way to get people’s attention is to slap a whopping price tag on it.
But I think all this does not go far enough. Or far enough back. In Ancient Athens the Greeks had other ideas about work and leisure.
The ancient Greek word for leisure was σχολή – scholèe – from where we derive our word school. The two concepts intertwined in a way we can only dimly imagine. Leisure meant not merely an absence of work or a place to recover from it, but a place of one’s own to do and explore what was more important than work –the active and open development of a human being– learning in the most exhilarating and free sense of the word. For the Athenians, to be an educated man was to be a leisurely man. The word for work was ascholia – not leisure. As Aristotle says, “I work so I may have leisure.”
Now even school is work – ask any middle schooler.
Even academia, that supposed bastion of free inquiry and the free play of ideas, has drifted away from this Greek concept of School -Leisure. When someone outside the academy wishes to attack those within, they will usually hurl the absence of labor – real work – over the walls of Ivy. In order to fend off these assaults, those on the inside have been trained, and trained themselves, to counterattack with “but we do work, very hard, and we produce. So the university leans towards being a factory instead of a garden. “Publish or perish” becomes the watchword.
Although I received formal training at college and lord knows becoming a musician involved countless hours of real work, the training and the work were beside the point.
Years later when I made my living playing jazz piano in fancy restaurants one of the highest compliments a person could pay was “you make it look so easy.” No one was interested in the miles of work that I had done to get where I was. Nor should they be. It is after all playing music, and this activity – making music – if you must have it that way, reaches up to that sense of leisure that we are missing – an all absorbing, effortless activity that naturally attracts, freshens the air, and shares itself.
Check back for our next post All the Great Things, where we discover Leisure and her beautiful hand maidens just below the surface and in and out every corner of our lives. We just might be “doing it” without “knowing it”.