As a psychologist I have always struggled with the term “lazy.” No, let me straighten that out. As a child and now a man, especially a Black man growing up in mostly white schools and churches I have really struggled with this label being put on people, especially me. Our work ethic is relative to circumstance. Each generation often feels that the successive generations “Did not have it as hard as me. When we were kids we had to walk to school with the sun beating down on heads and the snow freezing our feet, while the wind chapped out lips to a raisin like texture… Kids don’t know how good they have it…”
Compared to my father, I am a lazy cuss. After growing up on a foster-home farm, my father volunteered for Vietnam. Life was so uncertain for many of his friends, joining the Army and getting a GI Bill seemed more stable to him. After the Army, while in college, he worked 40 to 50 hours a week as a janitor and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He never took a dime from his parents for school because there was none to take. Fast forward just 16 years later after he lands his first job teaching then as a school administrator, I am home from boarding – high school on a Sunday morning at 6am. He starts the cement mixer just by my room and says, “Brandon I am waiting for you to get to work on this cement.” I roll back over and go to bed feeling tired and bewildered by this hard-working old man of mine. Twenty-two years later I still feel guilty for not getting up at 6 am on any Sunday morning. After earning a doctorate degree, receiving accolades from my colleagues, and 10 solid years of working as a school psychologist at 50+ hours a week I still FEEL lazy. However, logic tells me I am not.
If I compared my dad and me to, our cousins in West Africa, some of who have to walk 3 miles a day to get water EVERY morning, to our faucet-drinking-showering-tooth/brushing-wasting behinds, my dad and I are lazy. However, these are false comparisons between my dad and I, as well as my dad and our cousins in Africa. The immigrant experience in America also brings generational challenges that can pose this false comparison. The stories can start, “I sailed on that boat from a place where we had nothing and now you want to shop at the mail and date these American lazy kids…” The true comparison is more personal yet still influenced by the culture. However, lets look at some even broader cultural examples that give us an American context.
America is a young country. We have this concept of who is lazy based on some warped perception that we really have not detailed yet. Our people work more and take vacation less yet we have this notion and even some health evidence (obesity) that we are lazy. From an African-Centered or Native American lens one could say that the Founders of the US were lazy. They had to shoot at people and make them not only go into slavery but to conscript poor folk to fight for their freedom in the Revolutionary War (thanks to Howard Zinn for that reference-RIP). If you have read history books and seen pictures of Black folk even up until the 1960’s one could get the impression that Black folk acquiesced totally to slavery as well as segregation and/or all those songs they sang showed they were having a good time eating watermelon and chicken, however even common sense lets you know that was far from the truth. It was a struggle just to stay alive. Some folk sang to keep from going crazy while many sang to send codes about escaping slavery.
A recent Stanford study showed that our efforts to increase productivity via the trend of “multi-tasking” has not helped us as a society. Multi-tasking has only served to confuse us and make us less productive. I suggest that things like hyper-consumerism and obesity are why many Americans way to act-out their efforts to balance their lives from the hard work we do. We play hard, enjoy our toys, and eat what feels good. My basic argument that by and large we have some lazy moments but Americans look silly when we call each other and especially our children “lazy.”
Laziness can be broken down into issues with motivation, concern about changing identity, and my favorite--passive aggressive behavior. However, as I have learned everyone is motivated to do something. Even the 30 year old who stays at home with his mom while playing video games is motivated get a higher score on that game. Our labeling others lazy is a simple or better yet, LAZY way of looking at complex problems.
Here is an invitation, rather than talking about people generally, especially the people you love as being “lazy,” begin to think about then talk with them about how specifically that laziness is manifested. You can get into 3 major issues; procrastination, tardiness, and/or disorganization.
With procrastination the main issues have to do with either a skill deficit a person is embarrassed to ask for help with or a personal health issue that they may not even know about. Another huge issue with academic procrastinators, especially adults are that change may result if they finish this big project (e.g. a dissertation may lead to people calling them “doctor” and/or a new job). Sometimes procrastinators may justify “multi-tasking” to their own detriment. Help them by narrowing their focus to 1 thing at time. Also, take an honest look at the skills they need to finish a project as well as the pros and cons of a change in their life, especially if they are unaware of exactly what that change may be.
Tardiness is often about worry and/or stress. The worry may be about what others think so they try do avoid the situation they should be on time for. Also, it may be a passive aggressive thing to regain some sense of control over their lives. A solution may be to focus on relieving stress via regaining some sense of control over their life.
Also, many of you may have seen the shows “Hoarders or Clean House.” People in these circumstances have emotional blockers to letting go of things or their time to organize. There is a fear they may lose something and never regain that part of their lives. The challenge here is to find ways to reinforce for them that they themselves will not lose their personal value with you or others as they let go of the things that are cluttering their backpack, room, or that space in time they feel they must have.
Finally, talk about these issues with your “lazy” loved one but don’t use the word LAZY. Focus in one of the aforementioned three as the main focus (i.e. procrastination, tardiness, or disorganization). Your “lazy” loved one may be seriously depressed, medically ill, or have some of these worries I spoke about above so get specific with them and get them help. The broader social issues I spoke of above about generational and social views of laziness should be a part of YOUR awareness but are often irrelevant especially for children. So, during the discussion about a change in habits, avoid the old “when I was a kid” stories. These stories only make the older adult feel superior and serve to make the child feel like they will never measure up because they can’t "have sun on their head and snow at their feet” in their life time. So let them know you love them for them and that you want them to grow compared to their own standard you help them set, not to your own life.
Ok, enough procrastinating, I need to get back to work.
Peace & Health ya’ll