Let Us Work, So That We May Leisure

What would life be like if one’s work provided so much money, that one would never have to worry about it again? What fun and joy would occupy one's free time? This is the life of most Hollywood stars. Celebrities do not want for work or money. In fact, they can ensure that they do not have a single moment that is not occupied either by work or lavish amusements. Although they have everything that man searches for in life, they do not have happiness. They are the canaries in the mineshaft, letting the whole world know that wealth and fame will not bring joy. Their lives wilt because the do not participate in leisure.

Human beings are made to partake of leisure, to participate in actions whose purpose is themselves. Men worship God, for example, because God is worthy of praise. The same can be said of contemplation, man thinks because he is a thinker. The opposite of leisure is so called “useful” activities such as work. One does not work for the sake of work. Providing for one’s family, or having a new car is the end of work. The purpose of all working activities is for the sake of something else. Additionally, people participate in recreation to rejuvenate themselves so that they can do more work. This means recreation is like work, it is useful. Leisure stands in contrast to these two; it exists for its own sake.

    Aristotle interacts directly with work in leisure in his discussion of education. He argues in favor of useful subjects like reading and writing, but he also argues for the inclusion of music in the curriculum, even though it has no practical purpose. As he says, “nature herself…requires that we should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well.” (The Great Tradition, p. 60) In lieu of leisure, one cannot fulfill one’s nature and be who one is meant to be.

    Xenophon also encourages students to take time to examine their own lives. In a dialog between Socrates and Euthydemus, Socrates argues convincingly that one needs to know oneself in order to live well. As he says, “those who know themselves … discern their own powers and limitations” and “get what they want and prosper” (The Great Tradition p. 37). Without leisurely contemplation, one cannot know oneself and one cannot live well in the world.

    One cannot enjoy the good things in life without knowing one’s God, one’s end and one’s self. In light of this need, what ought one do? James Schall exhorts all to “waste time.” Unstructured and unfilled time is needed for man to live the good life. As he says, “we know that the only time worth having is the time we waste on our friends. And our prayer is the time we waste with God, the time that we take to comprehend all that is given to us, all that is.” (p. 106, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs)