Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Sep 24, 1949
Daydreams of Idleness
As a natural slacker, I feel a kind of sympathetic understanding of the largish number of people who have recently been “faking” illness in order to get as much money as possible for doing as little work as possible.
We are told that at a northern factory nearly 50 per cent of the workers have taken advatage of modern conditions to draw full sick pay for seven weeks or more in a year.
That many of them were genuine invalids is certain, but that many of them were frauds of the type known as “malingerers” is probable.
The objection to work is deep-rooted in the ordinary human being. After all, the father of mankind never did a day’s work while he was in the Garden of Eden, and his children would naturally rather imitate him as he was in the days of his perfection in his earthly paradise than as he was after he had been condemned to hard labor for the rest of his life.
There was once a religious sect called Adamites because, like the original Adam, the members wore no clothes. Much more popular would be a sect of Adamites the members of which could imitate Adam not in his primal nakedness, but in his primal idleness.
Not working is itself a pleasure for many human beings. The schoolboy, even if he has to stay in the house in order to convince his parents that he is really ill, feels a sense of triumph merely in not having gone to school. At least he did 60 or 70 years ago.
At my own school, pretending to be ill was fairly common and was known as “scheming.” Some parents were brutes, of course, and, if they had caught their little son scheming it would only have been to half-murder him with foul-tasting medicines or blazing linseed poultices.
The more brutal the parents, indeed, the healthier their children seemed to be. At least, they seemed never to miss a day’s school for any illness short of mumps or scarlet fever.
If many of us who are natural malingerers do not continue to malinger when we grow up, I doubt whether this is due to a greater love of work than we had when we were at school.
I fancy that I, for one, might easily have idled through life if the penalty for not working had not been so severe. I became one of the workers of the world, indeed, because there was no alternative to this but starvation.
There are some fortunate people who are born with a love of work and who would rather work like demons for a few hundred pounds a year than idle like South Sea Islanders on an income of several thousand. You will see them in the morning rush-hour hurrying to their offices with smiling faces.
They have done so much work by 11 o’clock that they have time to run out to the nearest coffee shop and relax in the company of their fellow-demons.
They are merry and bright beyond the common and quite unlike those work-shy drudges who spend a large part of the time dreaming of their lost inheritance of Eden, so cruelly thrown away by Adam for a piece of fruit.
That I am not by nature a worker is shown, I think, by the fact that all my early daydreams were of idleness. I did for a time long to be a farmer, but that was because I regarded a farmer as a man who owned horses and cows and who never did any work himself, but strolled about fields watching other people working.
I also wanted to be a poet, but that was because I did not regard writing poetry as working and because I had heard that Lord Tennyson had an income of £5,000 a year.
My most persistent daydream, however, was of being left a fortune and of never doing a hand’s turn from year’s end to year’s end.
I admit that I did a great amount of good with my money. I built a magnificent opera house and art gallery, among other things and I feel sure that my failure to become rich meant a considerable loss to the funds of the Presbyterian Church.
Imagine, then, a young idealist of this kind suddenly flung out of dreams into a hostile little world that would not provide even pennies for bread without receiving payment in work.
The dream of not working—how widespread it is shown by the popularity of pool-betting. How many men and women there are in England with the dream of getting £30,000 or so for a penny!
Can it be that the love of idleness is actually spreading in the present century? Would the old Victorians have “faked” illness to such numbers merely in order to spend a few weeks without working and on full sick pay?
It is difficult to be sure. Most of the oldest generation seem to believe that they were better workers than their grandsons are: but perhaps that has always been the case. After all, the grandfathers of today had never the same chances of getting paid for doing nothing. They were not subject to the same temptations as the modern young.
Let all you who blame the malingerer blame yourselves rather for putting temptation in the unfortunate malingerer’s way. So long as the temptation to malinger is stronger than the temptation to work your weaker brethren of whom I am one, are bound to be tempted to malinger.
Be merciful to them and remove the temptation, so that they may be content to postpone the Utopia of slackness of which they dream to a time when the world can afford it better.
As one of themselves may I assure them that work is not a half-bad occupation for a healthy man. There is no need to take to bed at the mere thought of it. Let them realize how happy the village blacksmith was. If I had my life to live over again, I would — or I might — have a go at imitating him.