Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

We live in a society that determines our value by our activity.  It is what we do rather than what we think or who we are that assigns our value, our status, our place in this world.  And the emphasis is on doing more, it’s synonymous with achievement; the more we do, the more valuable, desirable and useful we are.

But what if we can’t do something, anything?  Do we automatically become useless?

Not doing is caught up in so much psychological baggage; is it laziness?  It seems to be the last of the Seven Deadly Sins that this hedonistic society still shuns and condemns.  Laziness shouldn’t get you anywhere and we have strong views on the parasitic nature of the lazy and their lack of contribution.

But what is being lazy?  Is it simply a state of inactivity?  Or is it a deeper attitude?  I mean, in this modern world where our participation in the economic systems is the greatest determiner of our value is someone lazy who doesn’t work or can someone in a high-powered job, earning, putting in long hours, still be lazy?  If lazy is an attitude then it surely isn’t about whether we do or don’t do, it’s about our attitude to what we are doing.  Do we cut corners, do we take shortcuts, do we spare ourselves the effort?  Isn’t that laziness when you think about it?

But even with that view, not doing doesn’t become an acceptable option.  We carry an awful lot of baggage with us, remember?

I struggle with this.  I determine my own value by what I can do (although I am, of course, more generous towards others).  But the sad truth is that I can never do enough to please myself.   I worry about being judged, about the condemnation of others but I am my biggest critic.  I set ridiculously, if not impossibly, high standards for myself.

I hear it all too often though, apparently I don’t do anything.  It’s easy to internalise such a message, it becomes a truth.  And I easily accept other people’s opinions as Truth; for better or worse I use their views to forms my reality.  I have spent most of my life believing that I don’t do anything and I feel incredibly guilty about this fact because of course this inactivity comes with a host of negativity and ‘labels’, baggage.  I believe that I am Lazy.  And there’s a whole heap of other words, names that go along with that one label.

But one morning, having heard this claim too many times, I decided that I would question (question not challenge, I don’t have that kind of confidence) this view.  There are days when I can do little.  In fact most days.  But I am aware that, despite the fact that I apparently do nothing, things get done.  Slowly, sometimes incompletely but things do move, things do happen.  It might not be anywhere near as much as I expect my own self to get done but things are done.

So I sat down and wrote me a list of all the things I had done in the day.  It was perhaps a better day than some but I knew that unless I kept a check then I would go to bed convinced that I had, yet again, done nothing.

(The list is not in order, I am not that efficient, except for the two final entries).

Today I …

cooked a meal

put two lots of washing on

put away some knitting magazines

unpacked two bags from going away the other week

put some clothes away

watched some television

cleaned a bin

swept half a floor

rested (several times)

perused inspiration

updated ravelry library

found the brush and pan (before sweeping said floor, funny enough)

tried out a craft project

had aspirational thoughts

burnt rice pudding

put last last month’s final bag of shopping away

brought a line of washing in (we have three)

sorted the larder


read the last section of my non-fiction book

brushed my hair and put it in a pony tail

felt guilty that I could do so much

still saw a thousand and one things that I should have done

And that second-but-last one reveals another complexity to this whole doing things issue.  If I am ill, what should I be doing?  Nothing?  Are ill people those who have to lie weakly on couches, the picture of Victorian invalidity?  Ah, if only life was that kind!  But I definitely don’t feel ‘worthy‘ of the label of Ill, which makes it impossible for me to seek help.

Then the very last item?  I still went to bed seeing all the things that I ‘should’ have done, I still felt that I hadn’t accomplished or achieved.  There is so much that I want to do, would like to do yet can’t.  Even on a ‘good’ day when I do all that then I am still surrounded by voices who tell me that I have done nothing.

4 thoughts on “Doing

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  1. When I first came to Spain I ran my own business in the UK and was “busy” in the sense of having a paid job. Funnily enough, few people over here (Spain) started a conversation on meeting me by asking “what do you do for a living?” as I find people tend to do in the UK – and judge you by your response. Here, people know that whether or not you are in a paid job you will fill your day doing useful things, resting, cooking, being with family and just “being”. Now I don’t have the label of a “proper” job, I like that in the UK too I can’t be judged – and if people think I’m a lazy so and so or whatever..well, I don’t care, I know I am happy and productive and adding a little bit of value as a tiny person in this great big world. Took me a while to feel like that though!

  2. Ohhhh, hate that for you. But I LOVE the philosophical questions you pose. SO here’s a new one for your inner critic. Milton was blind in an era when being so limited the ability to “do” significantly. His daughters had to read him everything. So he thought. And shared his thoughts. You’ve been bedridden often enough and for long enough that you’ve gotten alone in your head, and there IS something there besides the guilty voice. It’s a questioning voice (as you say, not challenging, but I would argue that it’s because questioning invites others to the conversation in this case, rather than saying you lack gumption). And I LOVE the questions she poses. She makes ME think and question. And others who read your work have similar responses. So tell the inner voice that you’re thinking deep thoughts and would it kindly shut up or help out.

I'd love to know what you think, concrit is especially welcomed on fiction pieces. Thank you.

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