Saturday, April 22, 2006

Work, Play & Leisure

I read a series of articles a couple years ago, by philosopher Mortimer Adler, that influenced my way of thinking about how I spend my time. Basically, we spend every hour either working, sleeping, playing or engaged in leisure activities. Mortimer also pointed out a 5th, "rest," which has a very special meaning, different from sleeping, that encompasses our spiritual activities or the day of rest on the Sabbath. I believe we have a duty to allocate our time wisely between these activities, but what does that mean? I had it all wrong.

I was pretty sure I had a good working understanding of "work." Ever since the angel expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden and sent them out into the world, we have had to work to sustain ourselves, "by the sweat of thy brow." And I've no problem understanding "sleep." I love sleep. But what's the difference between play and leisure? And where does blogging fit in?

Basically, Mortimer started with the assumption that everyone has a duty to pursue the truth, to improve their minds, and fulfill obligations of citizenship, parenting and friendship. These are obligatory, but they aren't "work." Neither are they "play." So basically, leisure activities include learning and thinking, creating, writing, enjoying works of art, reading, all things intended to improve the mind, not just to kill time. Put another way, leisure activities are the things we do to "grow morally, intellectually, and spiritually, through which we attain personal excellence and also perform our moral and our political duty." So I'd say "rest" is essentially a leisure time activity although Mortimer didn't address this in the context of Work, Play & Leisure, leaving us to wrestle with "rest" on our own, for the time being.

For children, "play" fills the role of leisure activities in adult life. Children learn by playing. And whereas children consider learning and "school work" to be "work," a sign of growing up and becoming an adult is that we regard learning as the opposite of work. In other words, learning is fun! Yes, it is! I'm a big fan of lifetime learning.

So, whereas there is still an element of obligation or duty in our leisure activities, there is no such compulsion about play. There is no necessity to play. What?! Oh, I beg to differ! Okay, this is the part that has stuck with me all this time. I've always been a big believer in "play." Work hard, play hard, and all that. Play is essential to our happiness, no? (Mortimer did eventually concede that some play was essential to happiness) But there's play for pure amusement, which is mostly useless, and there's recreational play for our physical well-being, which is useful. Pfffttt.

Mortimer stratified all of these activities into more and less worthwhile activities. While work is necessary and useful to achieving its ends and we are morally obligated to work, work is less important than leisure activities. Leisure activities (including "rest") are "intrinsically rewarding and virtuous, ennobling, making a man good as a man." Leisure (and rest) are the highest form of human activity while play is the lowest (we are under no moral obligation whatsoever to play).

Much as I like to play, I'm also interested in using my time wisely. So now, whenever I sit down to enjoy a good book, or write a blog post, or watch a movie, I think about this and I wonder if I'm doing something that is intrinsically worthwhile. Are you?


At 7:21 PM, April 22, 2006, Blogger beth said...

Am I intrinsically worthwhile? Absolutely.

But I don't think that's what you were asking. :) This is thought provoking, and I'll need to ponder some more, but at the heart of it, I think I think that there is still some good - and worth - in plain ol' frivolity. Sure, you might not learn from it. Absolutely, it may not be restful either from a physical or spiritual perspective. But it is definitely restful from an emotional one. And I don't think that God intended us to be 100% serious 100% of the time - or He wouldn't have equipped us with such a capacity for play. I imagine that our laughter - springing out of the sheer depth of enjoyment of a moment - is as beautiful to our Heavenly Father as the laughter of a child is to her earthly one. Regardless of whether or not she's doing more than simply being joyful for the sake of fun.

Don't know if that means that fun is intrinsically worthwhile or if it means that we don't always have to be doing something that is, but it's the beginnings of a ponder. Thanks for the thought-food.

At 7:54 PM, April 22, 2006, Anonymous Rachel said...

I agree, Play is definitely worthwhile! It also helps us be in relationship with others like nothing else can! That makes it intrinsically worthwhile in my book!

At 9:55 PM, April 22, 2006, Blogger Eric said...

So now, whenever I sit down to enjoy a good book, or write a blog post, or watch a movie, I think about this and I wonder if I'm doing something that is intrinsically worthwhile.

Do you really? Doesn't that take the fun out of it?

At least with respect to blogging, perhaps it's appropriate to heed the words of Rick Warren: "It's not all about you." Regardless of whether you think you're learning anything or improving yourself by blogging, you're having an effect on others. How does the inclusion of how what we do affects others fit into Adler's system?

At 9:33 PM, April 23, 2006, Anonymous Janie said...

Exactly. As in the scripture "where two or more are gathered, there am I"....

I definitely "smell" the fragrance of Christ in your postings, Gwynne.

You are running the race...and doing it well. Carry on.

At 11:57 AM, April 24, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Thank you all for your comments. I expected this to be one of those silent posts where I was just memorializing my thoughts.

And I don't think that God intended us to be 100% serious 100% of the time.

Absolutely, I agree! Because that would be boring, and I think we can be fairly certain that God has a "wicked" (in the good sense of this word, of course) sense of humor. And there's no doubt that laughter and play are an important parts of Joy, with a capital "J." :-)

Do you really?

Well, yes, I do. I do wonder anyway. Not to be confused with thinking that everything I do is intrinsically worthwhile, you understand. ;-) Except in the most esoteric sense that everything we do is intrinsically worthwhile, for reasons we may never understand. Or, as Beth said, that we are all intrinsically worthwhile.

Janie, that's a very nice thing to say. Thank you! :-)


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