How are we indoctrinated with the lazy lie? For the most part, parents don't sit down and feed their children these principles. Instead, people pick them up through years of observation and pattern recognition. When a parent tells their child not to give a homeless person money because that homeless person is too "lazy" to earn it, the seed of the lazy lie is planted in the child's brain.
When a TV show features a disabled person who somehow "overcomes" their disability by sheer willpower rather than getting the housing they deserve, the laziness lie gets a little stronger. And when a manager questions or berates an employee for taking a much-needed sick day, the lazy lie expands its tendrils even further into a person's psyche.
We live in a world where hard work is rewarded and needs and limitations are seen as sources of shame. No wonder so many of us are constantly overexerting ourselves and out of fear of how we will be perceived when we say no, say yes. Even if you think you do not fully agree with the three principles of the lazy lie, you have likely picked up their messages and let those messages influence how you set goals and how you view other people.
When we talk about the future with children and young people, we ask them what they want to do – in other words what value they want to add to society and an employer. We don't ask nearly as often what they are passionate about or why they feel happy or at peace. As adults, we define people by their work – he's an actor, she is the undertaker – and we categorize them based on the work they do on others.
When a once productive person becomes less and less because of injury, illness, tragedy, or even aging, we often speak of it in hushed, shameful tones, provided the person has lost a central part of their identity. When we have no work to do, we may not have a reason to live.
It makes sense, of course, that many of us think and speak this way. In our world, a comfortable and safe life is anything but guaranteed. People who are unable to work (or cannot work) tend to suffer. Unemployed and impoverished people die at a much younger age than their employed or middle-class peers. Because we live in a world that revolves around work, not working can leave a person socially isolated and exacerbate the mental and physical health problems they may encounter.
The stakes of not being productive are terrible. As a result, many of us live in a constant state of stress about our financial and professional future – which means we worry a lot about how much we work. Those of us who are particularly lucky can retire this way after years of life. However, since we have been taught to make work the center of our identity, we don't know how to deal with the change in tempo.
Retirees often become depressed and see their lives as pointless. Like the unemployed, retirees often report feeling disoriented and lonely. Their isolation and lack of daily structure can make them sick and put them at increased risk of heart disease. Many of us spend our entire adult lives dreading this phase of life, or we postpone it by continuing to work beyond what is healthy for us.
Chronic overcommitters are experts at ignoring their physical needs. Our economic system and culture have taught us that needs make us weak and that borders are negotiable. We learn to neglect ourselves and see health as a resource that we can exchange for money or accomplishments.