Let’s be industrious, not indolent

Let’s be industrious, not indolent

Today, in our fast-paced lives, letting our thoughts wander for awhile hardly seems a sin

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was an English theologian who wrote nearly 750 hymns and a volume of verses titled Divine and Moral Songs for Children. The latter (immensely popular at one time) seeks to cultivate various virtues in young people.

‘Against Idleness and Mischief’ endorses diligence. It praises the bee that is always on the move, gathering honey and storing it. ‘In works of labour or of skill, I would be busy too,’ declares the poet, speaking as a child for whom the lesson is intended. One’s early years, he adds, should be spent ‘in books or work or healthful play’. In the third stanza, he explains why being busy is essential: ‘Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.’

Long before Watts, inactivity had been equated with iniquity, In fact, he was recalling the age-old expression, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,’ when he urges youngsters (and, of course, adults) to be on guard. He believes that we should constantly strive to focus on something worthwhile, to keep from falling prey to wickedness.

All this might sound a bit old-fashioned in the 21st century. Indeed, as far back as 1850, Watts’s warning was viewed as simplistic. A character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, asks another whether Satan cannot influence ‘busy hands’ just as easily as idle ones. Several years later, Lewis Carroll comically parodied Watts’s poem in Alice in Wonderland, wherein a far-from-lazy crocodile expends effort on polishing its tail. 

Today, in our fast-paced lives, letting our thoughts wander for awhile hardly seems a sin. Actually, Isaac Watts does not have anything against such mental meandering. What he cautions us against is inertia that is potentially dangerous. While a vacant mind may not invite evil, it can certainly make room for gloom. In the recent past, haven’t we found that engaging in creative pursuits has helped us dispel depression? It makes sense, therefore, to be industrious rather than indolent!

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