We unconditional word lovers think all words are good, because they are not sticks and stones, and because each expansion of one's vocabulary makes one more articulate.
There's one English word, however, that I wish did not exist, because it is, all by itself, a shallow analysis at best, a slanderous lie at worst, and usually both at the same time.
The word is "lazy."
"Lazy" takes inaction—the fellow is not doing what you think he ought to be doing, or the woman is not doing what she herself said two months ago she was going to do—and makes it into a fundamental, fatal character flaw.
Why doesn't the disgruntled employee just get a new job? Because he's lazy.
Why doesn't the high school student do her homework? She's lazy.
Why doesn't the reporter double-check his facts? He's lazy.
Why doesn't the PR woman bother to read the publication whose editor she's pitching? She's lazy.
Why don't inner-city kids all do what some of them have done—get into college and escape from the ghetto? They're lazy.
No, they're not.
Once they're fed and housed, the thing human beings need most is to belong somewhere (somehow). The best and most sustainable way to belong is to be useful. This is known by the very dimmest among us. So if a person—any person—can see a clear way to be useful and to belong, she'll take that path, every time, even if it's straight up a mountain.
Unless the person is: Doubtful of making the summit and terrified of being humiliated on the way up. Or resentful of the smug basecamp cheerleaders who condescend to us, "You can do it!" (We want to belong, but we have our pride—the other quality usually mislabeled as laziness.)
It's true: People often don't do what we want them to do, or what we think they ought to do.
And they very often don't even do what they want to do themselves.
But when we attribute their inaction to "laziness," it is we who are being lazy.
No, even we are not being lazy: We are afraid, actually, of acknowledging the real reason behind the inaction, which usually has much broader implications than a deep and inherent character flaw in one unlucky person or group.
There is no such thing as laziness. There are only fear and pride.
Eliminate the word "lazy" from your vocabulary—you shouldn't even use it on yourself—and you'll immediately become, not less articulate and thoughtful, but more.
Eliminate the idea from the world, and it's exciting to think what might happen.
Okay, but it is still okay to describe objects other than people as “lazy”? Because there’s almost nothing I love better than a warm, lazy summer afternoon beside a lake with a good book and a thunderstorm on the way.
David Murray says
Kathy, that’s a good question. Yes, let’s retain lazy, but only as a positive attribute; the feeling one has when one is confident and cozy and happy with one’s idleness. Work for you?
Tyler Hayes says
Thanks for not being lazy and not writing this.
David Murray says
Actually, Tyler, I’ve been meaning to write it for several years now.
Luckily the word “procrastination” does describe a real phenomenon.