Tag Archives: re-frame

pretty yellow flowers

What does ‘lazy’ mean – and can we re-frame it?

I’m always curious when someone says, in a self-critical way, shameful way, something like ‘Oh I’m so lazy’. I hear a lot of negative judgment attached to the idea of laziness, and I often wonder why. How do we decide to label some behaviour as lazy, and what does lazy even mean?

I recently started reading the book ‘Dark Emu’, by Bruce Pascoe. It’s an argument for the reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians, and he shares evidence that people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. He starts off by re-visiting the records of the very first white colonialists, and looking at their descriptions with fresh eyes. He talks about how the first settlers arrived with a set of beliefs about race, destiny and superiority, and how this influenced how they interpreted what they saw.

This whole topic is fascinating to me, but a story he re-told in the introduction struck me as something very helpful for thinking about ‘lazy’. We tend to label certain activity as ‘lazy’, we think that being ‘lazy’ is a bad thing, and we berate ourselves internally for being ‘lazy’, and there might be shame attached as well. A quick google search about being lazy throws up ideas around productivity and unproductivity. It is bad to be unproductive, we should be productive all the time or we are ‘bad’ people.

The story Bruce Pascoe relates comes from James Kirby, one of the earliest colonial settlers, who described his experiences in a publication “Old Times in the Bush of Australia: trials and experiences of early bush life in Victoria: during the forties’ (1897).

Kirby describes coming across weirs built into a river system, and saw that fish were thus directed into different channels. He describes a young man sitting near the opening of one of the channels.

“just behind him a tough stick about ten feet long was stuck in the ground with the thick end down, To the thin end of this rod was attached a line with a noose at the other end; a wooden peg was fixed under the water at the opening in the fence to which this noose was caught, and when the fish made a dart to go through the opening, he was caught by the gills, his force undid the loop from the peg, and the spring of the stick threw the fish over the head of the black (man), who would then in a most lazy manner, reach back his hand, undo the fish and set the loop again around the peg”

I read this description of a method of catching fish, and thought it absolutely ingenious, a feat of engineering, an exhibition of knowledge and understanding of fish. Kirby saw this method of fishing, and labelled it lazy. Not just lazy, but ‘most lazy’. His ideas about the people who already lived in Australia were so deeply held that he couldn’t interpret what he saw in front of him in any other way, he had to make what he saw fit in with his own beliefs.

How often do we do that to ourselves? Look at what we are doing, and label ourselves one thing, when if we looked at the same thing a different way, we could label it a different thing. When we think about being productive, do we really mean moving around a lot, obviously ‘doing’ as much of the time as possible? Is it the outcome that matters, or is it the activity?

Perhaps we need to interrogate our deep seated beliefs – something we don’t know if Kirby ever did. What’s underneath our judgment and self criticism? Are we, in fact, operating from a place of beliefs based on some sort of prejudice?

Next time we hear our self-critical voice berating us for being ‘lazy’, I wonder where this idea came from, and if there’s a more helpful, more compassionate re-frame we could do?


I didn’t touch on the problem of believing rest is not a valuable activity – see https://thenapministry.wordpress.com/about/ for more on this!

Bruce Pascoe ‘The Dark Emu’

James Kirby’s book: https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/1255272

Laziness does not exist, an interview with Devon Price.

There’s a documentary about the impact of Pascoe’s ‘The Dark Emu’