“Slackers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your YouTube”

Posted by jlubans on April 04, 2016

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Caption: Frederick dreaming. Leo Lionni. 1967

There may yet be hope for the torpid among us. A research study in the prestigious Nature magazine, as reported in an NPR story, “Before You Judge Lazy Workers, Consider They Might Serve A Purpose” offers up some unconventional insights on slackerism. (As a side note, the ant researcher is a university professor of agriculture and thereby has considerably more credibility than, say, a behavioral psychologist mashing something up for a TED talk.)
Slackers don’t get a lot of good press. Usually they serve as a contrast to the strivers, the ambitious, and the contributing members of society. Well, it appears that slackerism is to be found in other places than in Mom’s basement bedroom. The insect world is full of laziness; it’s abuzz with it. Observe the meandering ant, ogling the sights, while his mates get down to it pulling 5 times their weight in food or behold the snoozing ant while dozens of intertwined ants sacrifice all in service as a bridge for their bretheren rushing home with the bacon. NPR’s story states, “At any given moment, … half of (the) ants are basically doing nothing. They're grooming, aimlessly walking around or just lying still.”
How can this be? We are taught a life’s lesson in Aesop’s story of the
bon vivant grasshopper and the industrious, yet heartless, ants. Speaking of Aesop, does not Greece and her unforgiving debtors come to mind? Aesop’s counsel is direct, goof off and die. Not to be outdone, America’s Poor Richard offers up “the sleeping fox catches no poultry, there will be sleeping enough in the grave!” (emphasis added)
Well, there may be good reason for the fox to sleep.
Less final are the derisive smirks and scowls of the busy bees in our cubicle hives as I game, Facebook, and YouTube away the day.
From the Nature study’s abstract: “Evidence of the replacement of active workers by inactive workers has been found in ant colonies. Thus, the presence of inactive workers increases the long-term persistence of the colony at the expense of decreasing short-term productivity.”
In other words, please, this suggests that slackers have purpose, a raison d'être if you will; they are simply conserving their energy for when their number is called; for when they get to strut their stuff.
On the other hand, the office mate gazing off into the middle distance might be more poet than slacker. They might even be like Leo Lionni’s Frederick, the story of a poet/musician/raconteur Mouse, who, in winter, summons up images of warm summer days and happy times for the other mice.
When the ever-industrious-you is worn out, turned out to pasture, or found face down in a cubicle, the slacker next door is going to step up and in for you and make sure your pension or disability check arrives on time.
It seems slackerism is a component of natural selection or evolution; once the strivers in an ant colony burn out or die, the slackers pick up the slack, so to speak.
So, the next time you find yourself muttering that the bum in the next cubicle is not doing his share and you have to do more work because of his laziness, there might be a good reason for it. Alas, since humans may be more ambiguous than ants, “(t)he person slacking off at work might be a genuine slacker — or might be thinking through a complex problem. Sometimes being effective means getting perspective.” Let’s hope it is the latter and not the former.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

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