Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ἀκηδία - Acedia: The Sin of Sloth is not Really Laziness

I was just challenged to identify the cardinal sin of my personality.  Personally, mine may be immoderation...but there is another I am seriously entertaining as a possibility.  It is, at least, a danger.

In attempting to figure out my cardinal sin, I looked at the Delphic maxims (relatively full compiled list is here: and I looked at the seven deadly sins of the Christians and that is when something else really caught my attention.  What we are taught is sloth and we think of it as laziness is not really that at all.  The original Greek is acedia, which is much closer to despair and dejection than it is to just laziness.  It is more like ennui.

Basically, the cardinal sin of acedia is when you just can't maintain motivation to keep on keeping on.  It is when you give in to the feeling that whatever it is you are facing is so big that you just kind of can't care any more.  It is when life feels pointless and meaningless and you stop caring about your duty and the condition of the world and you stop trying to make it better.

There are signs of acedia that are very similar to signs of depression, but are not exactly the same.  There is a general restlessness and boredom where you try to fill up your life with distractions because you've lost a sense of meaning.  There is a tendency to sleep more than is advisable and to either neglect your daily work or to do it without engagement.  There is a tendency to fixate on the overwhelming nature of the future rather than live in the present and do one's duty here and now.

All of this is a sin because it keeps you from being able to operate and fulfill your purpose...whatever that happens to be.  It keeps you from working to make the world a better place, which is an important duty that each of us has.

Why did this realization jump out at me?  Because when I think about our culture in general, and I think about our collective cardinal sin, I've always thought about greed...but now that I understand what acedia is, I think it is that.  I think that what I have understood as greed (amongst the 99% - the 1% it may be something else) is overindulgence in consumption as a form of distraction from the pain of acedia.  It is also what keeps us from standing up and doing what needs to be done to fix the world.  You can see it in the persistent "sophisticated cynicism" of the intellectual left when they say things like "it's all oligarchy, there's no difference between the parties" instead of getting out there and trying to make a difference.  And if you live in a place where there is no candidate running that you can morally support, then you bloody well run or find someone you can support and convince them to run!  Acedia is passivity that passes into careless apathy.  We've got to stop it.

So how do you overcome acedia?  It is through will....a capacity that we do not train and exercise in this culture and need to start doing so.  You overcome acedia by getting up, focusing in the moment, and doing what you can do today that is in alignment with your duty.  You don't focus on the distant do what is your duty and right to do today BECAUSE it is your duty and is right to do it.  And you just keep going. As an example, I pick up plastic trash when I'm walking and throw it away.  Every time I go out, there is a lot more plastic trash in my path...and I pick it up and I throw it away.  It would be easy to give into despair about it and be overwhelmed and think that what I'm doing doesn't make a difference, but in the end, I don't want to be the kind of person who walks by plastic trash and doesn't pick it I keep picking it up. That's a small example, but it is the principle in action.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Wonderful. Keep writing, I think it might be your duty...:)