The difference between efficient and lazy is not always clear.
Do we order groceries online because it saves time or because we don’t feel like going to the store?
Do I research faster methods of doing things so I can do even more things, or is it because I don’t feel like working?
It’s more efficient to move boxes between the U-Haul truck and your house with a dolly, but it’s also easier. There’s nothing wrong with wanting easier. There is something wrong with the feeling that work is a bad thing.
I hide my laziness behind efficiency all the time. I’ll spend 120 seconds strategizing how to save one 60-second trip to the car.
This weekend I read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time. I also happened to watch the classic Peter Pan movie from Disney for the first time. Both of these works are considered classics in a way, and both brought this same realization to my mind: we must judge works according to the time in which they were created, not according to our own. This takes maturity and discipline.
Here’s what I mean.
Huckleberry Finn has long been a controversial book for many reasons. In the early criticisms, people thought Twain’s language was vulgar and his humor crude and had little to say about racism and his usage of the n-word. What’s interesting is that I didn’t notice whatever crude language there was (vulgarity has evolved significantly in the past century in America) but I did notice keenly the usage of the n-word and overall racist presumptions of the characters.
When it comes to Peter Pan, the work is surely less controversial, but even so, several things stuck out to me as I watched.
For one thing, movies and TV shows made for children have changed dramatically over time so that even the most entertainment-forward shows now usually contain some educational elements. The older content didn’t prioritize this as much and tended to be humorous even if rudely. It takes only a few seconds of seeing old cartoons—from Mickey Mouse to Bugs Bunny—to see the overall difference in the nature of the humor. Not only is the older stuff heavily slapstick, it’s usually more verbally harsh and physically violent. No big deal, but I noticed it.
I also noticed how clearly defined the characteristics of the women were. The mother wore a dress and was done up with perfect hair and tweezed eyebrows and had a fair complexion and dainty voice, and the daughter followed the same pattern. This is all fine, though it does create a stereotypical image. What stuck out to me more was that Tinkerbell, who already has a figure that is unrealistic for most women, lands on a mirror in her revealing outfit and looks down to see the reflection of her hips. Her face drops and she places her hands on her hips in disapproval. A short time later, the width of her hips prevents her from escaping through a keyhole.
I’m not criticising either of these works. I’m pointing out that certain elements stuck out to me because my moral sensibilities have been shaped in part by the zeitgeist of our time.
When I read Huckleberry Finn, the temptation is to be sidetracked by the racist language and assumptions and miss the fact that the book is actually deeply anti-racist. When I watch Peter Pan the temptation for me is to be bothered by a whiney and dramatic father figure who gets his way and the razor-sharp definition of womanhood depicted in all the females (including the topless mermaids—yes, that is in Peter Pan). What I might miss is that the dad is supposed to be outrageous to us and that one of the main characters is a girl who is unafraid to pave her own way and set the example for bravery in adventure.
These things stick out to us because we aren’t from those times. We see them inherently differently, and we have to remember that before we judge them too harshly.
It’s frustrating when people interrupt us. Infuriating when it happens often. It makes us feel that what we were saying wasn’t important enough to be heard. We were in the middle of something, and now we have to stop against our will, divert our attention, make room for something else, and try to find our train of thought again if we want to finish what we were saying. It’s rude.
It’s aggravating when someone cuts us off in traffic and causes us to wait at a red light. It’s an unwanted delay to our timeline. It’s rude.
But we aren’t perturbed in the least—we actually feel a little ping of pleasure and an eagerness to hear the interruption—when it comes from our phone.
Someone was recently talking about young people graduating high school and how, in the years following, their mind changes as they start learning “what it takes to live.”
What it takes to live.
The phrase jumped out at me. The words are so simple, but I noticed them because I thought they were a great summary of what we’re all doing from the time we’re born until we die. It’s the toil that drives all human behavior.
When we’re getting an education, making friends, seeking employment, and dreaming of what to make of ourselves, we’re simply figuring out what it takes to live.
And what does it take to live, exactly? I don’t know, and thankfully I don’t have to answer it. I thought the phrase was great on its own. But if I had to take a stab at answering it, I’d probably look to some psychological model.
I know almost nothing about psychology, but you might have heard of the model that ranks human needs called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
(I would probably place morality lower on the chart. It seems more foundational. Worship has not only been all-important for the vast majority of all humans in history, but some have argued pretty convincingly that everyone worships. Everyone ascribes ultimate value to something—looks to something to make them okay and to make life worth living—even if that works out differently from person to person and even if it’s not directed towards a god at all.)
What I just learned about the Hierarchy from this article is that the first 4 tiers of needs are considered “Deficiency Needs” and the top tier is considered a “Growth Need.”
The motivation for meeting the deficiency needs decreases as the needs are met, whereas motivation for the growth need increases as the need is met.
The longer you go without food, water, shelter, clothing, security, safety, friends, the feeling of accomplishment, the more intense your motivation is to get them. Once you get them, your motivation and pursuit of them drops.
Yet the more you engage in creative activities, the more you want them. This explains why some authors are so prolific or why some city builders never stop planning and dreaming. The more they engage in the creative process the more they want it and the more their motivation increases.
Whatever use you choose to make of this is up to you. I just find the model a helpful and accurate way of seeing human needs.