The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought.
This statement, equal parts indictment of, and warning to, the ambitious, is how Robert Louis Stevenson concludes his essay An Apology for Idlers. Better known for books such as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson appears to have been an Escapologist at heart.
He reminds us that our concept of work-as-a-virtue is merely convention and tradition, and not necessarily valid. While he doesn’t denigrate work, he builds the case for the alternative — Leisure — to be given its due:
Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself.
Stevenson makes a very compelling argument for truancy (take note, Parents!), making me wish I had a time machine…
If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will not be the full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you regret.
While others are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men.
The idler…has had time to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a great deal in the open air, which is the most salutary of all things for both body and mind.
Come to think of it, I do not regret skipping Econometrics class in fourth year to ride my bicycle across a frozen stretch of Lake Ontario and drink beer at a pub on Wolfe Island. It’s one of the few things I remember about fourth year: although I recall nothing of Econometrics, I did learn a thing or two about windchill.
Finally, on the subject of duty, Stevenson has this to say:
There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.
Be happy. Call into work sick tomorrow and take the kids out of school. You owe it to the world.