What do you think, is inertia a sin? I would have spontaneously said “no”, because I would have equated inertia with doing nothing – and that is rather something we need more of.
But my research has shown that inertia does not mean “doing nothing” or “being lazy” in the sense of “leisure”. Even the ancient Greek “Akaedeia” means “indifference, laxity”. My Latin dictionary does not find “acedia” at all, only the adjective “acidus”, which we know today mainly as “sour”, but which can also be translated as “disgusting” and “annoying”. Consequently, “Acedia” (in other dictionaries) does not only stand for “sullenness” but also for “inner acidity, bitterness”.
So it is not about the positively regarded leisure, of “doing nothing” in the sense of “not doing any work to secure one’s existence, not doing any political business”, not of “having time for oneself, for learning and teaching”. (It is not for nothing that our “school” comes from the ancient Greek “scholé” for leisure).
In contrary, it is about a state in which every activity seems too strenuous, every effort too much, in which we don’t care about anything and we are absolutely listless to care about someone or something. So instead of “inertia”, let us better use “apathy” or “bitter listlessness” as a term for this deadly sin.
What kind of attitudes of life are behind it?
An attitude to life that I unfortunately often see not only in clients, but also in more or less well-known people – so often that I could almost consider it typical (and which some – like an Irish girlfriend, for example – consider to be typically German). Nothing is right for people, they want to be somewhere else, to have something else, to work something different, to have a better partner. Everything is terrible. People have imagined a so much better life, but so many unsuitable conditions or other people have prevented them from getting what they are actually entitled to. And now they don’t want to exert themselves any more, they don’t feel like working, they don’t want any change. And often these people have no idea what exactly they would want otherwise, because even formulating a goal is already too exhausting.
What kind of people are affected by this attitude?
Of course this attitude to life is often associated with a lot of bitterness and sadness. From a spiritual point of view, these people have no centre – they have lost it or had so many other things to do up to this point that they have not even noticed that they have none. Often I experience this with people in the second half of their life who up to that point have realised the usual – often externally controlled – wishes like job or family. But now their children are out of the house and an emptiness opens up which these people cannot fill because they are too lethargic in the sense of sullen and unfunny. In the case of adolescent people, on the other hand, this attitude often has something to do with too much possibilities, with the inability to make decisions between them, but also with the unwillingness to deal with the necessary decisions at all, because the success of these efforts is not guaranteed.
Where does this attitude to life come from?
Many people have gone through periods in their lives that have left behind numerous injuries. Injuries that have not healed because they have only been repressed, but not dealt with and certainly not forgiven.
With aquaintances I can see often that the numerous colourful pictures about the lives of others (and here social media are really of little help) lead to illusions about what one’s own life should look like. Ideas that are not or no longer realisable or never were – at least not with the existing personal circumstances or without the millions from the lottery. Winning the lottery is exactly what these people long for – a shower of money without any effort on their part.
They are not aware that this is exactly the reason why many lottery millionaires lose their money again very quickly. Because this attitude to life without goals and without the joy of doing something, of striving for something, always carries the germ of frustration in itself. Because nothing can satisfy, because it never creates the feeling of happiness one had hoped for. This often has something to do with the fact that we base our joie de vivre on things, or on status or on the (hopefully envious) reactions of our neighbours. But their lure fades away all too quickly and what remains is bitterness.
Some people also withdraw because they can no longer bear precisely this behaviour of their neighbours. But even they do not succeed in finding a positive definition of how they want to live – they are only filled with disgust, misanthropy and bitterness because they feel completely alone with their views.
Others are simply lonely. At work they don’t find a connection, a partner doesn’t exist (anymore), the children who might be present stand on their own two feet and rarely find their way to them. There is no socially oriented hobby as well as no team sport in their lives.
And many are simply burnt out. They gave everything, at work, with their children and their partners and friends. In my opinion, the increasingly outdated use of the word “no” plays a very important role for these very people.
That is already a disease, isn’t it?
If you think that sounds like burnout and depression, you are quite right. Many of the symptoms of depression and burnout are those of the bitter listlessness, not just loss of interest and general listlessness, but also anxiety and inner sadness. And indeed, according to the WHO, depression and other mental disorders with a significantly altered mood are the second most common (!) disease worldwide.
And in Germany, people seem to suffer particularly badly, with almost one in ten people reporting depressive symptoms, compared to only around 6% in the EU. What is worrying is that it affects young people in particular, and among them especially young women. That is a horrifying prospect for the further development of our culture, for the necessary changes in society when many of those who matter have no desire to do anything at all.
But this only concerns the so-called “civilised cultures”. Especially when we have a look on indigenous peoples worldwide we can see that the constantly growing stream of mentally ill people has something to do with our way of life today. As long as indigenous peoples – like Yanomami or Pitaha or San – remain in their ancestral environment without frequent contact and can continue their previous lives without restrictions, such disorders seem to occur much less frequently. However, if they are torn from their environment – geographically and/or culturally – the result is significantly higher rates of depression, addiction and even suicide. A similar situation was observed among “native people” in the USA and Canada.
What the bitter listlessness has to do with our role in our society.
How we define success.
Industrialisation and the capitalism that goes with it have brought great progress for the technological and scientific development of mankind. The last centuries have been characterized by the pursuit of success and wealth without regard to the exploitation of other people or natural resources. This has left behind deep-rooted convictions such as “Man is man’s wolf” or “Everyone is the architect of his own fortune”.
And so most people still try to be successful in a sense that corresponds to this world view: to get a well-paid job, to make a career and to show with their money to the outside world that “they have made it”.
What our children take with them on their way.
As a result, children grow up with the feeling that they have to use all the options their parents offer them successfully and in a disciplined manner. Otherwise they will be deprived of the love they so desperately desire. Or they grow up in the conviction that there will always be someone who will take care of their serious problems – and, if possible, all the unpleasant tasks. (Of course I know from my own daughter how difficult a good upbringing is – imparting love, but also rules, helping, but not taking everything off…. – and how almost impossible it is to balance on this ridge all the time).
My adolescent clients rather suffer from the problem of always present and helpful parents. And it is – also from my point of view as a therapist and coach – much more difficult to teach an (almost) adult person frustration tolerance, i.e. the acceptance and dealing with the fact that things can sometimes be ugly, boring, exhausting and hurtful, than to teach older adults an understanding that behind the severity of their childhood had been hidden the love of their parents.
What our ideal is.
Furthermore, a rank (corresponding with very wealth and beauty) is regarded as desirable which only a small part of the people can reach – but the social media in contrary suggest that actually everybody could do it. The struggles and efforts or even visions and strategies that such a rank requires are completely ignored.
How we appreciate our work.
This results in bitter experiences and the reluctance to try something new, as well as an unwillingness to make an effort, because you cannot achieve what you want with it anyway. The resignation is also evident in the low level of loyalty to the employer. At the end of 2019, Galupp found in their study on emotional attachment to the employer that 70% of German employees only work according to the regulations and another 16% have already given notice inwardly.
If we realise that this listlessness to – from my point of view – a considerable degree has arisen from the fact that a job is only following a predetermined path and not one’s own wishes, then we could assume that all the blame that is being placed on the company and managers as well as on a not appropriate company culture is missing the point, as the constantly increasing numbers of unmotivated people vividly demonstrate.
How we fulfill our tasks.
A not only individual but also social effect of this bitter listlessness is the increasingly observable trend towards procrastination, to postpone. In two thirds of the time, a maximum of one third of the work is done, because the people concerned think that there is still enough time or that conditions still have to be created or that there are other “more important” things to be done in that time. For the rest, only one third of the time is left, which logically leads to doing things much too late.
The Individual procrastination intensifies the vicious circle of bitter listlessness, because the shifting happens consciously and the effects become clear to everyone. This in turn is associated with self-deprecation and both of these factors usually lead to serious professional and personal problems.In my opinion, however, much worse than the individual problems of procrastination is the fact that entire societies, but also companies, are subject to this behaviour. New economic and ecological solutions should have been found long ago, but here procrastination hinders all progress (or possibly it is simply ignorance of the problems).
What you can (and we all must) do about the bitter listlessness.
First of all, you need an awareness that you are “guilty” of the “sin” of bitter listlessness. And then you should find out – yourself or with professional help – what underlies it: Perfectionism, lack of self-love, being influencible by the outside world, the acquired inability to say no?
Develop a strong ego so that you can tame it.
Because in order to develop a different view of life, you inevitably have to deal with your own ego first. And contrary to what you might think, a strong ego is important to be able to give up that very ego which is only aimed at satisfying your desires. Why? Because only a strong ego is able to tear down the walls that you have built around your inner being. Walls like your belief in success, your addiction to things, your search for love on the outside. You have to get to know, respect and love yourself with all these walls, because only then can you decide which of the walls you no longer need and what your inner being can really unfold.
Use the freedom of your thoughts.
Only then can you make use of your brain’s possibilities and your freedom of thought. For, as Kant already pointed out in his writing “What is Enlightenment”, the bitter listlessness is the main reason why humans hardly make any public use of their thoughts, why they so readily remain being under-age and allow state and employer, even parents and partners to patronise them. “It is so convenient to be underage. If I have a book that has spirit for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a doctor who assesses my diet for me, and so on, I do not need to make an effort myself. I do not need to think when I can only pay; others will take over the annoying business for me”. ( source )