Recently the word lazy has become an insufferable word to me. Someone makes an off-handed comment that so-and-so is lazy or this whole group of people is lazy and I cringe. Seriously it’s become nauseating to me.
It seems like an innocent enough word – I mean, at least compared to other words used to insult or portray someone badly. It can even be used in a positive sense, like a lazy morning spent in bed or lazy summer days. That sounds so nice, doesn’t it? Using it in that sense is almost calming to me.
But when it’s directed towards someone or a group of people, it becomes demeaning. And maybe the fact that it isn’t some profanity makes it worse. It’s a word that can be used without reservation and in everyday conversation to denote someone’s inherent negative quality(ies).
And so often it is used in just that way. “And that’s when I realized tenants are the laziest people out there.” “Well she says she’s depressed but please, she’s just lazy.” Those are just some examples I’ve recently heard. So often, lazy is used by someone in a position of privilege and/or power over someone else, who at least in the moment (perhaps always), is lacking that same privilege or power.
Think about it; to discredit someone’s own lived experience with a mental health disorder and chalk it up to their own lack of internal motivation or work ethic is pretty darn oppressive.It’s saying, “I know your experience better than you do.” It’s also saying, “It’s your own damn fault that you’re in the position you’re in so I don’t need to waste my precious, well-earned time on helping, understanding or empathizing with you.” It’s a presumptuous statement as it neglects to consider other factors or what that person’s day-to-day experience is really like.
And tenants? Seriously? At its core that statement is about classism, but it doesn’t even make sense because most people, not matter how resourced or not, start off as renters. I know I did. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be labeled as lazy. To be honest, I had some moments in my early 20s where landlords could have easily decided I was lazy or that I wasn’t the brightest bulb on the chandelier. Literally. My friend and I once called our landlord and asked if he could change a light bulb for us. Yup. And in my defense I was only 22 and well, still getting my feet on the real-world ground. Plus both my friend and I, who were the only two people living in the apartment at the time, were quite vertically challenged. Still no big surprise that our landlord’s response was, “Yeah that’s not my responsibility.” And I totally get it now and it was not one of my finest moments. But that’s all it was; a moment and hopefully not one used to judge or deem my entire existence.
Often times, passing moments in people’s lives are used to label or categorize them. In addition, people are often judged and scrutinized without consideration or mention of their full and true experiences (experiences which are often highly dominated by oppression and marginalization). How often are people of a certain race or certain class described as lazy? The term lazy is used by the privileged to rationalize why the unprivileged are just that unprivileged. I mean, if only they would work harder or just pull themselves up by their bootstraps then they wouldn’t be in this predicament. Whenever I hear someone say this, they were most often born white or middle class or able-bodied or don’t have a major mental health disorder and all I can think is Really? You think so? And just how are you so sure of this? How do you know they aren’t working so, so hard and still can’t afford basic necessities like food and housing? These notions that people are responsible for their own plights completely denies the layers of oppression and rejection and marginalization from the larger society. It also absolves the privileged from any accountability for this problem or any steps they could take towards ameliorating this problem. After all, if someone else, is dooming themselves to a life of misery and/or poverty then only they can fix it so it’s not your problem, right?
Because of all this, lazy has become such a vile word to me. We, as a society, tend to use it so nonchalantly and seldom acknowledge just who tends to use the word and when and just who tends to be the target of this word. Lazy has become a really demeaning and oppressive word. I think we seldom use it accurately because often times people labeled as “lazy” are working multiple jobs or battling physical or mental illnesses or both plus working. There are so few people out there who truly are poor simply because they sleep all day or never try. Moreover the people who sleep all day or do not try, have reasons far more complicated than laziness for why that is how they spend their days and in fact are likely doing a lot of work just to survive. We have started to challenge crazy and its negative consequences, I say we start doing the same with lazy!