Do some people exert themselves more than others do? Of course, the answer is yes. One way to look at “laziness” is to think of it as a willful lack of reasonable self-exertion in a situation in which a) self-exertion is morally required and b) the individual has the capacity to self-exert.
Interestingly, some people are of the opinion that laziness, per se, does not exist. Usually someone who holds this view will suggest that, what we perceive to be laziness, is always just a symptom of a physical or mental illness.
If, indeed, laziness does not exist, then how do we account for the differences in self-exertion that we seem to observe, both in ourselves and in other people? This article discusses the question of the validity of the perceptions that we normally draw about differences in exertion levels in ourselves and in others. The purpose of this line of reasoning is to challenge the heart of the claim that “laziness does not exist.”
A boss is a professional judge of exertion
In the business world, employers use both objective and subjective measures to review employee performance. An “objective measure” is something that can be easily and visibly judged. Here are some examples of objective measures: getting to work on time, completing a manufacturing quota or calling 50 customers every day. A subjective measure has more to do with the manager’s perception of an employee’s overall character. For example: friendliness, cooperativeness and alertness are all subjective measures.
One of the most important subjective measures is “willingness to work” or “willingness to self-exert on the job.” If someone scores highly in the self-exertion category they will probably get a good review and a raise. Alternatively, if there are low marks on self-exertion, then the supervisor will have a talk with the employee to remind him to stay focused and productive. Unless the employee increases his exertion to (at least) the minimum acceptable level, he is likely headed for a pink-slip.
A sports coach supervises his players
In the sports world, coaches perform a supervisory role similar to that of a boss in a business environment. The coach’s “product” is winning. If the coach wins, then he “produces.” If he doesn’t produce, then he gets canned. In order for the coach to win, he needs to have players who are talented, team-workers and who are willing to give 110% on the field. The term “110%” is a metaphor meaning that each player is expected to be fully focused on the game – and fully self-exerting to help the team to win.
As the game progresses, the coach assesses each player. Is he cooperating with his teammates? Is he putting his full energy and focus into the game? If the coach senses that a player is “dogging it,” then he will (understandably) start yelling at the player to tell him to increase his focus and exertion.
Many people will not move – unless there is a manager
Obviously, both business managers and sports coaches are aware that the people that they supervise may have varying levels of self-exertion. In the professional world, there is no question as to whether or not workers (or players) sometimes fall behind in their self-exertion. It happens all of the time. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons that managers and coaches are needed in the first place! Workers who are not being watched tend to slack off. There are a few, exceptional people who will always stay on task whether or not they are being supervised – but they are exceptional. The most general rule of manager-employee relations has always been: When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Why do some people believe that laziness does not exist?
So why is it that some people hold to the idea that laziness does not exist? Perhaps, in some cases, they might view their dis-belief in laziness as a way of trying to protect disabled people from criticism or bullying. Everyone wants to stop a bully – especially when a handicapped child is the victim – but, is this blanket approach really a good way to try to prevent bullying? Might we, instead, be inadvertently aggravating the situation by lowering the bar for everyone? In other words, by refusing to acknowledge that personal determination is a factor in school and work, could we end up discouraging kids (disabled or not) who, otherwise, might have been inclined to try harder?
Managers recognize that different people (handicapped or not) have different work-load capacities – whether the work is physical or cognitive. Hence, a good supervisor’s perception of a worker’s level of self-exertion already takes into account the maximum capabilities of the person being supervised. Similarly, in the sports arena, a coach assesses each player’s level of exertion based on the coach’s best estimate of the player’s full ability. A little league coach knows that his players will not be able to run as fast as professional, adult players can. But the little league players can still exert themselves 110%. It is the exertion that the coach is looking for – whether the players are children or adults, disabled or non-disabled.
Do managers bully the disabled – or confront the lazy?
So what is the dynamic that we are talking about in the day-to-day case of a worker who will not move unless the boss growls at him? In other words, are we talking about bullying a disabled person – or are we talking about confronting a lazy person? Obviously we are talking about laziness. In this case, the worker is morally responsible to self-exert because he has agreed to work for his employer in exchange for money. A lazy worker is able to self-exert, but he is just choosing not to. Hence, there is the need for the constant monitoring from his supervisor.
“Perceived exertion” – a legally protected condition?
There will always be people who, for various reasons, will hold to the opinion that laziness does not exist. If people who have this kind of mindset become public policy makers, then is there a danger that their approach toward the matter of individual responsibility could have unintended and counter-productive consequences in society at large?
For example, let’s imagine what the world would be like if “perceived exertion” were ever to become a “legally protected” status – like race, color, religion, sex, etc. In other words, imagine if bosses were not (legally) allowed to judge their workers based on the boss’s perception of the worker’s exertion level? This might sound like it would be an outrageous change to law and public policy – but it would actually be a fairly rational step for those who believe that everyone already does, indeed, exert themselves equally.
How would this pan out in the field of professional sports? Let’s listen in to an imaginary dialog between a basketball coach and his five players as the game is just about to begin:
Coach: Okay! This is the big game! Now get out there and give it all you’ve got!
Players #1, #2, #3 and #4: [shouting enthusiastically]: YEAH! Alright! WIN! WIN!
Player #5: … okay, I guess that I’ll give it a try …
Coach: [looks over at #5 and scowls] Grrrr …
[The game goes on and the team is loosing. The coach looks out at the court and sees that Players #1, #2, #3 and #4 are all chasing after the ball and sweating profusely. But Player #5 is not sweating at all - in fact, he appears to be almost disinterested in the game.]
Coach: [yelling] #5 get your butt in GEAR! Start MOVING!
Player #5: … well, it looks like we are already loosing, so why bother? … and why are you picking on me, anyway? … I don’t hear you yelling at the other players to run faster …
Coach: That’s because its my PERCEPTION that they already ARE running fast! YOU are the problem! Now get moving and make some baskets or else I’m going to -
Player #5: [#5 turns and faces the coach, and puts both of his hands on his hips] You’re “going to” what?! Are you threatening me? I really do not appreciate your failure to recognize my good qualities! [The ball wizzes right by Player #5's head.] Instead you always complain about the areas in which I need more help! [#5 points his finger at the coach and shakes it disapprovingly] Why don’t you ever praise me for my high skill level – and my strong willingness to share the ball with my team-mates?! [The ball wizzes right by Player #5's head, again.] Why do you always have to be looking at the one area (personal exertion) in which I just need extra assistance?
Coach: (Exasperated) Player #5 – You are kicked off the team! … Player #6 – get in there and take over for #5! Now MOVE IT!
[Player #5 slowly walks off the court with a sour expression on his face. The ball wizzes by his head for the third time. As he walks off the court, he is met by three different attorneys. Each attorney reaches out to give Player #5 his business card.]
Lawyer #1: I saw everything that happened! You were discriminated against – I specifically heard him mention that his perception of your exertion level was the reason that he kicked you off the team! I think that we have a very good case, here.
Lawyer #2: You must be feeling very traumatized over what that coach just did to you! I’m sure that any jury would agree! Lets set up an appointment right now!
Lawyer #3: I am soooo sorry for what just happened to you! That idiot coach obviously hasn’t heard about the new laws. My firm has recently won a large cash settlement for another client in a similar situation. Here – take my card!
So what do you think? Does everyone always self-exert equally? If we have public policy makers who do not believe that laziness is a real phenomenon then, might they end up, inadvertently, creating laws that do more harm than good?