Skip to content
Photo by Federico Giampieri / Unsplash

When my kids were little, I played with them.

A lot.

And the thing is, I didn’t do it to help their development. Narcissists like me don’t do such things.

I played because I liked to play.

Matchbox cars, blocks, army men. Weird outdoor games we’d make up as we went along. “Sky Ball,” “Enemy Fire,” “Poor Man’s Disc Golf” (email me; I’ll send you the rules).

It didn’t matter. I liked to play. It was probably a bit unbecoming, in retrospect. On more than one occasion, Marie’s eyebrows would raise at my, ahem, vigor in these stupid little games.

I don’t know if it did anything for my kids, but those hours of time wasted may have been the best thing I did as an adult.

Success Belongs to the Snorers

General Mikhail Kutusov beat Napoleon by doing nothing.

They say he fell asleep and snored loudly during important meetings as Napoleon was invading Russia. He didn’t act when people thought he should act. He screwed around on personal interests when people thought he should be working.

And he beat one of the greatest generals in history.

How could such a thing happen?

Tolstoy, writing in War and Peace, said it happened because Kutusov knew there is “something stronger and more important than his will” so he could “abstain from meddling, from following his own will.”

It could happen, in other words, because there’s more to us than our will and our reason and because there’s more to reality than we can understand or act upon.

Make no doubt about it: People often succeed in human affairs through sheer force of will and rational faculties. I don’t deny that.

But we need to recognize that people can also succeed in human affairs by doing nothing.

Get in Touch with Full Reality

I’d like to explain how such a thing happens, but that requires reason and we’re dealing with Something Beyond Reason. But here goes:

If we want to be successful at existence, we need to live in full existence. If there’s more to us than our will and reason, we need to exercise it. If there’s more to reality than we can understand or act upon, we need to get in touch with it.

Fortunately, the two go together. If we exercise the supra-rational/willful part of our existence, we get in touch with that part of existence that surpasses our will and our reason.

Purposefully Act without Purpose

So how do we exercise that area?

Start by doing nothing. Cultivate true leisure, in the sense that Josef Pieper wrote about in Leisure, the Basis of Culture.

Do impractical things.

Golf. Shoot pool. Stroll. Garden, preferably not vegetables for food or selling at the farmers market, but maybe flowers because nothing is more impractical than flowers.

Do things without purpose. It doesn’t really matter what it is (though it can’t be watching videos, TV, or movies, for reasons I’m going to explore in later installments).

Here’s the thing: There’s always something to do that entails a purpose. We need to search for purposeful activities about as hard as Pablo Escobar had to search for hundred-dollar bills. They’re all over the place. Life throws them at us faster than chicks threw themselves at Elvis.

It’s a problem. Purposeful activities are rational. They’re full of our will. Even worse, they're full of our left hemispheres.

We need non-purposeful activities, things we do for their own sake, not for the sake of something else.

Get on the floor and play with your kids. Really get into it. But don’t give a whit about the kids’ development or even whether you’re really getting into it. And sure as heck don’t care about your dignity or whether you should be getting into it so much.

Just play.

And thereby exercise your right hemisphere.

The Importance of Doing Nothing
By giving the brain ‘downtime’ we can improve mental health and allow ideas to incubate. By Manfred Kets De Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change “Learning without reflection is a waste, reflection without learning is dangerous” - Confucius In today’s networked society we are at risk of becoming victims [...]