Research summary written by John Shapiro, Master student at the University of Luxembourg.

Illustrations credit: John Shapiro

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“Kids these days are so lazy, right?” We’ve all heard this before and you’d be surprised by how old the practice is.

First off, what is laziness? It can be used to describe one of Christianity’s 7 deadliest sins: sloth. In French, fainéant is a portmanteau of “faire” and “néant” or to do nothing. Aside from this etymology, laziness, and many words like it are more importantly used to frame a person’s value in relation to us. How do we measure a person’s value in our highly competitive world? Usually… By how much they work. Valuing not their humanity but their productivity.

Loyola University’s professor Price explains in their book “Laziness Does Not Exist” how dehumanizing “lazy” is as it allows us to completely disregard what is going on in the accused person’s life. "Lazy” paints over real human issues.

Let’s consider the ways “lazy” is often used. Sadly, it is all too often used to talk about people of different generations, genders, ethnicities, abilities, or rather, what is basically “othering”.

We might hear it used fairly often to describe our youth. This is a practice which goes back thousands of years. Even Socrates is quoted for having gone on a tirade against the youth of his time and yet somehow every one of these successive lazy generations has led us to the technologically advanced society we live in now.

One popular “meme” aimed at making the youth look lazy and spoiled is based on how Gen-Z and Millennials enjoy avocado toast and espresso which older generations believe is blocking them from becoming wealthy or buying a house. In response to this John Green, author, and educator noted that it would require someone to not do so for 1000 years to save their first million.

Let’s delve even deeper into the internalized belief that we are, ourselves, lazy. We’re so accustomed to this language in our fast-paced society that now, we even do it to ourselves. We could be sitting in bed on a Sunday morning after a 60-hour week and feel guilty for being lazy. We’ve learned to use this language to make ourselves feel terrible for being unproductive. In reality, it’s a way of negatively framing a human necessity: relaxation.

The only thing that’s lazy is its use. Because we use “lazy” as a shortcut rather than understanding the world. Several studies found that the elderly use this shortcut to frame the youth due to a disconnect between the world they grew up in and now. For example, statements like “I used to walk 25 kilometers to school in a blizzard” have been shown to usually be exaggerated. More interestingly, the reason the youth no longer has to suffer these hardships is that our elders changed them.

With respect to bilingualism and education, I have personally experienced the dangers of this word both as a teacher and as a student. I remember when I was working as an English teacher in Japan, my co-teacher turned to me and said something along the lines of: “We have a foreign student, he doesn’t put in the same effort as the other students. So don’t expect much out of him”. I shuddered. As a teacher, it is so important to understand how our prejudices impact our students. They often act as self-fulfilling prophecies (see additional readings). But mostly I shuddered because I had also been a foreign student struggling with a new language at my primary school. I remember this feeling of being in a thick fog as people around me spoke a different language than my own. Most teachers just graded me accordingly but I commend the effort of teachers who saw beyond the shortcut that “lazy” offers. It allowed me to flourish. And that student in Japan, I also remember the moment I saw the fog drop from his eyes as he became a confident member of his class.

I want to take a moment to consider the invisibility of suffering and ableism. It shouldn’t take a person to have suffered the same pain to understand it. Rather, we should believe others when they tell us they are suffering. All too often, we use the term “lazy” in moments such as these to wash away the reality of suffering which can not be seen on the surface.

And so, I hope we can see how “lazy” perpetuates these really dehumanizing ways of thinking of our neighbors and ourselves. It is not just about removing the word from our vocabulary but understanding and making the effort to remove its prejudice.

(Dedicated to those teachers: Madame Planchon & Monsieur Thierry of ISMA and all others who see beyond the veil of laziness)

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Further reading:

  • Inequality in Teacher Judgements, Expectations and Track Recommendations: A Review Study https://www.eumonitor.eu/9353000/1/j4nvgs5kjg27kof_j9vvik7m1c3gyxp/vkv5ilr6qrz7/f=/blg869161.pdf
  • Laziness Does Not Exist (Article by Dr. Devon Price) https://humanparts.medium.com/laziness-does-not-exist-3af27e312d01
  • Why You Need to Stop Using These Words and Phrases by Rakshitha Arni Ravishankar https://hbr.org/2020/12/why-you-need-to-stop-using-these-words-and-phrases
  • People have always whinged about young adults. Here's proof by Amanda Ruggeri https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20171003-proof-that-people-have-always-complained-about-young-adults

The article is part of the initiative Student Ambassadors of the Multilingual Experience. Our students have prepared some interesting topics for you – just scroll down the project page to the section "News“ – you will find more blog posts to enjoy!).