Oxbridge Project: The Importance of Being Idle

Dr O’Hear: On Tuesday June 10th Tom Hodgkinson, best-selling author of How to Be Idle and founder of the Idler Academy, came to address the Oxbridge Project on his passion: idleness. Idleness, as defined by Hodgkinson is not the art of being lazy, as some might think, but a different way of thinking about our relationship with work and achievement more generally.

Via a tour of his career from studying English at Jesus College, Cambridge, through journalism, unemployment, entrepreneurship and finally as an editor and author, Hodgkinson set out the main tenets of idleness. These include getting enough sleep, doing enough reading for pleasure, cutting down on TV and social networking and most importantly taking ownership of your time, which may include considering being self-employed rather than signing up for the career ‘rat race’.

Embracing ‘idleness’ in this sense can lead to greater creativity, productivity and general flourishing of the soul. Hodgkinson has modelled his special branch of idleness on that of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), author, among other things, of our first dictionary. Johnson slept late, worked for only a few hours a day (but very productively) and spent most of the rest of his time in coffee shops and doing amateur science experiments. Hodgkinson brought in a first edition of one of Johnson’s essay collections (on idleness!) for the students to look at.

The students seemed enthralled by Hodgkinson’s special brand of idleness and were full of questions. Sadek Al-Sabaari (7B) impressed Mr Hodgkinson with his extensive knowledge of the Luddites and Reece Healey-Elliman asked a penetrating question about whether our school systems (geared towards attainment and hard work) might prevent this helpful form of idleness being practiced successfully. We all left with much to ponder and are very grateful to Mr Hodgkinson for giving up his precious (idle) time to talk to us and show us a wide range of interesting publications.