The Opposite of Sloth

Here's an interesting article about a new breed of executive, referred to in the article as "extreme workers," who eagerly work 70 hour weeks with little vacation. In reading Catholic Social Teachings on labor (e.g., Laborem Exercens) for the CST class I've taught at three different law schools, I've often strugged to make its lessons relevant to a class full of future (usually highly paid) lawyers.

Part of the problem is that the CST discussions of wage and hour issuestypically address the question of workers who work long hours in orderto put food on the table. Most of my students, however, are heading for the law firm world, where they will bill anywhere from 2200 to 3000 hours per year and work many additional non-billable hours and be well compensated for their sacrifice. The question of what to say to workers who would volunteer to work overly long hours is, apparently, not something the encyclical writers have even considered. But many of the harms identified in the CST writings as resulting from too much time at work -- e.g., not enough time for family, leisure, worship, or spiritual reflection -- are the same, whether the long hours are chosen or imposed by necessity.

In our culture, the idea of too much work as a bad, even sinful, thing just has no traction. Maybe it's our Calvinist heritage. Or maybe it's that, while many sins are conceived as paired examples of excess (e.g., cowardice and foolhardiness), with virtue (courage) as the mean, I'm not sure there is a counterpart to the sin of sloth. We would do a better job of discouraging people from working too hard, I've concluded, if we had a name for this sin and understood industriousness, like courage, as a mean. My question for the commenters is: if there were, what would a good name for it be?

Eduardo M. Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. The views expressed in the piece are his own, and should not be attributed to Cornell University or Cornell Law School.

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