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Rediscovering Leisure

by Bruce Lester Instructor, University of Illinois

D. H. Lawrence asked that we bury the word "love" for 100 years, during which time no one would be allowed to utter the word. He felt that over the years the concept "love" has been abused and exploited, with a resultant loss of purity and clarity of meaning. The word "leisure" seems today to be suffering from the cliche-syndrome to which Lawrence alluded. Writers today regard "leisure" as a block of time, a feeling, a force, a state of mind, and there are those who still regard it as a socio-economic class. As it does not appear that "leisure" will get 100 years to refresh, we must attempt to re-discover the meaning of "leisure" that evolved in Ancient Greece where it was held to be the essence of life. For when this great civilization fell, leisure vanished; when it reappeared (late 19th century) it was viewed as nothing more than time off the job. According to this new standard, people today have more "leisure" than ever before (thanks to industrialization) , but were we to subscribe to the original version, the Western World would be virtually devoid of leisure (if not opposed to it).

I regard leisure in a qualitative light, as an approach to life, a state or condition of the mind where the individual remains secure and confident in his relations. Personal direction flows from within and actions are undertaken according to what best suits the individual, external influences have minimal control over these actions.

Activities do not define leisureŚleisure defines activities. What we now call "work," "play," and "recreation" are all in a separate realm from "leisure." Leisure does not come and go with the different activities of the day, rather it is a highly developed consciousness which will be unattainable for most (leisure has never been pervasive); but those who do attain it will find that it is not easily lost. De Grazia states, "Work, we know, may make a man stoop-shouldered or rich. It may even ennoble him. Leisure perfects him. In this lies its future."1 Is "leisure" as an approach to life possible? Is it desirable? Are any of us living such an existence? How can we tell? These and other questions can only be confronted when we have developed a clear definition of the qualitative "leisure" in the sense I have suggested.

1De Grajia, Sebastian. Of Time, Work and Leisure. Anchor Books; New York; 1964, p. 416.

(Editor's Note: Some of our readers may disagree with the author's premise, if so rebuttals will be accepted and may be printed in subsequent issues).

Illinois Parks and Recreation 11 January/February, 1976


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