La Rochefoucauld says the least known of all the passions is idleness, yet it is also the most fierce and destructive of all; the evils it causes are concealed. La paresse, or idleness/indolence, is almost as much of an obstacle as self-love (amour propre) is in the search for truth itself. Despite working quietly and sometimes imperceptibly, indolence has the ability to change our lives:
“We deceive ourselves thinking that only violent passions like ambition and love can overpower our other instinct. Indolence, thoroughly languid though it may be, very seldom fails to be master; it interferes with all our plans and actions, and gradually wears down and destroys our passions and virtues.” -La Rochefoucauld
Our passions wage a never-ending war against each other, and indolence, despite its passivity and lack of energy, manages to overcome all its rivals and determine the course of both our emotional and physical lives. Furetiere defines la paresse as un vice moral that prevents us from doing our duty and seriously inhibits us from gaining deep knowledge about ourselves.
Indolence is rather insidious because we aren’t aware of all the aspects of our lives affected by it. We don’t know much about how our passions function. We know even less about indolence than most of the others.
Paradoxically idleness is both a powerful force for harm and a source of consolation that soothes the ego/soul/self, thus it further masks the profound effect it can have over our already confusing lives. Our inner lives are a battleground where opposing forces create conflict n tensions that aren’t easily resolved. So, indolence is a more dangerous emotion than most because, like self-love, it disguises both its methods n objectives.
One may object whether the term passion is employed far too liberally in this description of idleness. The term passion in the 17th century covered a much wider range of human feelings and emotions than it does today. It used to refer not just to love or anger, passions that manifest themselves in a highly visible and violent way, but also to less dramatic and dynamic forms of desire like fear or boredom. Thus, indolence, laziness, idleness, can exert over our other passions and lives in general. Because it sets out to destroy our other passions and prevent us from reaching the object of our desires, la paresse, is paradoxically one of the most powerful forces that prevent us from understanding our own desires and more importantly, from learning the truth about our motivations and those of others.