Labor Day was first proposed by Matthew Maguire, a labor union secretary in 1882 in New York. It is a “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” and the idea that they deserved a rest for that work. The Stoics were hard driving, no-excuses, disciplined folks but they would have supported that idea whole heartedly. “The mind must be given relaxation—it will rise improved and sharper after a good break,” Seneca wrote. He used the analogy of farming. A field that isn’t given a break, where crops are not rotated, will quickly lose its fertility. So too will a mind and a body that’s overworked.
So by all means, take your much deserved break today. We are human beings after all, not human doings. Life will be long if you’re lucky, and you have much great work in front of you. If you break down early, wear yourself out before your time, where will that leave you? Where will that leave us?
In a way, overwork is selfish (no matter how much the workaholic claims they are doing it for other people). Because it deprives them and the world of that later fertility. It causes needless breakdown and injury. It’s also boring and lame. As Seneca observed, “Constant work gives rise to a certain kind of dullness and feebleness in the rational soul.” Nobody likes the person who is all business all the time.
So go out and live today. Rest from your labor. Come back better for it. Come back improved and sharper for it. That’s the idea. This is your holiday. Take it.
This email was sent on September 4th, 2017
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