Activity solves Inactivity

“And there is nothing so certain as the fact that the harmful consequences of inactivity are dissipated by activity.” – Seneca

It took some time for me to figure out what Seneca was writing about in this quote. Like Nike’s slogan to “Just Do It,” it seems obvious that activity solved inactivity. So what? What I settled on was Seneca encouraging us to take action, to move and change.

My daughters go through climates of being as kind as a saint, to being as mean as a drunk. Thankfully they occupy the kindness space more often than the others, but I wonder, how can they swing from one extreme to the next so easily. It’s like visiting the zoo to see a great ape swing through her enclosure. Her long, strong arms let her traverse the ropes in the sky faster than you would almost believe had you not just seen it with your own eyes. For my daughters activities can become stagnant and emotions bubble up.

Activities can become stale and, like a spritz of Febreze can lighten a room, so too can a change of scenery for my daughters. If we are playing at home and need to get out of the house, we go to a new playground, because as any parent will tell you, the only thing kids love more than a playground is a different playground. A new playground is mystical. It has things to explore and nothing to deplore. The kids can climb up new things, slide down new ways, and run around. The playground will also get a multiplier of fun if there are new kids there as well.

As a stay at home parent I run all our errands, some short, some long. One day we spent an hour driving to have a car repair done. Being in a new city I thought my daughters might like to check out the new playground. We were there for nearly three hours.

In his book The Secrets of Happy Families, Bruce Feiler writes about creating games to help the time go by while traveling. Feiler will send his daughters on a mission to find stirring sticks at Starbucks or meet people from all fifty states. These actions make the trip more enjoyable Feiler explains.

It’s not only kids who need some activity from time to time, it’s adults too. Recent years have seen an increase in color fun runs, obstacle course runs, challenges, mud-pits, and all sorts of races to benefit all sorts of charities. These races are as novel to the participants as a new playground is to my daughters. 

Last summer I was training for a ten-mile run at Disney, and that race kept me motivated to run more. I could have just went for a run, but I wasn’t going to without the race in my future. Sometimes we all need an external force – whether it’s a new playground to explore, or road race to run – to move to a state of activity.

Of all my stoic posts so far, this one feels most odd. It feels most incomplete. Like a novice who needs a wiser mind, there may be more to this idea that I understand. If you have thoughts on what Seneca is saying, let me know in the comments or on Twitter, @MikeDariano.



One thought on “Activity solves Inactivity

  1. Contrast this with NNT’s Via Negativa as applied to action: in many instances the proper response to a situation is to do nothing. In many cases, action creates a bigger mess than you may have had otherwise.

    I believe there’s no substitute for Right Action, is there a heuristic we can find to help identify when ‘do nothing’ is the right action?

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