Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sloth, Laziness and Sin

Most of the current leadership literature concerns itself with the positive promises of effective leadership. There seems to be a new consensus (such as was communicated in the recent International Leadership Association's International Conference in Chicago) that there is not enough work being done on the dynamics of toxic/wrong leadership. This possible turn in leadership research has me thinking about the sins of leadership and thus I am re-reading the classic Philokalia, the collection of writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers on sin and virtue.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries provide us with clear descriptions of sin (sometimes referred to as demons in their writings) and its effect on the Christian Leader. One such clear description is in their treatment of the sin of sloth (in Greek "’Ακήδια" [acedia], can also be translated as laziness and despondency) and how it produces depression and procrastination. The implications for leadership is obvious. Evagrius of Pontus writes:
"The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon—is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour [roughly 10 in the morning] and besieges the soul until the eighth hour [about 2 in the afternoon]. First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour [about 3 in the afternoon, the hour for supper, the only substantial meal in the ancient monastic day], to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps (one of the brethren appears from his cell). Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. The demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight. No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle. (Praktikos, 12;)
Kendell Geers 2006, Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth), Stephen Friedman Gallery.