Dear Adam Smith: An Antidote To Torpor
Stuck in a rut? Adam Smith advises a restless IT worker to look beyond his screen.
Dear Adam Smith,
I work in IT at a small company. My colleagues are kind to me but none of them understand what I do and lately it feels like I’m just doing the same things all the time. I know I’m contributing a lot of value to the company and I’m paid well. But when I come home I just want to drink a beer and zone out.
Dear IT Torpor,
The commonness of your situation is no consolation. In the progress of the division of labour in commercial societies, many people’s occupations come to be confined to a few very simple operations. Although there is an almost infinite variety of occupations in the whole of society, there is little variety in the occupations of the greater part of individuals.
You are in want of occasions to exert your understanding or exercise your inventive capacity. Your recognition of this and desire to address it are admirable.
You seem to have both leisure and inclination to expand your abilities. One path is to engage more deliberately in contemplation of the almost infinite variety of objects and occupations around you. The contemplation of such a great variety of objects will necessarily exercise your minds in endless comparisons and combinations, and render your understanding more acute and comprehensive. Also, you might deliberately apply the principles of geometry and mechanics to your work as they can be an introduction to the most sublime as well as to the most useful sciences. I’d also encourage you to think back to the tastes acquired in the earlier part of your life to look for an activity to engage in.
Intellectual activities which strengthen you against the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition will not only make you respect yourself more, you are also more likely to obtain the respect of worthy others. The more likely you are to examine and see through the interested complaints of faction and sedition the less likely you are to be misled in any wanton or unnecessary opposition to just regulations.
But also do not neglect those exercises which pertain to the martial spirit. The acquisition of knowledge and experience in military and gymnastic exercises should not be neglected. Consider pursuing activities that offer badges of distinction or premiums to those who excel. I hope the public in your community provides such things. Both the Greek and Roman republics recognized the importance of this. Not only would such actions be of use to your society, it will also benefit you. A coward, a man incapable either of defending or of revenging himself, evidently wants one of the most essential parts of the character of a man.
You also did not mention if you have any close friends or family. Men require love and friendship. A wisely chosen friend can be not only a sympathetic companion but one who inspires us to moral excellence. If you are struggling with this, you can also revisit my advice to Friendless in Dear Adam Smith: New Kid on the Block.
In short, Mr. Torpor, visit a museum, read an improving book, hit the gym, and have that beer with a good friend instead of alone on your couch.
Yours in Fellow-Feeling,
Editor's Note: Letters to the "Dear Adam Smith" column are not, of course, answered by Adam Smith. He died in 1790. Letters are answered by Sarah Skwire, Caroline Breashears, Janet Bufton, Renee Wilmeth, and Christy Lynn. Advice is for the purposes of amusement and education about Smith's thought. We do our best, but caveat emptor and follow our advice at your own risk.