The saying goes “idle hands are the Devil’s handiwork.” Clearly, the phrase was not coined in Victorian England where idle hands were encouraged by the upper class. The schism between the peers and the commoners was as vast as the progress of the Industrial Revolution. The gentry and the more privileged reached the heights of absurdity where to literally lift a finger was considered “work.” The ideology shows a striking similarity to the Court of Versailles during the Reign of King Louis XVI. Thus all means of effort were banished to the lower classes, which gave rise to the increase dependence on servants and help. This applied to all members of the peerage from the aristocracy to physicians.
“For to be a physician was to be rather a gentleman (their wives could be presented at court, while those of surgeons could not), and anything that smacked of manual labor—like, for example, cutting people open or doing serious physical exams, was not gentlemanly. Tapping on the chest and the use of the stethoscope were apparently slow to be adopted in the British medicine for just that reason.” [p. 250]
Part of the rational of the privileged class stems from the thought working for their position was not only distasteful but gave the impression they “had” to work for their living, implying they were trying to become even more wealthy than they already were and did not have the means to support themselves. So the peerage did not work to give the appearance of humility and also to employ numerous servants, thus assisting the poor and boosting the economy. Of course, this was all a façade. The peerage did everything in their power to maintain and increase their wealth by shrewd means and negotiations. Society was a constant chess game in play where the slightest infraction could destroy the reputation and thus the coffers of the family name.
Consequently, high society found other ways to amuse themselves since they were not working, often with disastrous results. There are numerous stories of persons of lower peerage marrying up only to find their new circles dull and tedious. They were in want of something to do since the upper classes were only interested in frivolity; stereotypically speaking.
Similar lamenting stories abound from recent retirees in modern day. Working all their lives in a thankless job just to put money on the table, they dream of a life where they are free to do nothing at all. When the time is upon them, the vast majority are bored beyond measure before the first month is over. People need purpose. Without purpose there is no direction, without direction; fear, lethargy or both set in and corrupt the mind. Those who are happiest are industrious; busy with a purpose. Not because a person has to, say to put food on the table, but wants to remain busy, to feel needed to be a part of humanity. It is a beautiful thing.
My generation, is not so keen on working for something they do not love to do and will change their occupation as they see fit to stay happy. Money is not their sole aim. While my generation might take a job to put food on the table, I guarantee they have their eye elsewhere and will terminate their current position if something they enjoy suddenly arises. Thusly, they see no real difference between working and retiring. Retiring implies doing what one enjoys without having to be tied down. My generation perceives a person should go into the workforce with the mentality of Confucius “If you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life.” In theory, there will be no idle hands, just happy workers.
Personally, I cannot fathom retirement, in part because my career is blossoming, but because I find myself sluggish, uninspired, and dull, if I have not a purpose. I strive to be “busy with purpose” all the days of my life, whether the purpose be for myself, my family or the greater good.