|Al Gini says most Americans could take some lessons from Tony Soprano.
Not on clean living, ethical business practices, or emotional stability, certainly, says Gini, an author and professor of Philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, but on how to relax — and play.
“At the level of a leader, Tony knows how to stop his engagement and step away on occasion,” said Gini, author of The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure, and Vacation. “I certainly don’t want to defend the mafia or his lifestyle, but people can learn something from Tony. He is able to enjoy the moment or get lost in the moment, while too many of us are consuming the moment so avariciously that we’re not enjoying it.”
Indeed, Gini believes that most Americans have simply forgotten how to relax, or to play, and he wrote his book to remind them not only of how to do it, but why it is so important to do it. The book is now in its third printing, and Gini has traveled extensively to promote it and its basic message.
Last month, he was at Cooley Dickinson Hospital for what was described as a “leisurely breakfast.” He told his audience that many of them are addicted to work, in the same way they might be addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, and that this addiction, like those others, is impacting their quality of life.
His advice, plain and simple, was to chill out and learn how to relax and play again — to do nothing, as he put it.
For many, this is not an easy assignment. It takes commitment, just as it would if someone were going to quit smoking. The key is to recognize the problem and do something about it.
Said Gini, “Americans don’t do nothing well.”
Play on Words
Gini acknowledges that he doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches. “I’m a card-carrying workaholic,” he told The Healthcare News in a wide-ranging interview. “But … I’m recovering.”
By that, he meant that he and his wife are, as he suggested, working at playing more. “We date two nights a week,” he explained, putting heavy emphasis on the word date. “We have dinner and we go out. We also take regular vacations where we actually relax.”
It took some time and energy for Gini to recover, for him to gain the ability to say ‘no’ to work, but he’s done it, and he believes others can do it as well. And as with any addiction, the first step in the process is acknowledging that one has a problem — and millions of Americans do.
Surveying the landscape — and his own life to a large degree — Gini said many people have developed lousy habits and attitudes regarding rest and recreation.
“We don’t play enough, and we don’t rest enough,” he explained. “I think too many of us think that rest and play are what you do when you’re a child or when you absolutely have to. I want to argue that we need to rest more — we don’t sleep enough as a society — and we need to recover and recoup our bodies and our minds before we have an opportunity to be creative at all.
“And we need to play,” he continued. “I don’t think play time should be sleep time, and I don’t think sleep time should be play time, and I don’t think we should just squeeze sleep and play time into our work time; that’s a sort of minimalism.”
Gini said the Puritans always believed that rest and recreation were taken in order to make people work better. And while it is true that people are more productive when they get adequate rest and mix in play, that’s not why they should do it.
“When we rest and play more, we are better people, first and foremost — and then we are better workers.”
In his first book, My Job, My Self, Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual, Gini explains the importance of work to one’s confidence, self-esteem, and need to fill the day.
“Adults need work in the same way that children need play — in order to fulfill themselves as people,” he explained. “Everyone needs a thing to do, everyone needs to make a contribution, and everyone needs to make a living.”
The problem is, work can — and often does — become addictive, said Gini, adding, “if we enjoy it, it becomes even more addictive, like a drug.”
Gini said Americans are working so hard that their addiction to the office is affecting not only how much they play, but how they play. Indeed, instead of doing things they really enjoy or that are constructive, such as a serious hobby, people are spending time with what he calls “non-participatory” pursuits such as watching television or shopping.
“This is not necessarily rest and recovery,” he said. “This is sheer exhaustion … you’re just trying to get caught up.”
Meanwhile, when people do actually get around to recreation or vacation, they usually push themselves as hard in those pursuits as they do while at work.
“You hear people say that they’re so tired after a vacation that they need another week off just to recover,” he said. “That’s not a vacation … that’s not relaxing. People have to learn to pace themselves, not kill themselves.”
So how should people rest and recreate?
Gini says most Americans have to learn — or relearn — how to do those things, because they really have forgotten. For starters, they can take lessons from Tony Soprano and Winston Churchill and develop real hobbies and activities that engage the mind and the body.
“During the war, Churchill painted, of course, but he would also lay brick,” said Gini. “He built walls … he built out houses on his estate as a way of absolutely losing himself from all that was going on.”
Tony Soprano has a different ability — one permitted by his unusual vocation — and that is to stop whatever it is he’s doing and go do something relaxing.
“You’ll see him say to someone, ‘it’s a beautiful day; let’s go play golf,’” said Gini. “Granted, that’s part of his madness, but it’s also an amazing trait to be able to dissociate yourself like that.”
Before anyone can begin to rest and recreate better, they must first have a plan, or strategy, said Gini, who returned to his analogy about smoking.
“When you set out to kick that habit, you have a game plan,” he said. “To really quit, you have to substitute for the need and work at it … you can’t do it off the cuff. It’s the same with an addiction to work.”
And to get started down the road, he said, individuals need to do as Nancy Reagan suggested, and ‘just say no’ to more work and additional responsibilities.
Putting the Matter to Rest
Tony Soprano is certainly not a role model, says Gini, who is using the character and others from the HBO series in a manuscript he is writing, a case study about business, ethics, and leadership. But when it comes to rest and play, Tony gets it.
“There’s an old concept in medieval ethics called the negative judgment of separation — that is, from a bad lesson you can learn a good one,” Gini explained. “So this is really a bad man, but in watching him operate, you can learn something.”
And in so doing, people can enjoy more moments, rather than merely consuming them.