The Need Of Recreation
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
In the words of the old adage, "All work and no play make jack a dull boy." But we seem to think that the conditions of boyhood do not extend to manhood. We have forgotten the adage, and the spirit of "all work" has taken a very firm hold upon our American life. In business and in social life, the element of rest and recreation is almost entirely wanting. The pressure of competition is too great, the hoots of rest too few, the ambitions of life too strong. As a race we live too fast and labor too intensely. In the last generations we have come to set too high a price upon force and work and effort. We do not seem to realize that the human machine needs rest to recuperate its powers. We forget that a perpetual generating of force demands a perpetual supply of fuel. We disregard the fact that continual effort soon wears out the most enduring powers, and that brain work is the most exhausting of all work. Men impose upon themselves the most stupendous tasks, and lash their weary energies to the work, until the body gives way or the brain breaks down and the poor slave of physical thews and sinews "rises to smite its oppressor."
Forty years ago Thomas Carlyle announced his dogma, that. there was an inherent, intrinsic nobleness in work. Our countrymen seem to have believed him ; for we are the most hurrying, bustling, hard worked nation on the face of the earth. We do not know how to rest, nor how to enjoy life in any sensible way. We go to extremes in labor and to extremes in play. When we try to take a holiday, we are miserable until we have made hard work out of it. We come back from our picnics, our excursions, our month at Saratoga more weary and exhausted than when we went. We long to get back to our books, our work and our trouble to rest from the dissipations of our so-called recreations. As a nation we have glorified toil and seem to have turned the tables upon the curse of Eden by proclaiming work the chiefest of earthly blessings. Work, not as a means of well-being, but as a noble end in itself.
We cannot look for the highest results in such a breathless, hurrying, unnatural world as this in which we Americans live. There is no kind of work that does not need careful thought and plenty of time for its accomplishment. Indeed, time is an essential element of success. Many a great enterprise has been hopelessly ruined because men were too impatient for results. Many a book has failed because the printers crowded the author with the dreaded cry of "more copy." Many a life has been endangered, if not lost, because the surgeon's eye was dim or his hand "shaky" from overwork. Many a sermon has been spoiled by too much haste, and the worst evil that has crept into our schools in the last quarter century is this foolish for practical education, which means in the majority.
Recreation, then, is relaxation from work. In which the brain can stop its thinking and worry, and nerve and muscle can pause and rest for a time to become energized for the next period of effort. This can sometimes be accomplished by a change of work, in which the mind is led into new channels and the bodily effort directed to new labors. Great workers, there-fore, are accustomed to have several tasks in hand, so that, when they become weary of one line of work, they may take up another and enjoy the relief which a change of occupation gives. There is danger, however, in this to an over-worked man. There is a natural limit to the endurance of his powers, and when they have been exhausted it is òf no use to seek relief in change of employment. The jaded man needs rest, and healthful rest only can save him.
No, the thing that is needed most of all is time devoted to those relaxations which are restful and healthful. Quiet hours at home with the family in the evening are better than the excitements and dissipations of the club. A brisk walk of two miles will accomplish more than a whole evening loafing in a saloon or country store. Eight hours a night conscientious sleep will soon bring bloom to the cheeks, strength to the drooping arm and new vigor to an overburdened mind. The time necessary for these recreations must be kept sacred if a man would have long life and accomplish great success.