Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

"That's for Sunday night."

That was one of my earlier memories after moving to the United States. I don't remember which classmate expressed the approximate sentiment; I was just meeting them all. I had mentioned my first task after arriving home (from high school on Friday afternoon) was to complete my small amount of homework.

Parents warn children of "bad influences," and on their minds, I suppose, are drugs, delinquency, or unkindness. Putting off homework seems relatively harmless, if not a legitimate time management choice. However, the tone I perceived suggested it wasn't about time management, but delaying something less worthy of attention.

The token denigrator of schoolwork is a conjurable image: a capable student who doesn't fulfil their potential for lack of effort. I had the image, but I'd never seen it live. It felt strange, hearing a real person deliver the declaration with such insouciance; not a trace of discomfort. Like they thought they'd figured things out.

It was enough to spark questions. Homework was often exciting, and if not, then rewarding. But was there some hidden world of adventure and benefit behind this academically negligent philosophy? Was it really for Sunday night?

The answer – which I took some time to consider – was no. Not "no" to taking reasonable breaks or purposely delaying work, but "no" to the attitude on offer. "No" to the question of whether an enriching activity, formatted to promote steady understanding of concepts and acquisition of mental tools, was indeed less worthy.

If I had embraced the attitude every day for decades, said classmate might have proved at least as bad an influence as any on that earlier list. Instead, the encounter helped me learn to do for myself what teachers composing homework once did for me: to sort worthy from unworthy – a skill which doesn't affect grades, but courses of lives.