Though his racing speed is a maximum 6 feet per minute, the sloth has won the race against time. It's not that he's immortal, it's just that he's efficient. While we micro manage time and monopolize our schedule, sloth simply is. In his just being he shows us the value of natural pace.
We don't value this, certainly. Sloth is the only animal eponymous for a deadly sin. I do not know if sloth can translate our disdain. I do know that we are deaf to him. Sloth shows us a way to live that is gentle, creative, and ecologically friendly. And slow. We don't like slow. We hear engines and sirens. Silence is mute.
We have many tired ways of looking at sloth, both as a creature and a philosophy. As a creature we define him very narrowly. This started a millennium ago. The word sloth began as Middle English for "slowthe" which means slow. Only 200 years passed and by the end of the 1300's slothful became synonymous with lazy and unproductive. Ha!
The Illusion of Inactivity
If sloth seems unproductive, it is only because the human concept of productivity is inconsistent with nature. Sloth is very productive. However, he moves at the speed of earth. This is rarely in step with our footprints. We hate the natural pace. We turn carpenters into factory workers and spin artists into obsolescence. We are the industrial revolution and our wheels are spinning faster than we can run.
As most of humankind keep pace with an arbitrary hierarchy all of nature waves an invisible banner. Translated it says no. Bold letters. The spider continues to weave its singular web, and unless aided, flowers will not grow faster. All of earth reveals that some things survive and grow stronger by moving at a (gasp) natural pace.
Including sloth. He sleeps lots, enjoys food, and refuses to exert any effort that isn't necessary. If a human did this we'd encourage them to get more pep. It doesn't matter if our excess energy is excessive. It doesn't matter if by spinning our wheels we erode the soil. In the culture of progress and process, runoff is unavoidable.
Not for sloth. He is a model of efficiency. His lack of muscle means he requires few calories. Unlike us sloth expends only what he consumes. Imagine if we were to do this. Living beyond our means is universally destructive. Besides producing economic debt, it produces a fear-based scarcity mentality that our accumulating never satisfies.
Giving with Grace
In his slothful sloth way sloth never takes. Whatever he uses he replenishes. The food waste he creates is used as sustenance for the community of beetles, moths and ticks that reside on his rear. His stillness also creates a haven for algae and a sanctuary for bugs to grow. The sloth is, literally, a non-rolling stone that does indeed gather moss. Still our human cliches and biological calculations cannot measure the worth of symbiosis. In measuring worth we must define worth. Nature has no need for this.
The sloth dominates nothing. He is still and sustainable. He takes little, which is a key feature in creation. The more we non-sloth's produce the more we consume. We are greedy wolves in designer sheep clothing. We look admirable as we sweat toward the finish line of consumerism yet the line is a mirage. The faster we move the further it gets because our expectations are endless and increasing. Everything is a means to an end. We have no time to nurture natural systems. Somewhere between fire being used for warmth and fire as a part of combustion, we've adapted toward destruction. In the process gardening became Clearcutting. Meanwhile the sloth's home tree thunders to the ground with sloth attached. If human, he would have the opportunity to extend his hands over head as the universal symbol of surrender. No chance. The noise of machinery is the battle cry of industrial values. Money from lumber precedes intrinsic value. Unfortunately, unless captured and sold for food the sloth is worthless.
Thankfully some still see the importance of sloth. I do. So do the members of The Sloth Club. One of their current objectives is to establish and coordinate a sloth sanctuary in Ecuador. Ecuador is a significant location for The Sloth Club's three founding members. While travelling through Ecuador, they encountered a captured sloth sitting on the floor of a cold concrete cage. He was waiting to be eaten. To Australian activist Anja Light, his frail helpless body reflected "all the injustice and suffering in the world." The friends bought and freed the sloth. From this experience they formed a reverent feeling not only for sloth, but also for his very essence. They declare: "We want to promote the concept of doing less, living simply, minimizing our destructive impact and finding joy in our life without consuming an endless chain of meaningless things. The three-toed sloth may be our greatest teacher in how to do this."
We fear stillness. Stillness is yielding. Knowing ourselves the way we do means we do not have enough trust to, as the sloth does, expose our soft underbelly. Instead we are vigilant. Yet it is not some vague other we need to fear. It is our own self. Our planet is proof that we cannot trust our more is better and faster is God value system. This collective Judeo-Christian movement is made of individuals. We are conditioned to fuel this movement. Not leaving it is the closest we ever come to stillness. No wonder we are afraid.
The sloth despising Judeo-Christian ethic despises inactivity. Yet it also advises rest. We don't. We fear that the hand of God will rain down wrath if we rest for more than one day a week. We keep this fear because it allows us to keep working towards more. And so it is our self-serving attitude, not God, at fault for our trampling of the planet. Genesis 1:28 advises us to "Be fruitful." This requires that we sew after reaping. Few of us do. Humankind has become the eighth deadly sin. Ironically, in sloth's symbiotic and replenishing lifestyle, he is a saint.