The phrase ‘don’t be slothful’ is not a statement that one wants to receive nor is the phrase fair to the sloth. “Sloth”, commonly, is used to describe a person’s assumed laziness, inactivity, reluctance to work or make an effort, probably because the animal of the same name moves slowly. Although the sloth moves slowly, however, it does move purposefully. This sense of purpose is perhaps what the lazy person is missing – a reason to get out of bed in the morning and accomplish something of value.

The sloth’s habitat is the rain forests of Central and South America. They live in the tall trees which offer protection from predators which prowl the forest floor. Probably named from one of the Seven Deadly Sins, sloths are far from being just simple, lazy creatures that sleep all day, but are complex and mysterious animals that have a history that dates back millennia. Their earliest ancestors, the extinct giant ground sloths were some of the only mammals that had digestive systems large enough to process the huge avocado seeds whole. They apparently feasted on the fruit and then dispersed the seeds far and wide. Dr Rebecca Cliffe (Founder and Executive Director of the Sloth Conservation Foundation) notes humorously: “Sloths are the undisputed pull-up world champions. From the moment they are born, sloths are able to lift their entire body weight upwards with just one arm. Sloths have 30% less muscle mass than similar-sized mammals but are over three times stronger than the average human. Specialised tendons in the sloth’s hands and feet lock into place, allowing them to hang upside down for long periods of time without wasting any energy. This unique locking mechanism also allows sloths to sleep while hanging from a tree branch.”

Although sloths do move slowly, they move purposefully. As herbivores (some are omnivores, eating insects as well) with slow metabolism, they choose the best leaves and fruit to enable digestion, which could take a month to digest completely. They are surprisingly good swimmers, using their long arms to paddle through the water, often to move from island to island to find good grazing options. Their fur hosts symbiotic algae, giving the fur a green sheen and providing convenient camouflage from predatory jaguars and eagles.

Sloths are not simple animals but are quite sophisticated. They do move slowly but only do what is necessary for health, procreation, and survival. This purposeful pace enables a lifespan of up to fifty years in some cases.

Don’t be slothful – like the sloth, rather play out your life purposefully. Finding and embracing your sense of purpose will drive your attitude and actions towards contribution and meaning. Life is not as much about speed as it is about meaning and contribution.

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