Sunday, June 02, 2013

The problem of boredom...

" ruinous boredom is for humanity...Boredom is the root of all evil." -- Soren Kierkegaard

I was re-reading Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos when I came
across the chapter on boredom and was profoundly struck by immensity of the problem on the human condition. Walker explained that the word boredom didn't exist in the English lexicon until the 18th century. He asserted it was most likely because men were so busy just trying to stay alive there wasn't the time to be bored. I'm not so sure considering the role of spectator sport throughout history, and of course, the whole gladiator thing at the height of the Roman Empire, bloodsport wasn't invented because one's personal survival was itself of paramount concern.

Boredom is an odd thing, particularly in the modern age. There are countless ways to entertain oneself. Entire industries and vast enterprises have been developed explicitly to engage any extra time and money we may have - all to alleviate boredom. Case in point the whole video game industry. Yes, obviously the game makers are in it to sell games, but it's the bored gamers who drive it. The sheer excitement I've seen in my own son and his friends when a new game has finally come out is only eclipsed by the swiftness of the boredom factor that sets in a mere two or three weeks later. Anticipated for months and exhausted in a few weeks. There's a psychological component that goes deep into our human nature itself. Is boredom wired into us?

The cost of alleviating boredom in a monetary sense is only one factor. The devastation boredom can cause is literally incalculable. Set aside the money that is spent for all manner of boredom relief, be it going to sporting events, acquiring "boy toys" or going shopping to buy unneeded things like another pair of shoes. In most cases no one is really hurt by these sort of activities. On the other hand we have gangs of young men so bored out there minds that they lash out and destroy or even kill. There is the teenager that delves into dangerous drug and alcohol abuse out of boredom or self hatred (whether they know it or not). Then there's the middle-aged man who spends everything he has and then some at the casino or racetrack because another night sitting at home with his wife is simply intolerable. Rather than being bored thrill seekers risk their lives engaging what seem like crazy stunts just to feel fully alive. It has been said that kings, dictators and presidents take their nations to war because they're bored. The question becomes what makes routine daily life so intolerable that death itself (yours or someone else's) seem the only relief?

You see we all suffer from it, myself included. Some of you having read this far probably suffer from it... For those still with me, don't worry I don't think it is any sort of mental illness or anything like that. Sure boredom may contribute to depression or even suicide, but I think it's a perfectly normal temporary condition. Personally when boredom strikes me it's mainly a lack of energy, mental energy. Since I don't care for physical workouts I can't chase boredom away by taking a run or riding a bike. My boredom relief involves mental exercise and often, more so these days, I just have no energy for it. That's me, for others it's different, quite different.

There's always something to do, always. That may be part of the problem - maybe there's too much. We get bored when there's nothing to do, but also when there is too much, or when everything waiting to be done is overwhelming. We don't even know where to start not being bored.

For some it's a lack of any creativity at all, the mind being so numb from the sheer magnitude of modern life there's nothing left to ignite a spark of an original thought. These people are so lacking in confidence, they avoid anything that forces them out of their comfort zone. They passively look to others, maybe the TV or the Internet to take their minds off their pathetic self perception.

We spend most of our waking lives just trying to distract ourselves from our waking lives. It seems bizarre, but give it a moment to sink in... Examine your own daily life. How much of the day are you spending looking for something outside yourself to fill your eyes and ears?  If I'm being honest - it's almost all of it. Is it normal? Is it healthy? I don't know. Am I hurting anybody, or more importantly am I helping anybody? Do we have the right to even be bored when there's so much that needs to be done? Again, I don't know.

Was Mother Teresa bored? Was Dorothy Day? Were the Ringling Brothers bored? How about Super Bowl Champion and MVP Tom Brady? One of the most interesting interviews I ever saw was a CBS news interview with Tom Brady the Super Bowl Champion quarterback for the Patriots. Here's a man with multiple Super Bowl rings, the very pinnacle of his profession, millions of dollars, good looks, super-model girlfriends - yeah girlfriends, and just about everything any red blooded American man could possibly want. Is he satisfied? He says no, there's got to be something more than this. In other words he's bored.

Well I doubt Mother Teresa was ever bored. Like any of the relief workers in Oklahoma this month there's too much to do to even think of being bored. When urgency dictates action boredom disappears, but is this then the solution to boredom - living in crisis mode? I don't think so.

A good question to ask is: is personal boredom really a problem?

We are either engaged or attached to something or have an aversion and by choice are disengaged, or we are neutral - we simply do not care. So, if we are not in a state of attachment or aversion and things appear neutral, it could be that boredom is our natural default condition! It is completely natural that we feel unengaged, indifferent or distanced - bored with - the things we find neutral.

When we’re bored we feel like a victim of our circumstances, we feel disenfranchised, disconnected, but since the main cause of boredom is internal it is therefore the opposite of personal creativity. The solution naturally is also to be found within our ourselves. Yeah, easy for me to say...

For some being bored is a blessing. Life has slowed enough to allow boredom to set in. It may be that something is out of balance. For those who lack the energy (like me) or are just so lazy they can't be bothered to act or think creatively boredom is going to be a constant challenge. Try not to burden or hurt others because you're bored. Some people with a medical condition or metal health issues are going to have to seek help. Personally I think much of the boredom problem is a bit of selfishness. Try reaching out to others and make yourselves useful, serve humanity and those less fortunate and you might find that boredom takes a back seat.

But I could be wrong.



The Crow said...

Serve humanity? Why? Doesn't humanity already do nothing else but serve itself?
Why not serve life, nature, beauty, God?
Even better: serve oneself.
When one is well-enough served, one is more able to serve the greater whole.
Nothing great was ever accomplished by those unable to be bothered getting out of bed.