Boredom | Jan 2000

FMBR Editorial: Jan, 2000

Boredom

Marshall Pease

Boredom is a curious phenomenon. It says, in effect, there is nothing to excite my interest, either in the world or in my own self. In other words, as Kat Bakhu and Verdonna Ahrens say in Attunement, Sept./Oct. 1999, a bored person has let himself become entirely the effect of the world, without the will or ability to find anything interesting. Since this denies the dignity of the self, it seems particularly strange that being bored is often taken as a mark of sophistication while a person who remains interested is called naive – a strange perversion. Since this pattern is often seen in those who claim to be the elite of our society – or want to be taken as such – I wonder what this says about our culture.

Boredom is, nevertheless, a real phenomenon. This brings up a question: Does boredom have a function and, if so, what is it?

I suggest the proper trait to consider is not boredom at all but its opposite, curiosity defined as interest in the unknown and the unfamiliar. Boredom, I suggest, is the goad prodding of the individual to seek something about which he or she can be curious. Curiosity is sometimes trivial, little more than monkey curiosity or an interest in idle gossip. Yet, in its more important manifestations it has had a tremendous influence in the development of mankind. It drove early man to discover enough about his environment and himself to let him expand his habitat to include most of the earth from the deserts and rain forests of the equator to the arctic snows. It has been a major driving force behind science and technology. It has found expression in the arts, both in artistic creation and in the attention of others in what the artist has conceived and done and why. Why else would one read a book or visit a gallery?

 

Sometimes curiosity has been disastrous for the individual and for nations. Sometimes it has led to what are called “advances” which thoughtful people deeply regret or to knowledge that seems fearfully dangerous such as nuclear weaponry. Regardless, it has been the tool which has put mankind where it is today. In terms of his position in the biosphere, it has made him incredibly successful, so much so that the main threat to man’s habitat now is man. It can be argued that it is bacteria which have chiefly shaped life on this world, but it is mankind who has the power to change the environment in which all living creatures live. Further, this has happened in a twinkling of a geologic eye. As a species, man is incredibly powerful. Whether this power is or will be used wisely from either a human or global perspective is another question entirely. Whatever the ethics of what we have wrought, and whatever the final results will be, we have asserted our abilities to an overwhelming degree. In large part, this has been the effect of man’s consuming curiosity, the opposite of boredom.

Kat and Verdonna make the point that boredom is the antithesis of the spiritual life. It follows that curiosity opens the path to that life. All experience should be grist for the soul. All should be interesting, even fascinating. Otherwise, how can he or she learn? How sad it is, therefore, that our culture seeks so diligently to confine curiosity to approved topics, directions and environments. Fortunately, the culture can only control what we actually do and those opinions we actually express – and often does those jobs poorly. What a person thinks or believes, or what he or she chooses to examine in the solitude of his mind is beyond the reach of any institution. We do indeed have the option of exercising our curiosity in whatever domain we choose – intellectual, artistic, emotional, or spiritual. Why then should we ever be bored?

Marshall Pease, January 2000