Core Decorum: Boredom

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Life is often so boring. Some say that boredom does not exist; we only imagine it does when we’d rather not face something difficult. It is really just symptomatic of a lazy lack of creativity or curiosity, loneliness or a depressive episode. But whether we believe it exists or not, it seems that boredom finds us either way.

Perhaps our leisure time has expanded faster than our ability to make good use of it. None of our time has to be spent with former ages’ worries like hunting or chopping wood for fires, and as students, we do not yet need to work a full-time job to support ourselves. It is tempting to use free time to indulge ourselves in doing nothing. However, changing how we use our leisure time could be one method of defeating boredom.

It seems that one antidote to boredom is fear. One is rarely over-relaxed in fear. And hopefully, our response to fear is courage. But cultivating the right kind of fear should be done intentionally. One should not do something that is rashly dangerous or ill-conceived; one could discover a sense of discomfort but also excitement when stepping out of one’s
normal limits or habits. Not all fears are equal.

These days, we work hard, but with modern inventions and technologies our lives are so comfortable, so easy, that it comes naturally to remain at rest when we can. However, we deny nature when we deny struggle. Maybe pressing oneself enough so that blood is coursing, not trudging, would do more good than harm.

Psalm 90 says, “We have rejoiced for the days in which thou hast humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils.” Even tribulation, as awful as it is, can heighten one’s sense of purpose, passion and gratitude. Complacency is bred out of the comfort of stolid customs that we are loath to change.

Or maybe, boredom is more a choice than we might suppose. We could shock ourselves out of it by putting ourselves in exciting situations, but even the most fantastic things can become customary after enough time. Smart phones, which even 30 years ago would be remarkable to see, are now everyday items that barely merit comment except when
they are not working or due to be replaced.

Perhaps boredom is born not so much out of doing unexciting things, but by no longer appreciating the excitement of the things that we do. It is an incredible experience to go to a school where you can read Dante in the English department and then lie on a bed of nails in the physics department. We are all accustomed to these things, but they are certainly remarkable in their way. The education we receive today was once exclusive to only a few, but now we all have access to it. Modern life is filled with new opportunities for new people.

Perhaps boredom is neither totally a choice nor totally remediable. All things in life are passing, and moments of peace will come, and there will also always come something new to hold our attention. However, when boredom surprises in a moment of quiet or solitude, perhaps one way of escaping it is simply by engaging in the process of trying to figure out whether it is even actually there.

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