Boredom is Laziness

We live in a culture of boredom. It may seem odd that, within the most overstimulated society in human history, there is such rampant boredom, but I am not sure that this is quite as odd as it seems. These apparent — and delightful — contradictions are riddled across the flux of  life, in all of its forms.

The real question is simpler and more direct. What is boredom and what can be done about it?

Here is the situation: My two sons are generally occupied without interruption, but they do occasionally come and tell me that they are, collectively, bored. I bristle. I have no patience for boredom. None at all.

Today’s reply was as clear I’ve been thusfsar. “You are not bored, you are just being lazy; stop being lazy and that will cure you of your boredom.”

This at least approximates the truth of the matter, I think. Boredom is evil, in the metaphysical sense. It is a privation. There is no such thing as actually being bored. Boredom is merely a condition that brought on by sloth, producing a perverse inversion and squandering of the great capacities of the human imagination.

The constructive educational lesson is that living is an art in the most direct sense of the hard work of creativity. Art takes work. And time.

When we refuse to live, to embrace the rigor of the art of living, we are susceptible to boredom. We are dead in the empty, nihilistic sense. We exist contrary to what and who we are.

Rather than wax existential or culturally despondent about it, however, all we really need to do is to stop being lazy and get to work.

Play, dance, suffer, make, die, rejoice, join, depart, heal, write everyday, clean a wound, be still, offer. These are just a few alternatives to boredom.

The other so-called cures — the news, the news, shopping, the news, the news, the memes, and the links and stories about how bad everything is and how scared and horrified you should be and how angry we need to get to fix it so share it with everyone and comment rabidly about it and what the score was and the entertainment highlights and all the ads and super sales — are really just compacted boredom, a laziness that can seem quite active and even exhausting, but is the more menacing cousin of my boy’s daytime apathy.

We don’t need to fear boredom. It is nothing. Snark and piety won’t disabuse nothingness. We just need to get to work doing something instead of nothing.

  • Bob

    Obviously our overstimulation and boredom are not in contradiction. The overstimulation is a product of the deep boredom that is at the core of our lives.

  • Jennifer Fitz

    I have one child who will come to me for ideas when she doesn’t know what to do with herself. I’d feel weird obliging her, except she actually wants my suggestions — if I name one of her hobbies, she’ll usually tell me “Good idea!” and go do it. But we use the time-tested remedy to cure truly bored children and adults: If you’re going to be miserable anyway, quit bothering me and go do something useful.

  • arty

    Philip Rieff argued that the central motif of Western culture since the late 19th century is “movement”, and the central cultural fear is boredom. My kids haven’t gotten quite old enough to give me the “I’m bored” line–Could be an interesting experiment trying to explain Rieff to an 8 year old. :-) Maybe I’ll have to go with your laziness talk, instead.

  • Y. A. Warren

    In my upbringing in the RCC, the only way to avoid sin was to do nothing, as did so many of the “sainted” mystics. All achievement was seen as arrogance, the “sin” of pride. Many in the family, and in our “Christian” society, now embrace living in nothingness and “disability” as virtue.

  • Sir Mark

    So you have no patience for the bored amongst us, none at all. Well, I thank all that is good and holy that our Lord does.

    • SamRocha

      Worst than that, I also have no patience for poor readers.

  • Melody

    Makes me think of when I was a kid, and would complain to Mom that I was bored. She would reply, “Oh, that’s good. I have plenty of work to do. Here, dust the furniture (or hang the washing out to dry, wash the dishes, etc.). I got so that I didn’t ask her to find me something to do. Worked for my kids too.

  • a dad

    Periodic boredom is as natural to a child (and adult) as air. It can also be a necessary condition for the creative act. If you are speaking of chronic boredom, you are then speaking of serious emotional and spiritual paralysis. The two states are not the same, Sam. I hope, when you bristle, you are not confusing your son into thinking they are. That would be deadly.

    • SamRocha

      This natural distinction is very foreign to my own experience. So is the hyperbole about confused analytic distinctions being deadly.

  • a dad

    p.s. to my comment below, Sam. When my son, periodically, tells me he is bored and asks what he should do, my answer is always, “son, I don’t know.” And I don’t.
    The boredom always gives way naturally to a very involved kid being in a very involving world.

    • SamRocha

      Nothing “always” happens in my home, but it is nice to see that yours is so tidy and predictable.

  • a dad

    Sam, if periodic boredom is foreign to your experience, I would argue that you are too “busy” in the worst sense of the word.

    Also, by your own admission, this “periodic boredom” is not foreign to the experience of your sons. All the more reason to understand the deadliness of confusing analytic distinctions. Bad ideas can kill.

    Lastly, your sarcasm about “always” is noted, forgiven and dismissed.

    • SamRocha

      Save the psychoanalysis. I am busy, that is true, but they key here is the ontology of boredom, as the term is operationalized in the short essay.

      Bad ideas can lead to lots of things, death is certainly one of them, but it is reckless hyperbole to suggest that your imported sense of the term ‘boredom’ has anything to do with what I am writing about here.

      As for my sarcasm, I don’t apologize for it. I think you deserved, and still deserve, it. Your comments here are off-putting in the most ungenerous way imaginable. I would never do the same to a father writing about his children.

  • a dad

    Sam, my last comment. Regarding your last sentence, you just did.

    • SamRocha

      Fair enough on the last comment, and here is mine too, since you began: I am responding to your presumptuous psychologizing remarks, but I never offered any of my own, only my generic distaste for them. That may be similar by degree of a basic lack of generosity, but it doesn’t begin to approach your self-assured and prescriptive nonsense. The only term I used satirical was taken from your own mouth. I added nothing to it.