When we were raising our children, there were some words that we did not allow to be spoken in our house. One was the F-word: “Fair.” As in, “That’s not fair that he gets to go to bed later than I do!” Such a claim would result in a discourse from me on the nature of justice: “Justice does not mean getting what you want, which you seem to assume, but getting what you deserve. What have you done to deserve a later bed time? Besides what you are complaining about is, in fact, fair, since he had the same bedtime that you do when he was your age.”
Also taboo was the B-word: “Bored.” As in, “I’m bored!” In response, I would cite Chesterton’s point that there is no such thing as a boring subject, just a bored person with a lack of imagination. I would also tell about the character in the novel Catch-22 who purposefully tried to make himself bored, since boredom makes time go slowly, which would make him feel that he was living a long life. I would also ask, “How can you possibly be bored with so many toys scattered everywhere?” and then assign them to entertain themselves by cleaning their rooms.
This really did cut down the complaints, showing that academic lectures and Socratic dialogues work even better than punishment as disciplinary measures.
But now that I have read this article, I am thinking I may have been wrong about the B-word: Study Shows Boredom Could Lead to Better Creativity.
The story says that children today are hyper-stimulated by iPads, computers, games, and activities, all in an effort to keep from being bored. But when children have nothing to do and feel bored, they think, reflect, and daydream. This develops their inner life, their imagination, and their creativity.
The story cites several studies discussed in the journal of the American Psychological Association. In an article entitled Never a Dull Moment, Kirsten Weir cited the work of researcher Teresa Belton:
Belton recently interviewed people known for their creative success, including an artist, a novelist, a poet and a neuroscientist. “They all said boredom can instigate new thinking and prod them into trying new things,” she says.
The poet took up his craft in middle age after finding himself stuck in a hospital bed for several hours with nothing to do. The only paper he had available was a stack of Post-It Notes, so he began writing poetry, the most practical activity to fit on three square inches.
“If people don’t have the inner resources to deal with boredom constructively, they might do something destructive to fill the void,” Belton says. “Those who have the patience to stay with that feeling, and the imagination and confidence to try out new ideas, are likely to make something creative out of it.”
This is not to say that boredom has nothing but benefits. It is still a negative feeling that people want to escape. Boredom is also associated with an inability to pay attention, depression, and destructive behavior. So boredom is not good, as such, but it can have certain benefits, if used wisely. Boredom has its part to play in our mental development and in the cultivation of our creative powers.
Children do not have to be kept in a constant state of entertainment. The initial article quoted an “old school” parent, who said that children “need to be bored sometimes.” It also quoted this mother’s 7-year-old daughter: ““I like to be bored because I can come up with ideas.”
This also makes me understand why so many of my students, as well as my own children, turned out as well as they did. I was a good teacher because I was so boring–both in the classroom and at home with things like my F-word and B-word lectures–that I became a catalyst for their creative thinking.