Friday, January 30, 2009

The Anatomy of Boredom

Gil stared melancholically into some invisible void before him. The third grader was totally oblivious to the dust cloud stirred by the numerous children playing all over the school’s quadrangle.

“Hello, Gil?” I waved a hand in front of his face. “Don’t you want to play with your classmates?”
“No, thanks, Father,” he said without showing any sign of escaping from the imaginary black-hole he was being sucked into.
“Why not? There’s so much you can do and enjoy at recess time, like tag, shatong, pantintero, etc.”

“I’ve played all of them and I’m…rather…dunno, just bored.” He listlessly replied, resigned to his solitary state.

* * *

The casual expression that one is bored is commonly understood as being tired or being too weak to carry out one’s usual routine. It is also synonymous to a person’s reluctance to indulge in some activity that he may have done many times in the past. Thus, this expression is quite natural in adults who have already absorbed a great deal of the noble realities of life. But it is quite another thing, –and rather disturbing– to hear similar reaction from our youth who are yet taking their first steps in life.

It is difficult to understand how the slightest strains of boredom can even creep into their minds. Life more than ever, especially in our century, constantly invites them to partake of its goods. In the past 20 years alone, so many things have changed and improved. For example, women have progressed up the social ladder and excelled where only men once reigned. Globalization has broadened knowledge, and wider access to information, transportation and communication has toppled geographical and language barriers. But in spite of these and many more developments, why are men –and especially the youth– bored?

Although there are many causes of this stagnant emotional state, we can ponder on a few factors that could help us to better understand the anatomy of boredom and learn how to overcome this psycho-emotional ailment.

•The heightened materialism of our times –quite surprisingly– is one major factor that foments boredom. It may be argued that the opposite is more likely to be true: material things should precisely free us from being bored since they offer alternatives to indulge ourselves in. But this position only considers man’s bodily needs and fails to address the reality of his soul.

Material things can only go as far as give the body temporal comfort and leisure, but they will always fall short in satiating the soul’s longings which are eternal. When the soul’s inner yearnings are not addressed, i.e. peace, serenity, forgiveness, and affection, etc., then the person succumbs to seeking material substitutes in the hope of drowning the inner emptiness –that is, boredom– in his soul.

This traps man within a cycle of material indulgence that gives way to boredom. The person who is bored tries to remove his interior vacuum by filling it with material things. But since the soul can only be fully satisfied with spiritual realities, i.e. in virtues like faith, hope and love, the person will always be unhappy. Since material things cannot cure a spiritual malady as boredom, then the person’s sadness grows in proportion to his attempts to resolve his ever growing discontentment. Finally, he finds all efforts useless and meaningless. At this point he has reached the summit of spiritual boredom which transforms life into a horizontal plateau confined to a material world.

The youth can also be trapped within this materialistic cycle. This is especially true when they experience not only the mass production of materials things, but also “enjoy” the ease with which things are obtained. Moreover, parents, –with the notion of making their children happy– cede to almost every request of their kids without first discerning their needs from their wants. This breeds an “everything-is-given-to-me” attitude in children who then end up easily having too much of everything with no meaning.

This materialistic attitude then causes the disintegration of a very important ingredient in youth: idealism or that of the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc. Idealism requires some points of reference to compare with, build upon and further improve: these are our traditions and customs of our society.

Now a materialistic vision of life dries up any idealism in youth because everything is already given to them. Thus, there is a prevailing tendency in the young to be less appreciative of the values of the past and a great reluctance to take upon the responsibilities of the future. To live and enjoy the present seems to be the only thing that matters for them, and the phrase, “Youth the hope of tomorrow” no longer has any significance for them.

Youth’s material activism and lost idealism then matures into the mature fruit of the self-centered me. This void of selfishness becomes the seedbed of many other interior vices that begin to well up in the form of disordered attachment to materials things and disrespectful language, disobedience, and many more. This is the sad portrait of today’s youth snared in the subtle but sticky web of boredom.

How are we going to solve this crisis in our youth today? That is what we will attempt to carry out in the second part of this article.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

“The Importance of Being Guy”

(Part 2)

We can be further enlightened by a recent study entitled Homosexuality and Hope by the Catholic Medical Association. In one point, the study says that “persons should not be identified with their emotional or developmental conflicts as though this were the essence of their identity.” As much as this stresses that people with emotional difficulties cannot simply resign themselves to giving in to their identity crisis; it also helps to understand why they cannot be simply labeled based on such identity conflicts. Thus, the same study partly concludes that “it is probably wise to avoid wherever possible using the words homosexual and heterosexual as nouns since such usage implies a fixed state and an equivalence between the natural state of man and woman as created by God and persons experiencing same sex attractions or behaviors.”

Secondly, this corporeal truth about man is further appreciated and reinforced by the profound truth of his origins: that is, his creational reality. It is something that points to the truth –without which man and woman’s purpose in life will not be complete or fulfilled– that God created us. This is, and has to be the very basis of the identity of man and woman. John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, says: “Man is created from the very beginning as male and female: the life of all humanity –whether of small communities or of society as a whole– marked by this primordial duality. From it there derive the ‘masculinity’ and the ‘femininity’ of individuals, just as from it every community draws its own unique richness in the mutual fulfillment of persons. (no. 6)” Thus, the identity of a man or a woman is not an arbitrary thing in the mind of God, but is in fact laden with a divine design for man and society’s perfection.

Disregarding the corporeal and creational dimensions of man’s identity will always lead towards the auto-rationalized abyss of one’s emotional and psychological states that dictate a false identity. This chosen artificial identity will eventually result to confusion, tension and depression because the person’s authentic corporeal and creational identities, which contain such human and spiritual wealth, will never allow themselves to be traded for by any easy emotional substitutes worn like badge. These original (i.e. originating from) dimensions in every man or woman will continue to bear witness from within, and in the process the person will never find respite unless he or she sincerely confronts and struggles to overcome his erratic psycho-emotional-sensible states. It is precisely through a personal human and spiritual struggle in placing these dimensions within their proper context that the person can find the meaning of life, retrace his steps back to God.

Given this wonderful truth, the person in the midst of emotional, sexual or psychological glitches ought to consider that God, who is his Father, has a reason for allowing such experiences. In fact, when such personal problems are realistically confronted they become an original expression of one’s personal struggle –with the help of God’s grace and a director– to gradually conform oneself with our creational identity. For this, one has to strive to find and establish one’s perfection –human and spiritual– according to the true identity given him by God.

Monday, January 26, 2009

“The Importance of Being Guy”

(Part I)

Overwhelmed by fatigue, Arthur took one deep breath and lunged at the beast with all his might, piercing and penetrating the only vulnerable part of its impermeable hide. The cold metal sang as it began to feel and drink the warmth of the monster’s blood, finding its now terrified heart and cleaving it in two and killing the fire breather in an instance.

King Arthur’s hands were trembling--for a moment sword and man were one--as he slowly eased their grasp from Excaliber that vibrated with victorious triumph over the remains of a once undefeatable worm of fire.

Letting go of his sword, the King ran towards the sacrificial pole to free his beloved princess. He hastily cut the gnarled ropes and gently lowered her to the ground. “Oh, my dearest Arthur!” the princess replied, “The swiftness of thy sword is beyond knowing! Behold to thee, my entire being I bequeath!” Arthur embraced princess Lancelot and raised him upon his steed and they galloped into the setting horizon and they lived happily ever after!

Princess Lancelot? Surely this isn’t some sort of joke or a part of some story from a collection of politically correct versions of children’s legends and adventures? Not exactly, but it is something that we are witnessing before our very eyes. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Lawrence et al. v. Texas case, claimed that homosexuals are now “allowed to enter a relationship in the confines of their homes and still retain their dignity as free persons.” In these past few weeks alone we have been seeing same-sex marriages in the U.S. and Europe grabbing the daily headlines.

This is the result of the efforts by persons in so-called sexual-minority groups who have been waging a revolution –in the hope of somehow finding an identity it can claim as its own– that has been gradually digging its claws deeper into every strand of the social fiber. The effort of carving out their distinctiveness in society, however, fails in basing man’s identity upon emotional or psychological factors. Rather than confront these personal trials, gay-rights advocates are making every possible effort to justify that their condition deserves a specific social identity. But unfortunately, this only leads to a process of auto-labeling and forms the fragile self-made psycho-emotional prison that gradually fortifies itself by rationalizing acts that are essentially contrary to man’s true identity.

It is understandable that due to personal weakness, ignorance or family upbringing, it is all too easy for one to fall into any crisis of identity and most especially when media generally projects distorted and confusing role-models for today’s youth. Instead of addressing these sources of personal disorientation, there are those who attempt to resolve the problem by giving it a more socially acceptable label –we call this euphemism; or worse by simply converting the crisis itself into an entirely new identity or social role –we call this not being sincere with oneself. These solutions, obviously, do not resolve the crisis of identity; in fact they simply hide the problem which then becomes an empty shell and a vacuum to other spiritual and moral setbacks. The real and sincere solution lies in understanding man’s true identity.

In the first place, his identity isn’t just a mask that he puts on or off at whim because it isn’t something simply sentimental but also intrinsically linked to his corporeality, that is, his body. It is a material reality that identifies the person either as a man or a woman. Man’s body isn’t something that we can change at will unlike our desire, imagination or feelings, and therefore a defining reality of man’s role in society. On the other hand, our emotions or psychological states are poor determinants of identity because by themselves they cannot define the totality of the human person.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


With summer vacation families have once again found time to bond together. Likewise, these “bonding moments” may have offered new challenges as some of their children enter the stage of adolescence.

Adolescence has commonly been branded as the unavoidable onset of psychological and emotional imbalances in youth. It initiates the young person into a state of “new confusion” as he struggles to grapple with his personal identity and security. Thus, it has become the common scapegoat for teenagers’ misbehavior, bad grades and vices, etc.

This inevitable phase in youth is often hard to adjust to and live with. It is a stage sometimes described as co-inhabiting with someone “who has a slight mental illness”. Others would dismiss it as something that they can’t do much about and just have to let it “pass by”. In short, the adolescent phase often has a negative connotation for both parents and educators.

But who of us have not passed through adolescence? Who of us have not endured its difficulties, misunderstandings, loneliness and rebellion? It’s only right that for those of us who have already gone through this confusing and obscure moment of growing up, to understand those who are at this moment going through it.

Adolescence is quite a complex phase in our children’s lives, and it would be beyond our scope to outline all its manifestations. I am now more interested with our dispositions towards it, that is, how we learn to grow up with it by extracting its positive points to better help our children. However, when these points are not properly embraced, that is, when parents immediately take their children’s reactions personally against their authority or views, then the channels of communication can become quite fuzzy.

We can identify three principal adolescent traits: their sense of self-affirmation, sexual identity and a sense of justice. It is important to already take these to heart and inject in our children the proper ideas and examples that would later on help them to harmoniously exercise these important traits of personal and character development. Now parents must engage these teenage qualities in two stages: before and during adolescence.

BEFORE. If parents are ever surprised or shocked at the sudden appearance of negative teenage reactions, they have no one to blame but themselves. This is probably one of the main reasons why parents are mainly unable to cope with it: they were caught unprepared. While they may be fully aware of this phase, parents may take for granted that it is something they should have been intellectually, emotionally and creatively anticipating.

Most of what adolescence is now greatly depends on how we have prepared our children beforehand. At this stage they can already be prepared to cope with the future trials that sexual identity may bring with it. This can be addressed by giving them a lot of self-confidence, boosting their self-esteem, applying moderate doses of praise and reasoned out corrections help them to mature profoundly and guide them to negotiate the sharp curves of teenage years.

This is not very easy today, especially when there is more emphasis on external or material concerns like academic excellence, material well-being, and future security. They must add to this moderated material concern the ingredient of helping their children to already discover their more important identity and role within the family and society.

An important aspect of “identity discovery” would be to show the importance of their role in the family. This isn’t only done by giving them chores or similar responsibilities, but for them to realize and value that they are gifts being prepared for something wonderful: for God and neighbor. At this stage, they understand that their parents’ role is to package them so that they may continue being capable of freely giving something truly valuable and lasting. Thus, the authority of parents, house rules, the need to academically excel, etc. are properly contextualized in the service of God and the family.

DURING. The anticipation and preparation for our children’s adolescence doesn’t mean eradicating all its problematic traits. And life as such, isn’t complete with its own share of rough moments. This is a chance for us to learn how to live with it, but not by taking a defensive or confrontational stance.

By this time youth would be seeking to affirm themselves and appeal for justice, it is indispensable for parents to know how to listen. Listening becomes a fruitful space that we offer them. And as we listen, we can also pray for whatever their concerns are even though how crazy they may sound.

But if we are only too quick to point out for example: their being often out of the house, the undone chores, the late arrivals, their forgetfulness, the loud music, etc. Then let us not be surprised that our children react with either indifference or rebellion.

If, however, they realize that we listen, then they will “feel important” because they are being “heard”, “respected”, “trusted” and “understood”. Our reply to their “claims” ought to be, “I’ll give that some thought,” or “you know, you have a point there,” or “I believe there’s something important in what you’ve said, could we talk this over with some beer?”

When we recognize that the changes in our children are part of their experience of self-dominion, we will discontinue being stiff molds and become flexible guides. We begin to trust by giving them the space to develop the proper skills to responsibly exercise their freedom, to discover their personal identity and role in family and society. It’s learning to let go by offering a guiding hand and a firm shoulder to lean on.