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.

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