By Max Rosenblum
I do not do well when I’m bored. My personality is such that I subconsciously feel a constant need to be “doing” something, whatever that something may be. I am, as a result, rarely bored.
I suspect I am not the only one who wrestles with this phenomenon, especially at a school with a plethora of high-functioning, type-A students. Perhaps as a means of avoiding misery in my perpetual plight against boredom, I’ve given some thought as to why I cannot be content with boredom. Is it in my nature, to constantly be “doing?” Or has some force outside my control left me with this situation?
I’m inclined to feel that the latter plays a significantly more substantial role than the former. The cult of productivity that our contemporary American society has fomented from even the earliest age, in my opinion, is to blame for my immense sense of discomfort with boredom.
As children, we are told that it is important to do well in school, act as moral beings, and take care of ourselves. You must do your homework, you must be kind to your sibling, and you must make your bed in the morning. Whether or not a child abides by these mandates, these mandates are nevertheless rooted in the idea of doing an action as a means to an end. Hence, productivity.
Since our society, our dominant discourse — perhaps resulting from the dual forces of the Protestant work ethic and capitalism — has deemed that productivity is the rule, any action that does not reflect adherence to this rule feels in some way “wrong.” As we mature from children to adults, our brains are habituated by this feeling of “wrongness” when we are not engaged in a productive activity, thus fusing the two concepts of wrongness and non-productivity together in our minds.
While some would object to the premise that all actions are necessarily productive, I would contend that they actually are. Even an action as seemingly unproductive as staring at the ceiling is productive; the ends of doing so might range from taking the mind off a more complex subject by moving it to a less complex subject to merely enjoying the sight of the ceiling. Either way, an end is involved.
Given the premise that all actions are necessarily productive, the idea of boredom, by nature of being rooted in the lack of action or doing, is then rooted in a lack of productivity. And given the feeling of wrongness I feel when being unproductive, (resulting from society’s productivity mandate), it follows that not engaging in any sort of action (and instead engaging in boredom) feels wrong and uncomfortable.
At least, this is the chain of reasoning I personally utilize as a means of understanding my own discomfort with boredom.
I can’t help but meditate a bit further on the cause of society’s productivity mandate. To me, it does feel rooted in a culture devoted to capitalism — more specifically, a culture devoted to the idea that working to make money is the standard for success in society. If we are told that a life is worthy only if it puts food on the table, then of course it makes sense that we have created a culture where productivity is strongly valued. This value, underlying the societal conception of what is worthy, is then naturally taught to the youngest generation, and the cycle of compulsion (or, at least, of knowing that productivity is the dominant compulsion) repeats itself.
Of course, people in any environment are naturally stimulated by activity. But the obsession with activity, at least in the way I’ve experienced it, feels somewhat unnatural, and makes me feel immensely uncomfortable with boredom.