My Mother used to say this all the time. I don’t remember her saying it to me, but I remember her saying it to my kids and their cousins. Her theory has always been that there are too many interesting things to do in life, and one never, ever needs to be bored. If you are bored, you’re just not being observant enough of your opportunities.
Of course, when you’re a kid, being bored usually means that the entertainments you’re looking for aren’t readily available. For me it meant there was nothing good on television. (Back in the day, you couldn’t pop in a DVD, pull up NetFlix online or watch YouTube. You had to wait for the program to be broadcast. And if you missed it, you missed it.)
Now, I guess, a kid is bored when the WiFi is out.
For my Mom, growing up in a time without TV, without WiFi, without telephones (much less cell phones), when the average family owned one radio or less, being bored would have meant something entirely different. And it may never have happened to her. Not knowing there would ever come a time when entertainment would be made for you and would be available at turn of a knob, the click of a mouse, the stab of a finger, or the utterance of the words “Siri, find me…” she and her friends were more mentally prepared to find their amusements. There were plenty of books to read, even if it was the depression. There were caves to explore, mountains to hike…
Did I mention, in my Mother’s youth, parents didn’t really tend to worry if they didn’t see their kids between breakfast time and dinner time? Things really have changed.
And I wonder, since so many people, my kids included, have told me that rural areas like the one my parents grew up in are boring, if the difference isn’t just based on the time in history in which you grew up, but upon the type of place in which you grew up. Does the current generation of teens and twenty-somethings find rural areas boring because they’re used to the hyperactive world of video games and Internet, or did city and suburban kids always have a harder time finding ways to amuse themselves?
Did city kids in the 1930s also find themselves bored if the streetcar wasn’t running?
I don’t really know. I do know this… I’m never bored. I’m just not. If anything, there’s too much to do in this world, at least from my perspective. My question when I have a spare hour is never “What can I do?” it’s “What do I do first?”
Nor am I ever bored by accident of place. I always have a book, or, barring that, my phone, my iPad or laptop. So I always have something to read. And I can always read. But what if I can’t read? What if I have no reading material? What if there’s no one to talk to, nothing to read, and I have no access to the tools I need to work? For hours on end?
After hours on end, I might be moved to boredom. But it would have to be a lot of hours, trapped in a place I could not escape, and which was not interesting to explore. I suppose some of the longer meetings I’ve attended, where it wasn’t an option to hide behind electronics, come to mind. Yes, I am one of those people who have their device in front of them during meetings. Some find that rude. I suppose it may be. I am actually saying, by having it in front of me, that what they’re talking about may not be interesting enough to keep me mentally busy. So… that’s probably rude. Sorry. Isn’t it also rude to talk about something, for hours on end, that other people don’t care about?
So, yes, being trapped in a situation where I had nothing to do but listen to others talk, thus drowning out the sound of my own thoughts, would be very, very boring indeed for me.
Because, you see, I’m not the least bit afraid to be alone with my thoughts. I have pretty interesting thoughts. At least, I think I do. I can amuse myself for quite a few hours just by thinking. And if I have some tool for recording words — tablet, laptop, typewriter, pencil — I can write. I can put those thoughts down and possibly even amuse others.
But I’ve noticed that a lot of people around me get bored, and seem to have a deathly fear of being alone with their thoughts. They must plan endless series of amusements (usually costing a lot of money) to keep them occupied during all the hours they’re awake and not working. If they don’t have plans, they’ll pace and fidget and announce, “We need to do something!” I assume they need to do this because they either have nothing going on in their heads, or what is going on in their heads is uncomfortable for them.
Why is that? I’m asking because I don’t know. I can’t imagine being so uncomfortable with your own mind that you have to drown it out. I also can’t imagine having a mind that’s so empty that it can’t keep you occupied in the absence of a high level of external stimuli.
I can’t imagine being bored. Not any more. Except in that very specific situation I describe above where I can’t focus on my thoughts and the thoughts coming to me from others are not interesting.
But left to my own devices? How could I be bored? The world is too interesting a place. My Mother is absolutely right. The world does not allow us to be bored. It’s a condition others sometimes impose upon us, and, ultimately, one we impose upon ourselves.