A VITAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Boredom could be of various kinds. Milan Kundera’s three kinds are: passive (the girl dancing and yawning), active (kite-lovers) and rebellious (people burning buses and smashing shop windows).

Peter Toohey’s categorises it into two types: simple and existential. Simple boredom (the kind of boredom which a child experiences trapped in a classroom) is an emotion. This kind of boredom is produced by temporarily unavoidable and predictable circumstances. The people most susceptible to it are those who are trapped in a situation and can’t get out, “such as young children at school”. Simple boredom is not for the intellectuals. Existential boredom, on the other hand, is a state and not an emotion. It is cerebral and is a reflection of the sense of emptiness and isolation. Existentially bored persons find it difficult to concentrate. “I suspect people have experienced boredom from time immemorial”, writes Toohey. He argues that boredom is an essential aspect of human experience.

The effect of boredom can be devastating.

Teachers, preachers, and government officials can ask us to sit still indefinitely and also expect us to behave properly. We often do that, but cannot keep ourselves away from getting bored. Boredom can be artificially induced; one can get bored with old products, with dangerous ideas. Boredom’s “deceivingly innocuous nature” may be its greatest strength.

Many think we are becoming increasingly impatient and becoming more prone to boredom. Many people believe it is due to excessive ‘entertainment’ that is made available to us. In the midst of too much, one suddenly gets bored.

The passionate involvement with our occupations was much more in the good old days. The peasants loved their land. The shoemakers knew every customer’s feet by heart. The meaning of life was available to them at their workplace, in their field. Each occupation had its own way of being. Today, we are all alike, says Kundera, all of us bound together by our shared apathy towards our work.

Boredom has a good side too. It enables us to look more precisely at ourselves. It doesn’t mean one should get into the trap of boredom deliberately. It means emotion of any kind can’t be trivial and even a so-called trivial emotion can do wonders. Boredom can encourage daydreaming, which may lead to creativity. It is said that situations of prolonged boredom are dangerous and harmful to the brain, as they might affect the brain’s plasticity. Boredom, perhaps, is a biological warning that the circumstance you are in is not good for your brain.

Boredom is a vital human experience. Not everyone is capable of boredom. As Nietzsche said, only the most active gets bored. Please remember that you are a lucky animal, in case you get bored.

Shubho Poyla Boisakh.

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh