Boredom is rage spread thin (Paul Tillich)
There are so many opportunities for humans to find life awesome, to find encounters inspiring, to engage in curious and provocative conversations, to listen to music, and/or birds, to watch water falling over rocks, or blowing waves against a dock or a retaining wall, to read a book, to play old fashioned games like solitaire, or elementary card games, to walk in the forest, along a shoreline, up a mountain, to ride a bike, a skateboard, to fly a kite, or simply to sketch on a piece of paper. And yet, there are so many of all generations who express in words that they are bored, and/or whose face shines a faint light that suggests boredom. And, there is clearly no way by which the mountain of tech devices can or will even fill the void that so many experience’ those devices merely express the boredom so much more easily, conveniently and immediately.
And if Tillich is even partly correct, (and there are very good reasons to suggest he is ‘right on’) our contemporary culture is virtually seething with rage, without enough evidence for that rage to rise to the level of a social problem. Keeping it under the mask of boredom, we all learn that so long as we do not “act out” our boredom, no one will pay enough attention to challenge us to take responsibility to fill our own momentary, or even long-standing boredom.
When adolescent students would tell me they were bored, back in another life, I cheekily replied, “I find most bored people also very boring! Are you one who is also boring?” The implication of my retort was always that, of course, they likely did not want to be boring so they might search for their own paths of discovery that would put them on a course leading to engagement, involvement, reflection, or even creating. Today, I would wonder out loud if they might have tried any of the many opportunities, some of which were listed above.
It is our sense of detachment, our sense of being lonely, alienated, ignored, and even bullied that often dampens our curiosity, our courage and our risk-taking capacity, leaving us somewhat immobilized, indifferent and eventually bored, if not fully enraged.
Not being listened to, “heard” in the vernacular (Tillich also says the first act of love is listening!), while appearing to be fully “connected” to another is frighteningly painful, and when the world is full of dangerous and threatening information pounding our psyches relentlessly 24-7-365, our personal interactions become even more important. And given the negativity of both the conventional flow of information and the prospects for many to climb out of the many ghettos in which they find themselves, especially when compared with the uber wealthy (that old .1% of the population), it is clearly not surprising that so many are “bored” and vulnerable to a conversion moment.
Fundamentalist religions, and their respective proselytes, (salesmen and women, propagandists, evangelists, and charismatic leaders) depend on the boredom and the ennui of others for their work. And, there is clearly no shortage of ‘ripe fruit’ to pick from the low branches of the social and cultural ‘tree’. We are also the object of billions of dollars of advertising and marketing campaigns trying to suck cash from our credit and debit cards for purchases that obviously benefit the producer/seller much more than they do the purchaser. In a society obsessed with the motive of instant gratification, whose every irritant has a product or service to alleviate, and not remove, the need, depending on its return for additional sales. We want and demand to be entertained, to be catered to, to be puffed up and flattered by our politicians, and our marketing machines to the point that we are complicit in our own dependence on outside forces/agents/things/people for our sense of well-being.
While it is true that we are most likely to accomplish commendable goals in the company of others, and the opportunities for volunteering, and for joining various projects of culture, athletics, political activism, abound, there is for many, an impenetrable wall, a gate-keeping wall of resistance to new people joining a circle already established. One woman, a life-time resident of a small community, recently expressed her frustration that “I can’t even volunteer in my own town!” precisely because those already engaged in whatever activity she had wished to join were resistant to new people.
Boredom, that rage spread thin, has so many small and seemingly insignificant root causes, many of them about the attitudes that abound about “how things are done here” and whether or not, at the grassroots level, there is a window of opportunity for entry. We are a culture of both superior and inferior ghettos, resulting in “established” clusters moating themselves off from the ideas of outsiders. Comfort levels are just another way of saying “leave us alone” if a new approach to a shared problem is offered. And walling off and out, simply by the turning of the eyes away from an encounter, leaving the new person painfully conscious of his/her “outsideness” is one of the more painful experiences of a new situation for many.
And there are so many small and seemingly innocent barriers to acceptance in our world. Of course we are welcome as a source of revenue in a commercial transaction; in fact, our welcome and engagement with others has fallen almost exclusively to such transactions. We all have been trained like obedient seals, to buy and to sell, given the plethora of locations and platforms available for both. Needless to say, however, such transactions are not often the foundation of new relationships. And when the number and the size of the various transactions are the primary focus of our waking moments, it is little wonder that we are bored with the mundanity of our encounters. And it is also highly likely that our reduction of our encounters to just another transaction, just another source of revenue, or of networking (that most detested of job-related skills), reduces our concept ourselves to another ‘number’ to fill another empty slot in someone’s or some organization’s organization chart.
We know, everyone knows, that all of management today is engaged in a tsunami of tactics to cut costs, even if the organization is profitable, or even if the organization is saying it is operating on “higher” principles and a higher ‘ethic’. Careers are both built and lost on the recommendations to save money, to have more work accomplished with fewer costs, and obviously with fewer workers. Piling on to already highly productive and resourceful and also competent workers, for the sake of either making more money, or of saving more money, is a way guaranteed to alienate those very people from themselves, and also from their workplace community. The corporate model of worker as “raw material” to be used even to the point of exhaustion, without collective support from either union membership or worker co-operative, is a guaranteed pathway to short-term results without consideration of long-term needs.
If we are, and likely to remain, mere cogs in the power-structure’s machine, we will generate a universal volcano of boredom that will have no other choice but eventually to erupt. And boredom, while not registering on the social “problem” scales of cities and towns, as well as schools and colleges and universities, is nevertheless, a dynamic to which our collective compliance in surrendering to and succumbing to the “corporate” mentality inevitably leads. And that cultural mind-set reduces us all to the “means of another’s purposes”. We are sacrificing the most important and integral part of our personhood, our own purpose and meaning to make the achievement of the power-elites’ goals a reality.
And, that part of the 99-1 % differential has not, is not, and will not be the topic of political debates, like those offered by Bernie Sanders, when the disparity of incomes and wealth are the subject of inequality. It is the hidden and the psychic and emotional “inequalities” that render millions bored, despairing and despondent. And all of the micro-loans and all of the micro-businesses, and all of the “Pell grants” and the other programs that help to support higher education will not do anything to feelings of boredom that accompany the workplace ethos in millions of organizations.
We are loath to fully integrate others, even highly educated and creative others into our established patterns; we are fully conscious that our communications are fraught with errors of both omission and commission, rendering their accurate and full accomplishment unlikely if not impossible; we are paying consultants millions to study our problems in organizations and then implementing their structural reforms, so that our superiors think and often believe that we have made the changes necessary to make the “place” work much more in tune with the lofty ideals that glisten on our “mission statements”. And yet we ignore the kind of obvious and bread-and-butter concepts that make any group transcend the mere performance objectives that are baked into the cake of organization management, the human interactions that care for, listen to, engage with and especially empathize with those in our circle. Of course we pay lip service to such an approach; we all know about such an approach. Yet if and when such an approach is proferred, especially in real terms by people with real power, it is dismissed as “too costly” or “too unprofessional” or “too messy” and thereby passed over.
We have made workplace “beds” in which no one can or will sleep, and this is not an argument for workers sleeping on the job. We have created a culture in which people are little more than digits to be moved at will to fill empty slots, to be worked more and more efficiently without really caring about their human and emotional and psychic needs, and we wonder why the boredom confronts us everyday everywhere.
Tillich may be more prophetic than he could have imagined when he wrote, “Boredom is rage spread thin!”