What Does Boredom Mean to You?

Throughout the semester we have been exploring the fascinating phenomenon called boredom.  We read countless numbers of perspectives from some very influential philosophers, all of whom stated something different and creative about boredom.  Some describe it as a social necessity while others believe to avoid it all costs.  The first perspective that jumped out to me was that of David Foster Wallace.  In his book The Pale King, he made the statement that in order to overcome boredom, you have “to be in one word, unborable”.  He believes that you have to have to be able to find the meaning in the things that you find repetitive or meaningless.  To Wallace, being unborable is to key to achieving success. He says you have to become immune to boredom and realize that what is making you bored could make you prosperous.  The next perspective that stuck with me throughout the semester was that of Soren Kierkegaard.  In his journal The Rotation of Crops he explains how men can overcome the boredom that arises in a relationship with a woman.  He claims that being with one person for an extended period of time creates a lack of physical and mental stimulation because of how repetitive it becomes.  He believes that to avoid boredom in a relationship that a man must experience “eroticism without commitment”.  In other words, he believes that that only way to avoid boredom in a relationship is to have sexual relations with as many women as possible without making commitments to any of them.  These two perspectives are very original and convincing, but I find flaws in both of their so called keys to overcoming boredom.  They just do not convince me.  I want to take these theories and test them with some of the major problems that boredom is causing in today’s society to show just how weak of arguments Wallace and Kierkegaard made.


The Race Connection


When I first starting applying Wallace’s theory to real life situations it made me think of how boredom affects young children in the classroom.  Today many children are performing poorly in the classroom due to boredom.  This boredom can be drawn from a lack of excitement in the classroom or from simply wanting to do something else other than sitting in a classroom.  No matter where the boredom in stemming from the academic results are in decline.  Many say that any boredom present in the classroom derives directly from the teacher though.  If the students are unable to successfully interact and relate to the teacher, they find themselves lost and feel there is no need to try.  This is very evident with minority students across the country.  Ever since the integration of schools in 1954, more and more schools are being filled with minority students.  Most of the minorities in the schools are African American, but the Hispanic and Asian American population in schools has been growing.  Minority students are falling victim to becoming bored in class because of the lack of minority teachers.

A study was done by the United States Department of Education in the state of Tennessee in 2000 that compared students who were taught by teachers of the same race as them and students who were not. A simple standardized test was given to students by their teachers as if it was a regular test.  This kept different variables from affecting the data. The numbers they found were troubling, but as expected, students who were taught by a teacher of the same race performed 9 percentile points better than those who were taught by a teacher of a different race.  Black students with black teachers scored 6 % higher than the black students with white teachers.  On the other hand, white students with black teachers scored 9% lower than the white students with white teachers.

If you were to tell these students to use David Foster Wallace’s theory of being unborable, it would do little in improving their academic success.  It is difficult to tell someone to find interest in something being taught to them by someone they have almost nothing in common with no matter how old they are.  Children find comfort and trust in people who have similar characteristics to them.  Since some minority students do not trust their teachers they become bored.  The lack of comfort ends all effort to build a relationship with the teacher, causing them to feel that class is a waste of time.  These students feel like they have nothing to do.  They cannot relate to the teacher so they do not want to learn.  They are stuck in a classroom so they cannot freely do what they want. This cycle repeats itself every day and prohibits these students from making any type of progress. 

You may say that the reason why these children cannot apply Wallace’s theory because of how young they are, but applying his theory is hard for anyone to do.  Taking a boring situation and finding something interesting about it is simple.  Many children cope with their boredom in class by using their cell phones because it interests them.  Realizing that boredom can lead you to finding the key to your success in life is the difficult part. This is where I find a flaw in Wallace’s theory.  If a certain task is boring someone, that person is most likely going to get fed up with whatever they have to do and quit.  They will leave the task at hand without any intentions of returning to it.  In most cases, a person will remember how boring a situation was a will avoid experiencing it again. So getting someone to apply Wallace’s theory of exploring the significance of their boredom is just too hard.  Even if a person has grasped the concept, it is still hard to apply it to their lives.  People have been avoiding boredom for so long that it has become second nature, and changing it is nearly impossible.  


Just Commit Already

Out of all of the different perspectives we have read this year, I find the biggest flaw with Kierkegaard’s theory.  I believe that his theory of eroticism without commitment is just a generalization.  Having multiple sexual relations with different women is not the way to avoid boredom in a relationship.  His view is making it seem that every marriage is torn apart by unhappiness and boredom, which is not true.  Of course going to sleep and waking up with the same person every day and night can become repetitive and boring, but that is not the point of relationship.  A relationship is all about how much effort is put in by both the woman and the man.  If there is no effort, then boredom will surely arise. 

When diagnosing Kierkegaard’s theory, I tried to apply it to my own relationship that I have with my girlfriend.  I felt that my relationship was perfect to try to apply his theory to because my girlfriend and I have been dating for three years.  My girlfriend also goes to school in Maryland, so we also have to deal with the issue of distance.  Not seeing my girlfriend everyday creates what I think can be the most profound boredom at times.  There are days when all I want is just a hug or do something as simple as getting something to eat with her, but cannot because we are apart.  This causes me to have to do a lot of those things by myself.  We try to cope with not seeing each other every day by making sure that we talk every night so we can catch up each other.  As you can see I have experienced a fair amount of boredom over the past few years, but telling me to deal with it by just talking to a bunch of different girls will never end the boredom that arises in my relationship.  Although eating alone and talking to her every night gets repetitive at times, the amount of love I have for her keeps me from getting bored with our relationship.  I care about her so much that the conversations we have every night are always exciting to me.  I will listen to her complain about how stressful her day was, not because I want to, but because I know it makes her feel better.  This is one thing that I believe men struggle with in relationships.  Most of the time a man does not want to hear his wife complaining so they just tune her out or ask her to stop.  They do not take the time to listen.  Once a woman feels that her husband is not paying attention to her, she then stops paying attention to him.  The lack of attention then leads to a lack of communication which causes the relationship to become dull and seemingly pointless.  If both the man and woman care about each other there will never be enough dull moments to make the entire relationship boring.  Caring causes each one to always want to do something special for the other.  When affection is constantly being shown excitement remains a constant in the relationship causing their love for one another to never fade away.

Kierkegaard’s alternative to marriage can be more boring than marriage itself.  Having sexual relations with someone and not having any feelings for them is dull.  You feel empty inside because no emotions are involved.  Since there is no emotion in these types of relations, your actions lack purpose.  Of course there are some that say the physical stimulation makes these non-committing relationships worth it, but the physical stimulation is only momentary. Feeling love and affection stimulates for an infinite amount of time.  I would rather be in a repetitive relationship where I feel appreciated and loved than one that offers no reward at the end.

            Although both David Foster Wallace and Soren Kierkegaard make very creative and unique arguments, their theories do not work in all cases.  If Wallace’s approach was simpler it would be more effective. This way people could understand his theory and be able apply it to their lives.  Kierkegaard has a negative outlook on relationships and fails to realize that a lot of people are happy and satisfied with their partner.  This class has taught me that no one theory will ever solve boredom’s mystery. Even though boredom is seen in a negative light, we may need it after all.   If philosophers keep trying to create different theories to avoid it, why do loopholes always exist?  Boredom has remained present for so many years, so it must be a necessity.  One idea that Wallace and Kierkegaard do seem to hit on is that boredom may just be the indication that people deserve better and more exciting things in their life.  For Wallace, he believes the things that bore you can lead you to success if recognized properly.  Although Kierkegaard has a jaded view of relationships, his theory helped me realize that boredom in a relationship is a vice that helps indicate when men need show their partner they care more.  This could be true or it could be completely wrong, but it is what boredom means to me.  Boredom is so unique because it can mean different things to different people.  I find flaws in Wallace and Kierkegaard’s theories because boredom serves a different purpose for them.  Even though boredom is a vice for me, Kierkegaard finds it to be a social evil.  From studying these two theories I learned that boredom, whether embraced or avoided, helps show people what things will and will not help them thrive.  It is up the person to decide what purpose boredom serves for them.     


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