The Power of Boredom
“I’m bored!” my son announced.
“How exciting!” I said. “Stay with it. See what happens.”
I have a pet saying I’ve developed over the years: “If necessity is the mother of invention, curiosity is the father, and boredom is the au pair.” And, like the proverbial Mary Poppins’ effect on the Banks family, boredom can have powerful effects on the human creative process.
When there’s no necessity driving us, and nothing has peaked our curiosity, boredom is there to take care of that human creative inventive spark, and take it somewhere unexpected.
Boredom is the empty space that allows something new to emerge. As the saying goes, you can’t add anything to a full cup. Only when the cup is empty, can something new come in.
Boredom works best when we stay with that edgy feeling of emptiness, patient, mindful, trusting; rather than rushing to escape by filling the cup quickly with whatever is easy to find.
Problem is, our instant-gratification culture believes that boredom is dangerous, and entertainment is the answer.
Financial Gain is the god, and as entertainment moves from being something we do, to something we pay for, boredom becomes the blood sacrifice.
Boredom is indeed dangerous – if you want sheeple.
Boredom, and the restlessness it comes with, provides the perfect soil for original and unexpected ideas to unfold. Boredom allows something to arise from the inside, from our uniqueness, from our inner spark. It is one of the forms of silence that allows that soft inner voice to speak up.
Entertainment, on the other hand, is another chance for all those outer voices to drive us. Entertainment fills us up – and shuts us up.
Financial Gain is delighted when we rush to fill kid’s boredom. Give them a movie, give them a new computer game, new toys, take them for a pizza. Ka-ching. Teach them to consume, and teach them the heresy that boredom is the sign that they need to spend some cash.
“Don’t wander around aimlessly like that! It gets on my nerves! Do something useful with your time!” sounds like good parental guidance, but sadly, it can stop kids from connecting to their passions and their dreams.
Our modern kids’s world is filled wall-to-wall with prescriptive curriculums, extra murals, homework, screen time and family obligations. Where do the kids today find the silence to allow their deep inner guidance to emerge?
When last did your child have the time to ramble in forest or field, going nowhere in particular, poking a stick at the long grass and noticing shapes in the clouds?
My son looked at me like I was crazy, but he already knew his mom has some funny ideas. Knowing I wasn’t going to help him with his boredom ‘problem’, he made a half-hearted attempt to get some screen time.
“If there’s something you’re deeply driven to do that needs a screen, sure. But if you’re just looking to shut off the boredom, rather give it some space, and see what happens.” I replied.
He mooched around looking sulky, for a few more minutes. Then, the change began. He started looking thoughtful. Then excited.
Five minutes later he was scrabbling through the recycling, looking for materials to construct a lever-driven pump for the squeezable water filter that makes his hands tired. Inventing something.
And the most important thing about this is: I would never, not ever, have thought to suggest that activity. Nobody would have thought of that as his next thing to do. Only that little inner voice inside him, given space to grow.
Democracy means allowing all voices to be heard. Boredom opens the space for an important voice to speak.
P.S. Boredom should not be confused with the frustration that arises from under-stimulation. If someone doesn’t have plentiful access to tools, materials, peers, mentors, and information that they need in order to learn and thrive, we sometimes use the word ‘bored’ when something like ‘rootbound’ or ‘intellectually starving’ might be more accurate. Self-directed education requires a rich environment. A rich environment (including socially rich) can be the main difference between effective unschooling/self-directed learning, and neglect.