Thoughts to Ponder, Number 19
17 Marcheshvan, 5760; 27 October, 1999

The Problem of Boredom

(With tongue in cheek)

It may well be true that man's greatest enemy today is boredom. When reading the papers, watching television or listening to the radio we are confronted with the most absurd manifestations of dullness and apathy. There are people, believe it or not, who spend their time rolling around Europe in a barrel, couples who dance the Charleston for more than 30 hours so as to break a record and others who want to show that they should be mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records because they have developed the stunning art of eating more ice cream than any human since the days of pre-historic man.

We, the common people, are obviously deeply impressed and most happy to read that at least some geniuses have reached the ultimate meaning of life. They have accomplished what nobody ever dreamed was humanly possible.

What is boredom? Boredom comes about because, in our modern world, our wishes are too easily and quickly satisfied. The pressure of fulfilling one's desires falls away, and we immediately look for new pressures, because we cannot live without them. We are like deep-sea fish. We need atmospheric pressure, and without it we are lost. Since western man is easily able to satisfy most of his wishes he starts to look for absurd manifestations to satiate his need for pressure.

Remarkable is the fact that in the last fifty years we have turned most beneficial occupations into anti-boredom devices. Take the case of quick walking. This had been a most healthy undertaking, but we decided to turn into a contest in which people are forced to run harder than they are really able to. Some end up in hospital, others commit suicide because they were not able to break the record. On several occasions, it was suggested that these people should be fined because they failed, while running their heads off, to see the flowers on the road or the beautiful landscape. This was, however completely rejected on the grounds that those who won the race received the flowers in the end, and this time out of the hands of a pretty young lady. Even more astonishing is the case of those swimmers who try to cross the channel between Calais and Dover. They seem to be unaware of the fact that there is a ferry service which would get them there much faster.

All this would be fine and well and we would be well advised to listen to a pop group of the sixties who, while discussing the problem of "beatle zeman" (wasting time) used to sing, "Let it be, let it be…" But, problems begin when some thoroughly bored people start disturbing their fellow men in ways which would have been unimaginable some years ago.

It has become a common experience that while putting one's folding chair in a seemingly quiet place such as a seashore or forest with the intent to listen to the waves of the sea, or the blowing of the wind, the peace is suddenly broken by the barking of a CD player which is turned to its top capacity. Looking in the direction from which the noise is coming, we see a young man lounging in his folding chair smiling at us, as if to say, "Go ahead, make my day!"

His parents will tell you that it also disturbs them, but they are not able to do anything about it. "Youth must have its fling!" This is the well-known stopgap used whenever some youngsters are planning to do the totally unacceptable. It turns chutspa into necessary therapy required for the further development of a youngster who will otherwise not be able to become a respectable member of society. Anybody not giving him his fling is depriving the world of a future genius and should have intense guilt feelings.

It is remarkable that most parents seem to believe that their children should have their fling so as to guarantee their proper development. This is even more surprising since these parents are the same people who fanatically cut the grass and bushes in their garden, because they know that otherwise chaos will follow. But to apply similar thoughts when they try to educate their children never occurs to them. When they read the papers about the wantonness of the youth of today they shake their heads in dismay.

What having one's fling should mean is to prove oneself, as the German expression, "ausleben," which means to live out the potential within oneself. One potential power people have is to care about other human beings. One who has not used this power, has not yet "flinged" because one of the most beautiful aspects of being human has been withheld from him.

Our sages make a most interesting point (Eruvin 65b) when they state that a man's character can be tested in Three different ways: be'kiso, be'koso, u've'ka'aso. By his pocket, is he a miser or a spendthrift? By his cup, how does he respond to alcoholic excess? And by his temper, can he control himself when provoked? But, according to one of the sages, there is a fourth test which will say a lot about a human being's character, af be'sahako, also how he plays, i.e. how he spends his free time.

It might be frivolous to argue that the future of our society will depend on the bowling industry, but it cannot be doubted that western civilization, including the State of Israel, is slowly turning into a place where people see their fulfillment in life through the eyes of those who dance the Charleston for thirty hours. That they will get dizzy is sure, though their entry into Olam Haba is not guaranteed.

Redistribution of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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