in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

Sunday Firesides: Boredom Is Evil

What are ostensibly the most meaningful arenas of life — work, school, church, long-term relationships — are often boring.

There are those who defend the element of boredom in such things as not only tolerable, but necessary and even laudable.

Boredom builds character, the thinking goes. It’s a sign of seriousness and commitment, something integral to the pursuit of any difficult and worthy endeavor. Important things simply are boring. It has always been so, must be so, and ought to be so, in fact.

But a simple thought experiment reveals the shakiness of these assumptions: Imagine that someone with no concept of work, education, church, or marriage, beyond a description of their ideals, were asked to envision what these endeavors would be like and should be like. What would they imagine? Drab, dreary, lifeless affairs, marked by apathy and emptiness, in which people pass the time in a stupor, mindlessly scrolling through their phones? Or, would they imagine zest and life-filled pursuits driven by passion, dynamism, curiosity, and wonder?

Justifications for boredom invariably come after the fact: stuck within institutions standardized to the lowest common denominator; too passive or demoralized to find iconoclastic but imminently doable ways of doing things differently; stubbornly convinced of the impossibility of adding interest without resorting to shallow entertainments; people seek to redeem the status quo, by making boredom redemptive.

But boredom is the very opposite. Something cannot build character, expand minds, or change hearts if it extinguishes the very factor necessary for transformation: engagement.

As professor of preaching Fred B. Craddock observed, “Boredom works against faith” — and here we may add against any endeavor of real significance — “by provoking contrary thoughts or lulling to sleep or draping the whole occasion with a pall of indifference and unimportance.” For this reason, Craddock declared, “Boredom is a form of evil.”

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