Where does boredom come from? Have humans always experienced boredom, or has it only come on in the entertainment age, having more time than we know what to do with? Kevin Gary (Valparaiso University) is author of Why Boredom Matters: Education, Leisure, and the Quest for a Meaningful Life. He joins Drew Collins & Evan Rosa to reflect on the discontent and disconnection that boredom constantly threatens. They discuss the phenomena of boredom, the childhood experience of it, whether its good or bad, the definition of boredom, its connection to entertainment and education, and finally the role of attention and leisure in cultivating a healthy understanding and response to being totally bored out of our minds. This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.
Where does boredom come from? Have humans always experienced boredom, or has it only come on in the entertainment age, having more time than we know what to do with? Kevin Gary (Valparaiso University) is author of Why Boredom Matters: Education, Leisure, and the Quest for a Meaningful Life. He joins Drew Collins & Evan Rosa to reflect on the discontent and disconnection that boredom constantly threatens. They discuss the phenomena of boredom, the childhood experience of it, whether its good or bad, the definition of boredom, its connection to entertainment and education, and finally the role of attention and leisure in cultivating a healthy understanding and response to being totally bored out of our minds.
This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.
About Kevin Gary
Kevin Gary is a Professor of Education at Valparaiso University. He has a Ph.D. in cultural and educational policy studies from Loyola University Chicago with a focus in the philosophy of education and an M.A. in systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame. His teaching experience includes 10 years of teaching theology at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, Illinois.; seven years as a professor of education and philosophy at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana; 8 years as a professor of education at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana; and one year as faculty director of Goshen College’s international studies program in Lima, Perú.
Dr. Gary’s research is primarily in philosophy of education. He recently published, Why Boredom Matters: Education and the Quest for a Meaningful Life with Cambridge University Press in 2022. K-12 educators (and parents) face bored students every day. Drawing on multiple disciplines Dr. Gary makes a case for teachers guiding students to engage with boredom constructively, steering clear of restless boredom avoidance on the one hand, or passive submission to boredom on the other.
Dr. Gary has published in multiple journals, including Educational Theory, the Journal of Philosophy of Education, and Studies in Philosophy and Education.
Dr. Gary is one of the founding executives of the North American Association for Philosophy and Education (NAAPE), launched in 2018. NAAPE provides an international forum for scholars working at the intersection of philosophy and educational thought, where disciplines such as ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, history, and others meet the practical challenges of teaching and learning.
Dr. Gary is passionate about liberal education, especially within the context of a Christian liberal arts university, which aims to cultivate practical wisdom, compassion, and a Renaissance spirit.
- Kevin Gary’s Why Boredom Matters: Education and the Quest for a Meaningful Life
- A quick and incomplete history of boredom
- The Preacher of Ecclesiastes laments over human toil, “everything is vanity and chasing after wind” around 250 BC. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.”
- Stoic Roman philosopher Seneca noticed a nauseating tedium in his famous letter “On Tranquility,” describing a familiar quote “vacillation of a mind that nowhere finds rest, and the sad and languid endurance of one’s leisure. Thence comes mourning and melancholy and the thousand waverings of an unsettled mind, which its aspirations hold in suspense, and then disappointment renders melancholy. Thence comes that feeling which makes men loathe their own leisure and complain that they themselves have nothing to be busy with.”
- The ancient Christian monks of the desert struggled with the noonday demon of acedia, a spiritual boredom with their vocation of prayer and faithfulness.
- Aquinas and other scholastics disciplined the “roving mind.”
- Variants of the English “boredom”—including being bored to death!—show up in Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville in the mid 19th century.
- Kierkegaard calls it the root of all evil.
- Heidegger sees it in a positive light, saying that philosophy begins in the nothingness of boredom.
- C.S. Lewis’s Uncle Screwtape advises that “anything or nothing is sufficient to attract the wandering attention” of Jr. Demon Wormwood’s human patient.
- The French bourgeoisie nailed it with ennui that many a suburban latchkey kid can relate to.
- In the King-Kubrick masterpiece, The Shining, boredom goes very dark when “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
- Boredom for children: How to respond to the boredom children feel
- Is boredom bad or good?
- What’s the definition of boredom?
- Tolstoy on boredom
- Kierkegaard on living life to avoid boredom
- Kierkegaard as a form of existential despair; boredom as an indicator that we’re not comfortable with ourselves.
- Chasing novelty, looking for the new; or giving up and resigning our agency
- Heidegger was influenced by Kierkegaard; and thought you must push through it to find your true, authentic self.
- Kierkegaard’s view of the “authentic self” is the self resting in God.
- “Schola” (Latin): attentively receptive.
- Simone Weil on tedium, boredom, and attention
- Living in an “attention economy” and controlling or stewarding others’ attention
- Attention as an antidote to boredom
- Simone Weil’s experience working in a car factory and losing her sense of agency and self
- Philosopher Albert Borgmann on “focal practices” and guardrails.
- Go chop wood for an hour, and simply do it.
- Go for a walk for an hour without your smartphone.
- Boredom and entertainment in a perverse binary orbit
- Simone Weil “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” in Waiting for God (link to PDF)
- Entertainment is, therefore, not the problem.
- “The entertainment-boredom cycle just becomes more boring.”
- Leisure as antidote to boredom
- Sabbath as oasis from work filling up our lives.
- Thomas Aquinas’s “roving mind”
- Let’s go birding!
- Liturgy as the guardrails of attention
- Be an apprentice and learn to experience and perceive in a new way.
- Mindful in the mundane
- Gordon Wood’s History of the American Revolution: politicians as “disinterested men of leisure”
- Fighting against instrumentalization.
- Intrinsic goods of doing the dishes.
- “The bored mind is missing an opportunity for leisure.”
- “I like to fish… and any fishing guide will tell you they call it fishing, not catching, for a reason.”
- “Having resources does not guarantee the experience of leisure.”
- Josef Pieper and Abraham Heschel and the tradition of Intellectus and Wonder
- How leisure as both active and contemplative, and its role in a flourishing life
- This podcast featured Kevin Gary and Drew Collins
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Macie Bridge and Logan Ledman
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give
- Special thanks to the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.