Boredom is self-inflicted.
My theory was confirmed by reading scholarly articles on boredom: what it is, where it comes from, is it beneficial, or aversive? Whatever. It is what it is.
It’s the 21st century. We’re all blasé. Been there, done that.
So, I sought solace and dopamine enhancement in Curious George—the adorable monkey removed from his home in the jungle by the Man with the Yellow Hat. Curious George is a shining beacon for imagination—he’s never bored, he’s always curious. He wants to touch things to see what will happen. He gets in trouble, but everyone can see that his heart is in the right place even if his hands are not. Of course, the Man with the Yellow Hat—looking like a safari sun god—arrives just in time to rescue George.
Curious George was conceived by Margret and H.A. Rey, writer and illustrator respectively. They smuggled their first George opus out of France hours before the Nazis took over in 1941. They fled to the US where they produced only 6 Curious George books. But, others took over spawning a cottage industry that grew into books, movies and TV shows.
Like all great literature, a close reading of Curious George opens new vistas of insight. Let’s examine Curious George and the Dinosaur, which was not by the Reys but by their post-mortem surrogates:
A teacher takes his classroom to a natural history museum. Curious George tags along. The children are bored. George wanders away. He sees a dinosaur skeleton—perfect for a little monkey to climb on. He hops the rope barrier and scurries up the bony neck. He is perched on a dinosaur vertebrae like a cowboy on a horse. The guards see George. The museum director comes running. The children come in. They are happy to see George. “Is that the way people rode dinosaurs in the olden days?” one child asks. The museum director is ready to punish George for endangering a rare and valuable skeleton. “No,” the children cry, “we were bored, but George made it fun. Now, we’re curious about dinosaurs.” All is forgiven. The Man with the Yellow Hat arrives. (Why is yellow hat man always the last on the scene? He should know what to expect by now.)
Like witless slugs in empty fruit jars, the children were mired in boredom, unable to learn anything until George made it fun.
Students expect to be entertained, amused, and engaged. Terabytes of software and hours of television promise “to make learning fun.” Because inflicting boredom is a crime in America. And the alleged cause of individual boredom lies with the schools, the teachers, and the books. Why can’t everyone be like Curious George?
This is a crisis of imagination—but not for this museum and not for our schools. The crisis lies with our children waiting passively for learning to be made fun as if someone could spray a soothing mist of learning stimulant over them.
Learning is not easy. It requires work, attention and practice. And, sometimes it is boring.
We all get bored. We’re stuck in an airplane waiting on the tarmac. We’re sitting in the waiting room of the dentist. (Or, waiting in the sitting room of Firesign Theater.) There is no relief. Time stands still.
I remember in 9th grade English with Miss Hall, waiting for the last 9 minutes of class to go by. I refused to look at the clock, I held my breath, waited and waited. Then, I’d sneak a peek. Nine minutes left to go. Still.
Boredom is dissatisfaction in the moment. One psychologist calls it a disturbance in our sense of time, living in an “endless present.” (Which is where we live, by the way.) Another theory is that boredom is the inability to direct our attention and an external environment that doesn’t draw our attention. Boredom is described as a mismatch between the desire for external stimulus and an unstimulating environment.
But, the world doesn’t change to meet our needs. The only thing we can change is ourselves. We can change mental channels to activate our imagination.
In Truckin’, the Grateful Dead sing “Get out of the door and light out and look all around.”
Light out and look all around. Get out of your rut—move: physically, mentally. It’s not always easy. But, it’s a choice you can make. The opposite of boredom is not entertainment, it’s mental engagement.
For the children in Curious George and the Dinosaur, boredom is self-inflicted. They expect to be entertained. The world is failing to provide the expected stimulus. Their expectation blocks their will to direct their attention. We control where we direct our attention. This freedom to direct our attention is curiosity.
Be more like Curious George. Cultivate your curiosity. But, don’t climb the dinosaur, use your imagination. And don’t wait for the Man in the Yellow Hat.
Keep truckin’ and stay curious, my friends.