In 2011, a book by a young writer, Bieke Vandekerckhove, won an award for spiritual book of the year in her native Belgium. Entitled The Taste of Silence, the book chronicles her own struggles after being diagnosed at age 19 with ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition that results in a massive debilitation of one’s body and almost always results in death not long afterwards. Not an easy diagnosis for a vibrant young woman to accept.
But after a deep initial depression, she found meaning in her life through meditation, silence, literature, art, poetry and, not least, through a relationship that eventually led to marriage. Unexpectedly, too, her disease went into remission and she lived for another 20 years. Among the many rich insights she shares with us, she offers an interesting reflection on boredom.
Discussing the prevalence of boredom today, she highlights an irony: namely, that boredom is increasing among us even as we are daily producing every kind of gadget to help us avoid it. Given that today we carry in our hands technological devices that link us to everything from the world news of the day to videos of our loved ones playing with their children, shouldn’t we be insulated against boredom? Ironically, the opposite seems true. All those technological gadgets are not alleviating our boredom.
Why not? We still wrestle with boredom because all the stimulation in the world doesn’t necessarily make for meaning. Meaning and happiness, she suggests, do not consist so much in meeting interesting people and being exposed to interesting things. Rather, they consist in taking a deeper interest in people and things.
The word “interest” is derived from two Latin words, inter (inside) and esse (being), which when combined connote being inside of something. Things are interesting to us when we are interested enough in them to really get inside of them. And our interest isn’t necessarily predicated on how naturally stimulating something is in itself, though admittedly certain events and experiences can be so powerful as to conscript our interest. That’s what explains our strong interest in major world events, championship sports matches, Academy Award celebrations, as well as our less than healthy obsession with the private lives of celebrities. Certain persons, things and events naturally interest us, and we want to be on the “inside” of those lives and events.
But world news stories, championship sporting events, the Academy Awards and the private lives of celebrities are not our ordinary fare, our family dinner table, our workplace, our commute to work, our church service, our neighbourhood bake sale, our daily routine, our daily bread.
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