Life at age 4 is a strangely beautiful thing. I do not remember the details of my own life at age 4, nor do I know the details regarding the life of any present day 4-year-old. It’s probably a lot of running around aimlessly, and asking questions; the proverbial “why”. As I observe more and more of my friends having children, and remember my own childhood, one distinction between life at that age, and life as an adult, or even as a teenage comes to mind. 4-year-olds, having yet to enter school, rarely spend any time sitting around wondering what they should be doing. From what I see, the average 4-year-old has some kind of box of toys they just simply dive into. Either that or they are running around the yard. The commonality is, though, these 4-year-olds are not looking to someone else’s guidance when determining what they should be doing or what they should be thinking about and such. There is something simply magical about it.
I think I was 7 or 8 years old the first time I approached one of my parents and simply stated “I’m bored”. Little did I know that this would become an all too familiar theme throughout my life. Boredom is a concept I am quite fascinated with, as I have a personality type that is particularly prone to boredom. But, what is boredom? There are several theories, some involving people being afraid of their own thoughts, some believing it’s a healthy manner in which our brains ensure they are using their full capacity, and yet others stating it’s a symptom of an individual lacking imagination or creativity.
The final theory is the one that is the most disturbing. It suggests, in the most blunt terms possible, that a person being bored is really a person being boring. But, how did that come to be? How would we have transitioned, each one of us, from our 4-year-old selves, to these people who, given spare time, cannot even think of what we would like to do, or what we would like to think about?
One quite disturbing possibility is inadvertent, well-intentioned conditioning. At age 5, most of us enter a world (school) where the way we use our time, what activities we take part in, what topics we fill our minds with, is suddenly determined by someone else. This is quite a significant change from the days where the only instruction we received would be the occasional behavioral correction from our parents. It is possible that, having now been relieved of the duty of determining our own activities, day after day, year after year, the skills of self-determination we developed as a child simply atrophy. So accustomed to having an external forcing determine what we should be doing, and what we should be thinking about, we lose the ability of self-determination.
I see this process manifesting in high school. With the exception of a few leaders, and a few loners, most people join in peer groups, and accept a great degree of outside control from others. It is common for one “leader” to determine the activities for the night, and some combination of trends, pop culture, social norms, and the “in crowd” to determine most else.
Our present day society offers adults plenty of opportunities to continue to avoid having to determine their own thoughts and activities. Jobs are very much still structured so that anyone that wants to can have their boss or supervisor determine all their tasks for them. In fact, as much as things are starting to change, the world is still harsh for those of us that do want to have some say in what kind of work we would like to be involved in. That covers 40-60 hours of the week. For all else, outside of work, there are plenty of opportunities to turn to social media, news feeds, television, and advice, both solicited and unsolicited, to determine where our hearts, minds, and energy should be focused.
That leads me to one question, for all adults out there. When was the last time you decided what you were to do with your time, an hour, a day, or even a week? By this, I am not talking about looking at a list of options and making a choice. I mean choosing something you want to be doing, or thinking about, with no other influence besides your thoughts, feelings, and inspiration, much the way a 4-year-old would. And, when was the last time you acted on something, without worrying about what is considered appropriate, what others expect from you, or what “needs to be done”? While there is a reality to life, and we all have responsibilities, I have a feeling that pretty much every adult today has at least enough wiggle room to do so every once in a while.