How beautiful it is to do nothing and afterwards to rest a little!
(With tongue in cheek )
Note: This essay was originally written in 1999.
Although the examples are somehow outdated much of the content is still true!
Psychologists tell us that one of man’s greatest enemies today is boredom. Sometimes, when reading the paper, watching television or listening to the radio, we are confronted with some of the most absurd manifestations of dullness and apathy. Believe it or not, there are people who spend their time rolling around Europe in a barrel, couples who dance the Charleston for more than 30 hours in order to break a record, and others seeking entry into the Guinness Book of World Records by developing the stunning art of eating more ice cream than any human since the days of pre-historic man.
We, the common people, are obviously deeply impressed and most happy to read that at least some geniuses have grasped the ultimate meaning of life. They have accomplished what nobody ever dreamed was humanly possible.
What is boredom? Boredom has emerged in our modern world because our wishes are too easily and quickly satisfied. The pressure of fulfilling one’s desires falls away, and we immediately look for new pressures, because we cannot live without them. We’re like deep-sea fish. We need atmospheric pressure, and without it we are lost. Since western man is easily able to satisfy most of his wishes, he begins to look for absurd pursuits to satiate his need for pressure. (1)
It is remarkable that in the last fifty years we have turned most beneficial occupations into anti-boredom devices. Take the case of quick walking. This had been a very healthy undertaking which we decided to turn into a contest in which people are forced to run harder than they are really able to. Some end up in the hospital, while others commit suicide because they were unable to break the record. On several occasions, it was suggested that these people should be fined because they failed, while running their heads off, to see the flowers along the road or the beautiful landscape. This was, however, completely rejected on the grounds that those who won the race received the flowers in the end, and this time from the hands of a pretty young lady. Even more astonishing is the case of those swimmers who try to cross the channel between Calais and Dover. They seem to be unaware of the fact that there is a ferry service which would get them there much faster.
All this would be fine, and we would be well advised to listen to a pop group of the sixties who, while discussing the problem of “beatle zeman” (wasting time), used to sing “Let it be, let it be…” But, problems begin when some thoroughly bored people start disturbing their fellow men in ways which would have been unimaginable some years ago.
It has become a common experience that while putting one’s folding chair in a seemingly quiet place, such as a seashore or forest, with the intent to listen to the waves of the sea or the blowing of the wind, the peace is suddenly disrupted by the blasting of a CD player turned up to its maximum volume. Looking in the direction from which the noise is coming, we see a young man lounging in his folding chair, smiling at us as if to say, “Go ahead. Make my day!”
His parents will tell you that it disturbs them as well, but they are unable to do anything about it. “Youth must have its fling!” This is the well-known excuse used whenever youngsters plan to do the totally unacceptable. It turns chutzpah into necessary therapy required for the further development of a youngster who will otherwise be unable to become a respectable member of society. Anyone unwilling to grant him his fling is depriving the world of a future genius and deserves to suffer intense guilt feelings.
It is remarkable that most parents seem to believe that their children should indeed have their fling so as to guarantee their proper development. This is even more surprising since these parents are the same people who fanatically cut the grass and bushes in their garden, because they know that otherwise chaos will follow. It never occurs to them to apply similar standards when attempting to educate their children. When they read the papers about the wantonness of today’s youth, they simply shake their heads in dismay.
Having one’s fling should mean proving oneself, as in the German expression, “ausleben,” which means to live out the potential within oneself. One potential strength people have is to care about other human beings. One who has not used this power has not yet “flinged” because one of the most beautiful aspects of humanness has been withheld from him.
Our sages make a most interesting point (Eruvin 65b) when they state that a man’s character can be tested in three different ways: be’kiso, be’koso, u’ve’ka’aso. By his pocket; is he a miser or a spendthrift? By his cup; how does he hold excessive alcoholic intake? And by his temper; can he control himself when provoked? But, according to one of the sages, there is a fourth test which reveals a lot about a human being’s character: af be’sahako, also how he plays, i.e. how he spends his free time.
It might be frivolous to argue that the future of our society will depend on the bowling industry, but it cannot be doubted that western civilization, including the State of Israel, is slowly turning into a place where people see their fulfillment in life through the eyes of those who dance the Charleston for thirty hours. That they will get dizzy is certain, though their entry into Olam Haba, the world to come, is not guaranteed.
2009 addition: Baruch Hashem, we have seen in the last few years that more and more of our young people are finding their way back and realize that life is only worthwhile living when there is something worth dying for. This, they have concluded, can’t be the Charleston.
(1) Godfried Bomans, Noten Kraken, 1961 (Dutch)