Monday, 23 November 2009

On Being Boring

In my profile I state that a friend many years ago described me as a boring old fart. Marcel Du Marche maintains that he never actually said that and that what he said was that 'Graham you can be a boring old fart at times'. Semantics. But he's a lawyer so why not! He has been generous in saying that that was then (about 34 years ago) and I'm not any longer. Whatever. I've lived with that terrible slur on my character and damage to my psyche ever since. Yeah right!

In fact Marcel is correct. I can be very boring. In fact sometimes I can be so boring that I even bore myself. Quite an achievement. And it's often in a story I'm relating where I've just interrupted my own interruption. So I am aware of my tendency. I was going to say 'fault' but I think that's a bit strong.

So why am I mentioning this now? No. It's not a bit of navel gazing. It has arisen because of an ongoing conversation with a friend and because it's also related indirectly to recent topics on Heather's blog.

What do we mean by 'boring'? Well I could have looked it up in The Oxford English Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary (Dull, repetitive, or tedious) but decided instead to use The Urban Dictionary - it's more fun.
I have noticed that younger children (and older children with less-developed vocabularies) use this word often. "Boring" among these people is a catch-all term indicating general disapproval. It can mean frustrating, depressing, or unpopular, or even embarrassing, uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or unapproachable. The child's concept of "boredom" temporarily takes the place of the range of emotions that we become more aware of, and better able to articulate, as we grow older.

Adults often seem to misunderstand the fact that "boring" doesn't mean the same thing to children that it means to us. An adult is bored when they can't "find anything to do" or when they are trapped in an uneventful formal situation such as a meeting or a second cousin's funeral. Children, however, seem like they use "boring" for many other situations, even ones that may seem exciting and fast-paced.
Jell-o? That's boring!

I hate science! It's boring!

How was your first day of school?
Did you meet new people?
Did you have lots to do?
Did you go outside and run around?
Then how was it boring?
I don't know.
Now Marcel is very articulate and, even then our friendship was such that I don't think he disliked me.  So I began to wonder why we often call people boring and what we really mean.   It's not a word I can recall using of others but then I can usually find something interesting about most people.   And then it struck me.  What we mean is 'you are not interested in the things that interest me' or 'you are not talking about the things that interest me'. 

I suppose if a nuclear scientist started talking to me at his level about ions I might be bored simply because it would be incomprehensible to me.  And it might fit the description in the OED or the AHD in relation to that topic and me.  But not necessarily to that person in general because other nuclear scientists might find it riveting.

How sad we are.  How about instead of condemning a person as being boring we just accept that our respective interests differ or, better still, listen and see if perhaps the subject being talked about might be interesting.

What a boring, dull, tedious posting that was.  I don't think it was particularly repetitive.


  1. Sooo, what about the "old fart" part???
    I cracked up at navel gazing. Ha!
    Really, I think you're absolutely correct. It's not that that other person doesn't have something interesting to say, but maybe not interesting to me. Ya done good!

  2. :) You won't believe it when I tell you that my dad and I just had an extremely "boring" conversation today! Seriously, we were talking about the subject that you've written about - being bored, or boring. Now, there was no Marcel in our discussion - but he may have mentioned old fart...I don't recall, yet it wouldn't be the first time he's said that.


    You are certainly not a boring old fart, my friend - I think not, but maybe I, too, am boring...hmmmm....

  3. OK, you've got that off your chest. Now, can we not hear anything more about it, please! I'm sure your friends are honest enough to tell you if you are boring them, so you don't need to dwell on it any longer. 34 years is long enough - let it go ,as the young ones say!

  4. Pauline, good shouting ;)
    Heather, now please don't you start too!

    And Graham... If there is one topic where you do have a tendency to keep going round in circles a bit, it is this one ;) I agree with you conclusion in this post though. (Next last paragraph) And I'd like to add two things:

    1. You know the saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". This is even more true about "boring" - it is purely in the mind of the listener etc. I.e. there is really no objective common standard to judge it by.
    2. Quoting a book I'm rereading at the moment about friendship (not Charlie Brown this time): A friend is someone together with whom you can even stand being bored at times.

  5. Here's a nice diagram showing boredom as a low challenge level and a medium level of skill.

    I have to admit the Flow, Control and Relaxation side of the chart are most appealing to me - but to achieve any of those states apparently requires high skill!

  6. Gosh Pauline. You're a hard Aussie woman. I'll not be tangling with you then. At least, Monica, you wrapped it up a bit.

    Thanks all. Now I might have to change my profile and even stop talking about it. Now what can I talk about?

    Ian, the diagram by the unspellable prof is fascinating and I agree with you about being on the right (ie east) side of the diagram. In any case I'm too disinterested in most things to be apathetic or to worry or be anxious about them.

  7. Guys... Ian, GB... I agree that diagram is fascinating in itself but I have to point out again that there is a huge difference between being bored and being boring!

    You can be in a state of "flow" and still be seen as totally boring by other people who are not interested in that very thing that makes you feel at the height of creativity.

    It is also possible (although perhaps less common) for you to be in state of feeling utterly bored, and yet not be seen as boring by other people. For example, a psychologist writing an essay on the pheonomenon of boredom and making up charts about it might find you an absolutely fascinating object of study... ;)

  8. That's me told!

    I wish I could get the hang of this blogging stuff. It strikes me that it's like masturbating - a self-centred experience. What I have to say is interesting to me, so everyone else must agree. It's not a conversation, is it?