So What? Who Cares? I'm Bored!

Re-contextualizing 'Bully Culture'

Posted May 25, 2018

Think bullying is just about girls who are nasty and boys with an ax to grind?
Think again.

Trolling, cyber-bullying, and social humiliation are just as likely to be about entertainment—about creating a stir, generating interest, and overcoming the tedium of the classroom—as they are about rejection, public humiliation, and settling the score.

“Boredom” is the point at which anti-bullying initiatives break down; the point at which any and all the insights we bring to the table (in order to address this crisis) run aground. Like the x-factor, it is a difficult-to pin-down quality best articulated by sighs, eye-rolls, and mono-syllables.    

It is not that our children are bored with our interventions (though of course, they are) but rather, that they are indifferent to our enthusiasm.  They are not curious or engaged, but apathetic, finding the world around them hopelessly commonplace.

A stroll through the history of modernization (which scholars across the humanities and social sciences hold responsible for meaninglessness and wholesale ennui) might document this ‘postmodern predicament’ without once asking us to  consider the effects of pluralism and multiculturalism.  Only consider the slogans which grew out of these movements:  ‘different strokes for different folks,’ ‘ live and let live,’ ‘do your own thing,’ or even ‘anything goes.' 
When everything is allowed, what is worth standing for? 

Looked at this way--with a shift in the meaning of 'inclusivity'--allows us to consider boredom as an (unintended) upshot of Tolerance.  

In other words, tolerance can be considered as much a harbinger of existential despair as of peace and tranquility.  For, a life in which choices lack significance--let alone urgency--is one in which pursuits lack meaning. One value is as legitimate as another;  one perspective as ‘right’ as the next (and, while we are at it, my ‘facts’ are as valid as yours). If meaning (i.e. ‘what is important’) is relative, then ultimately, we are tasked with creating significance, on a daily basis.  Not only “what I want to be when I grow up,” but what values guide the choices I make each, and every day. 

In discussing the concept of acedia (the medieval Latin word for apathy, listlessness and boredom) Dorothy Sayers contended that “in the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called despair… It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which to die.”*

With no clear, objective point around which to orient my life, daily pursuits have come to be informed by the intensity of the experience they offer.

Time and again we see not only young people, but colleagues and peers who seek out one after another situation that makes them feel alive and important (from weekend bungee jumping to the latest Xbox game to risky sexual encounters).

That which moves me, excites, me, and engages me becomes the measure of meaning and meaningfulness.

And, in a fast-food, ‘point and click’ culture, we expect to purchase portals to these feelings—to be stimulated ‘on demand.’  We, as consumers, have been groomed to passively wait for dopamine to be triggered, rather than engage our passions. 

So when our children find themselves stuck in school classrooms, not the least bit interested in whatever lesson is being taught, they look to create a distraction and to entertain themselves.
And bullying someone—or watching someone be bullied—isn’t boring.
Quite the contrary.

Increased aggression has been linked to sensation-seeking, which is caught up with any number of risky behaviors. (Only consider the history of the Klu Klux Klan. Founding members—a handful of former Confederate soldiers who had no jobs, no prospects, and were bored—created a social group whose intention was to “have fun, make mischief, and play pranks on the public.”)**

Launching a cyber-attack on a peer, then sitting back and watching to see what happens, has the potential to be infinitely more entertaining than absorbing algebraic formulas. 

The capacity to distract, the adrenaline rush linked to the riskiness of the behavior, and the narcissistic mindset that is nourished by displays of power are all more meaningful than either the classroom lesson at hand, or the potential harm visited on any given target. 

So what, then, is to be done?

If we engage bulling by the horns during normal hours of operation—perhaps conceiving, developing, and integrating anti-boredom workshops into our school curriculums—will that be enough?

Or is the real question ‘how many people are rolling their eyes at the thought of this’?


*Dorothy L. Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine.

** Wyn Craig Wade, The Fiery Cross: The Klu Klux Klan in America