Boredom in the Boardroom

Call it a shortage of the neurotransmitter dopamine, or a shortage of oxygen, or a shortage of purpose; or an excess of predictability, or an excess of groundlessness, or of routine: however you account for the onset of boredom – either as you wait for a plane or as descriptive of an entire stage in your life – it’s a menacing excess of chronicity that catches us yawning inwardly at the never-ending tedium we’re unexpectedly switched onto. Time, stripped bare, is the nom de plume of boredom, and we’d do anything to grab the hook of distraction that hoiks us out of it, if only we could look up from our melancholic gaze long enough to see the rescue coming. The walls of it crush us, narrowing our outlook on life and our ability to think.

Saint Jerome in his study
Saint Jerome in his Study, about 1475-6, by ANTONELLO DA MESSINA (National Gallery, London)

Consider the tiny figure of the contemplative monk Saint Jerome (BCE 347-420) in this picture. He was a scholar and a penitent hermit, portrayed here by Antonello Da Messina in his bijou IKEA-esque wooden study, framed in a grand, but almost dollhouse-like setting, as if we’ve just lifted the wall back to spy, prompting him to shoo us away to carry on his private contemplations. As a monk, he would’ve been familiar with spiritual sloth known as accidia, common to contemplatives of all religions, and known to scholars too. In the throws of this listlessness he would have simply renewed his faith and likewise shooed away the diabolic apathy, or just reengaged with a thorny speculation of scripture and set a new course in his adventures of the intellect, secure in his higher purpose.

Consider lifting the dollhouse wall onto the company boardroom in full session. In the seconds before we incur the squeaks of protest from the assembled, what do we see in the eyes of the executive after their ape-like yawns? Maybe not diabolic sloth, listlessness, and apathy; but perhaps well disguised boredom. Executive time stripped bare, like on a slow train, the engineering works of our derailed attentions to blame. To what higher purpose does the executive have recourse, on their fast track to retirement?

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