For a long time, I have been amazed at how people ever become bored. It has always puzzled me. My amazement turns to helplessness when I find myself unable to articulate why boredom amazes me. I end up saying something like this: How can ANYONE be bored?!
Then I repeat it: How can anyone be BORED in this life?!
Unfortunately that is neither an argument nor an accurate description of my thoughts. Some, I hope, understand the rhetoric question. Why is it people always claim to be bored when I think there’s far too much to do and too little time. For instance, I am without a job, yet I find there isn’t enough time in a day. On the other hand I find many people (some even work) saying they are bored. Let us assume they are telling the truth and not simply creating small talk. Many that claim to be busy are occupied with attending one ceremony after the other; weddings, parties, awards, etc. Some just spend a large part of their day sleeping or hanging out (gisting, Hira or Majalisa for the Hausas).
I finally got an inspiration on how to go about explaining this Boredom Business. Thank God! I hope this post will shed light on the boredom; how it affects a person, and more details on how it affects a Muslim.
Quadrant of Activities
Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, classifies all human activities in to four categories by determining two things: if they are urgent (or not); and if they are important (or not). The quadrant below shows some activities and the Quadrant they fall under, given their urgency and importance.
To make it more relevant to this post, below is a refined version of the quadrant above which attempts to place a typical daily activity in the corresponding quadrant. This are the Quadrants for many Nigerians I know
The key to understanding this Quadrant and it’s use is by realizing that there is a difference between what is Important and what is Urgent. Urgency is a matter of time; when something needs to be done within a given limited time for it to be effective. Importance on the other hand is less dependent on time but depends on a person’s values; for example for some, Family is important, Friendship, Religious Duties, Ceremonies… have different importance to different people. We shall come back to this issue of Importance.
According to the Stephen Covey, Highly effective people spend most of their time in Quadrant II (Important but not Urgent). As a result, Highly Effective People spend much less time in Quadrant I (Important and Urgent) because they would have prepared for those activities before they become urgent.
It is not difficult to see that many of us spend most of our time in Quadrant III (Not Important but Urgent) and mistakenly think we are doing something important because we mistake Urgency for Importance. When we complain about how “useless” youth appear to be, the youth in question are usually those that spend most (if not all) of their time in Quadrant IV (not Important and not Urgent). Those that tend to spend a lot of their time in Quadrant I (Important and Urgent) appear to be making good use of their time, but according to the Quadrant, they ought to plan more by spending more time in Quadrant II; which will then minimize their time spent in Quadrant I.
The person spending time in Quadrant I calls themselves Busy, and he/she has earned it. The person in Quadrant III thinks themselves Busy, but he/she has misplaced their priorities. The person in Quadrant IV is simply wasting time. The person in Quadrant II is likely a Highly Effective Person.
When a people say they are bored, they most likely mean that they don’t have activities to do in the two Not-Important Quadrants (III & IV). Think about it. When was the last time you complained about being bored when the activities you lacked did not fall in the Quadrants III & IV. On the other hand, having no activity in Quadrant II (activities of Highly Effective People) is not considered Bordom, but rather engaging in Quadrant II is considered Boring to many.
The Way Forward
First you have to clarify your priorities in order to determine what is important and what is not. We will focus on Importance because a person has more control on that, whereas Urgency is a matter of time and a person has less control. One way to minimize being flooded with activities in Quadrant I (Important and Urgent) is to deal with them BEFORE they become urgent (i.e. in Quadrant II).
Let us take a Muslim for Example because I think I have a good idea what a Muslim’s priorities should be (you can try it for other personalities). According to the Qur’an, Man is God’s vicegerent/represetative on earth and so it is upon man to uphold the values expounded in the Quran (Justice, Fairness, Equity), which are built on the five pillars of Islam, and sustained by the five articles of faith. Next to faith, is knowledge! Some Muslim scholars have even argued that there can be no faith without knowledge because the Qur’an constantly invites Man to reason and contemplate; the more knowledgeable a person, the more awe of God through his creations (which is everything).
By knowledge, it does not mean religious knowledge only (as occasionally misunderstood), but EVERY branch of knowledge. Certainly, there is a minimum of religious knowledge which I believe many Muslims lack, and should therefore endeavour to study. It is this minimum that will regulate how one uses any other knowledge they have gained. This minimum involves the discipline to be able to perform basic investigation into the VARIETY of Islam’s positions on matters we do without thinking. Islamic Critical Thinking is needed here.
Given this brief tour into the values of a Muslim, it is unimaginable how a Muslim could ever be bored. Perhaps Muslims are not aware of what a Muslim stands for and what responsibilities God has placed on a Muslim. Remember how the Quran captures the weight of this responsibility when even the “Heavens, the Earth and the Mountains” (Q33:72) refused this burden of responsibility but Man took it. It is not for a Muslim to wait for other Men to acknowledge this responsibility, but to carry it and face the challenges that come with it.
Below is another set of Quadrants very specific to Muslim activities. Quadrant IV has been left for you to fill…
The issue of Boredom then becomes an issue of Prioritizing. Priotitizing means giving activities in each Quadrant what they deserve according to importance to one’s value system. It is said that Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity. It is time to create your own Luck by preparing (Quadrant II) for an opportunity (Quadrant I).
Let me scare the Muslims reading this a little: Learning (recitation, understanding, using) the Quran, which belongs to Quadrant II (Important and not Urgent), preapres you for your death, which belongs to Quadrant I (Important and Urgent); so be sure to meet death prepared; as a Lucky Man or Highly Effective Muslim.
By referring to the versions of Quadrants above, I hope it is easy now to see how ABSURD it is for a person’s time to be occupied with one ceremony after another, and then even more ABSURD is when that person thinks themselves as Busy. C’mon!
Enthusiasm and The Deflation
Have you ever been inspired to change for the better after attending a program, seminar or an inspirational talk? Did you create a schedule to make yourself a improve? Did you begin you new schedule? If you did, how long were you able to keep up before loosing your momentum?
Like many, if you were not able to sustain your program for self improvement, then it is likely that you mistook Importance for Urgency. You must have thought the improvement important to pursue it in the first place, but you might have also placed it in Quadrant I (Important and Urgent) instead of Quadrant II (Important but not Urgent). The difference is that in Quadrant II, you are more likely to set realistic goals because there is no rush; remember it is not Urgent even though important. That way, activities in Quadrant II become a habit that gradually improves you. And Consistent. This is how one cultivates a reading habit, not by deciding to read too many books within a short time. For the Muslims this is why the Quran asks Muslims to read “as may be easy” (73:20) for them from the Quran so that it becomes consistent, a habit and part of a Muslim.