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The Existential Vacuum: Birth Canal of the Knockout Game?


Every parent has heard it -- that dreadful lament of "I'm bored!"

Although it's usually accompanied by dramatizations of actual pain, few parents have patience for it. Even fewer view it as something to be concerned about. That could be a deadly mistake.

I certainly didn't view it as more than an annoyance. My children learned very quickly and early on that to complain of boredom was a bad idea. At least expressing it to me, that is. The first time those words would come out of a child's mouth, I simply replied, "Oh that's great. I have plenty of work for you to do. If you don't know how to fill your time wisely, I will happily fill it for you."

You would be amazed at how fast a child can figure out something else to do besides extra chores. One full dose of work instantly cures childhood boredom.

What about children who are never taught what to do with boredom? What do they grow into?

This week's reading of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning brought to light what could be the answer to a problem not yet conceived of at the time of its writing. Frankl explains,

The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century...man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people wish him to do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). ….

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.

In most cases, when children announce their boredom, parents give them placebos rather than cures. They think it is not really a problem at all. By dismissing the issue as unimportant, the parent takes the path of least resistance and too often offers entertainment as a cure. (This is evidenced by the large sums of money willingly paid for gaming systems.)

However, if Frankl is correct, and it is a real issue, then we are in essence training our children to seek amusement rather than meaning. This could have deadly consequences.