There is a duty not to be boring

Someone has just said to me: ‘You’re really boring today’. It is, of course, something I commonly hear. And it was undoubtedly true. But it made me wonder if there was any moral significance to my personal boringness. Should I repent of it, or is it morally neutral?

I’ve concluded, I’m afraid, that it’s culpable. There is a duty both to myself and to others to use reasonable – no, extraordinary – endeavours – not to be dull.

There are two reasons why I might be boring in the eyes of another.

1. I might have lived a life which is capable of being entertaining if I did relate my doings, but have chosen not to bother to relate it in an entertaining way.

2. I might have chosen to live a life in which nothing happened which is capable of entertaining another.
Surely case 1 is plainly culpable? I have an opportunity to relieve the ennui of another with whom because of the circumstances (party, train, marriage, whatever) I am in a relationship. I selfishly choose not to relieve their suffering.
Case 2 is perhaps more complex. I start by observing that everyone – yes, everyone – does have a genuine choice whether or not to live a life some events of which will, if related to another, be interesting. Interesting lives are lives of activity and/or reflection. Those are intrinsically good things. They are – with one caveat – better than non-activity and unreflectiveness. Before the caveat, then, good people lead interesting lives. Or at least more interesting lives than non-good people.

The caveat relates to evil activity. Accounts of evil busy-ness can indeed be entertaining. But not, I think, anything like as interesting as the equal and opposite good activity. Evil acts are, for a start, not original. They’re twists of the good. This is another reason to insist that there’s a duty to maximise our interestingness – because if we do so we will also maximise our good behaviour.

So: be interesting. It’s a moral imperative.

And to all potential commentators: yes, I know that I’m dull, and so is this post. But to shout ‘hypocrisy’ is never a very compelling argument.

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7 Responses to There is a duty not to be boring

  • Anonymous says:

    Yeah, being interesting is a good. Lately I’ve been thinking that a good person should mostly give people what they want, weighted by circles of concern like self, family, city, nation, and world. Does this sound OK? It might include hearing about interesting topics.

  • Anders Sandberg says:

    Being bored is a mental state in the recipient, and I think being boring is hence audience-specific. I recently heard a riveting explanation about procedural matters in county-level Swedish courts: I have little doubt most people would have yawned, but I found it fun. I think we must conclude that boringness is relative.

    However, I do think we have a small duty to try to communicate in an engaging way with our audiences. That administrative explanation could perhaps have been framed so that it would have fitted the ears of another listener, who would not have been bored. In fact, telling people things is imposing on their time and attention, so doing it badly incurs a cost that could be avoided.

    So I think we should aim at making our *stories* entertaining, but the source material does not have to be special. One can turn the storye of shopping for cereals into an adventure – and there are far too many boring Nobel prize acceptance speeches.

  • Glenn Fox says:

    Perhaps not being boring is the price we pay to earn our interlocutor’s engagement. And should we have an argument to put or a change to bring about, we are possibly more likely to be successful if we we avoid boring our audience.

    The challenge is to construct our story in such a way, without straying from the truth, that others find interesting.

    So perhaps one can avoid being boring through a sense of duty, as well as the less lofty but very real motivator of rational self-interest.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’ve noticed that the loveliest people we meet – the ones who draw others to them with their niceness – are rarely ever boring, whereas people who specialise in being ‘interesting’ by being ‘evil’ are often boring in that they are just repeating attitudes and are adopting attitudes similar to other ‘evil’ people.

  • Bahijeh Akoury says:

    I think it is our right to be boring sometimes.

  • Phil H says:

    As a boring guy, I hope this isn’t true!
    There’s a bit of a positive/negative problem here: is the duty not to be boring the same as a duty to be entertaining? I’m not so sure…
    And there’s a bit of an issue with the reciprocity of relationships. If I talk about a person being boring or entertaining, I’m really talking about a one-way flow of boringness/entertainment from them to me. A TV show can be boring or entertaining. But to say I find a person boring/entertaining is to treat them as something less than a person. We all do it – I’m not saying it’s completely illegitimate ever to comment on the boringness of a person. But I do think it represents some kind of a deficiency in the listener, a failure to engage on the human level.

    The clearest case of boring culpability would be being boring by being boorish: talking on and on when the body language of the interlocutor makes it perfectly clear that she is not interested in the subject. That’s a kind of social abuse, and I would agree that the boor is culpable there.

  • Matheus De Pietro says:

    I just read an article that reminded me of this post. The link will probably be deleted here but its title is “Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring”, by the Business Insider. I think it’s interesting to see how the writer implies that not being boring is an expected attribute of a professor.

    I also wonder how your reasoning would seen from a Schopenhauerean, Stoic or Epicurean perspective. Excitement isn’t always a positive emotion, and according to these systems they may even lead to further suffering.

    My opinion, on the other hand, is that instead of making yourself interesting it is more morally efficient to teach students how to find excitement in boring events, including in our boring lectures. It’s the optimal decision, too, from a cost-benefit point of view.

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