February 22, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)


Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half of the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.

Bertrand Russell

I have just come home from having a molar tooth extracted by one of the most competent dentist that I have ever had. It was completely painless because he gives a superb local anesthetic. He knows his business. I have also been treated by dentists who, to be kind, didn't know their asses from holes in the ground. The contrast is appalling.

Some people are more competent than others. The competent ones are, without exception, very intelligent. The problem is that once a very intelligent person learns how to do something to perfection, he is likely to be bored to tears by it.

I am a fair carpenter. I have built my own house and it is a pretty good one. If I wanted to become an expert carpenter, I would have to build a lot of houses. And that would bore me to tears. Tract houses are built by crews of carpenters, each one doing one thing. There are framing carpenters and finish carpenters and who-know-what-kind of carpenters. There are cabinet makers and roofers and painters.

The people in the sports world who are at the pinnacle of their profession have learned to do one thing to perfection. Barry Bonds can hit a baseball better than anyone else in the world. Tiger Woods can get a golf ball into a hole in fewer strokes than anyone else in the world. Michael Jordan can put a basketball into a hoop exquisitely. They all have the ability to concentrate on one very simple task until they have perfected it. Then they keep doing it over and over and over and over again, to perfection. That they aren't all bored beyond imagining surprises me. Maybe the adulation that they receive from the crowd compensates for the boredom. The money in the bank probably helps an awful lot too, and it can be a hellofalot of money.

The people who are admired in the world are those who are the best at something. Others are contemptuously referred to as a "Jack of all trades and master of none." The nice part about being a jack of all trades is that it isn't often boring. The masters of a trade may be bored to tears. The best dentists I have known all had other interests. Some have been artists of one sort or another. To compensate for the repetitiveness, they did something else that they might consider more interesting or just something different to do.

A number of physicians have become conspicuously successful by doing a single procedure: replacing lenses in people's eyes, bypassing arteries in the heart, replacing joints, rotorooting prostates. They are the people who make American medicine the envy of the world. Let's face it; once you have learned to replace a lens to perfection, it has to become boring. Yet a large number of people are grateful for the existence of those people who do a difficult job to perfection. I know that I am when I am serviced by such a perfectionist. Yet, I wouldn't want to be the person doing it, no matter how much money I was paid. The thought of spending most of my life doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and........................................... But I'm very glad that there are people like that.

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