I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality.
-Henry David Thoreau
Among the benefits of living in an automated society–a place where meals can be prepared in less than 10 minutes and clothes washed with the bush of a button–is that leisure time has increased significantly. Our great-great-grandparents were too busy butchering their own hogs and hand-washing their Sunday best to have much time for hobbies or fun. We, however, are fortunate enough to live in a time where whole industries have cropped up to fill the time void produced by automation–and to keep us from getting bored.
On the surface, these activities–sports, entertainment, technology, among others–are a welcome reprieve from the daily grind. I indulge in them all the time myself. However, that is exactly what they should be: an indulgence, not a habit.
As Thoreau comments, constantly indulging in the trivial actually profanes our mind. To “profane” is to defile, debase, corrupt. To take a mind–our mind–naturally drawn to the heavens, to the sacred, to the in-depth, and to only feed it the silly and superficial is a waste. Worse yet, to do so weakens our ability to change in the future, to begin flying and diving and struggling should we realize that the trivial doesn’t have enough substance to sustain us.
I wouldn’t make the mistake of trying to define what’s trivial, primarily because I don’t want to be dismissed as your run-of-the-mill television-hater or anti-tech person. I’m not here to place blame on the medium.
Instead, I’ll lay out the opposite of trivial. Deep things, meaningful things, the kind in which we need to be sure to engage, require us to be active and to be challenged; this is in opposition to most trivial things, which are either passive, shallow, or both.
I’ll be the first to admit I need to live more in the deep realm. When I read, I need to pick Cormac McCarthy rather than another glance at espn.com; when I reflect, I need to think about aging, or giving, or the meaning of suffering, rather than think about whether Christian Bale’s voice in the Batman movies is actually an imitation of a talking wolverine.
Doing so will be its own reward–I’ll be strengthening my mind, engaging it in that which it’s meant to be engaged, and best of all, I’ll be growing.