Are people born boring?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 April, 1997, 12:00am

NO There's a scientist out there, in that strange and wacky world of genetics, who claims to have isolated the bit of DNA which can determine whether somebody is likely to be born boring. I simply don't believe it. I know far too many interesting and lively people who have, alas, fallen into dullness all by themselves. In the ongoing debate about nature and nurture, it's definitely nurture every time - the nurture of their own children, that is.

One of the reasons I came to Hong Kong was the realisation that if I sat through one more London dinner party at which the conversation revolved around nannies and schools for the sprogs I, too, would fall to the floor and bawl in an infantile manner. What happened to all those marvellous people who discussed books and films and Life until 3 am? They didn't suddenly discover a gene, they acquired offspring. (Well, it could be a peculiar form of reverse geneticism - the embryo transmitting boringness to the parent - but I rather doubt it.) This column is subbed by individuals with deeply wonderful babies so I'd just like to say that it's not an inevitable process, and people do grow out of it, especially in that narrow gap of time between the departure of the grown child and arrival of grandchildren. Proof that bores are made, not born, isn't confined to parenthood, however, although that's where you find the finest exemplars. Fishermen, stamp collectors, readers of car magazines, conspiracy theorists, politicians - they were once jolly, ordinary people with perfect DNA. Something happened and it's bewildering, but it isn't inherited.

Let's take Prime Minister John Major as an interesting - or not - example. He had a father who juggled and a mother who trotted around music-halls. With that sort of vivid background, his parents were obviously incapable of passing on a smidgeon of dullness to their son. Little John chose his persona, all by himself. Every time he spotted wee flickers of personality trying to express themselves, he squashed them mercilessly. Also, successfully.

The same thing happens within the Royal Family who, contrary to what you might believe, are forever fighting a natural tendency to be fascinating. If there really were a yawn-gene, years of inbreeding should have reduced the Windsors to nothing more than cardboard effigies, and yet they still have to exert extraordinary self-control not to appear in the papers every single day. (Adulterers, abdicators, theatre luvvies, queens - could any family be more colourful?) That we become bored by them is because they want to fool us into lethargy as a sort of homage to catatonia. Don't believe it. In any case, admitting boredom is in itself a sign of dullness, as my father never failed to tell us children. That's why I grinned my way through all those dinner parties and then high-tailed it to Heathrow.

Fionnuala McHugh YES Tempting as it is to rant on about boring people, I have decided to let Fionnuala demonstrate to you the meaning of the word boredom and instead concentrate on the issue at hand. The question here is not whether people are born boring, but whether people inherit personality traits, boredom being one of them, but aggression, apathy and intelligence being others. The question is: are our personalities determined for us or do we create them? It's a worrying thought. We all treasure what we call our personality, and most of us believe it is is formed by the experiences we have. We describe experiences as 'character forming' and think back to events that in some way shaped our personalities, be it school, the services or lounging around watching MTV, guzzling beer.

Certainly, part of our character is formed through experience. But there is increasing evidence that some personality traits are passed on genetically. Certain proteins contained in our DNA double helix are now thought to contain the building blocks of personality. During the formation of the child, these proteins join forces with proteins contained in the DNA of the other parent to form a new combination which is linked directly to the personality of the child.

Now, I tell you, is that boring or what? If you are bored reading this, congratulations, you're a human being. If you are fascinated and want to read more about genetically inherited personality traits, buy a gun and do yourself a favour because you are one hell of a bore.

How many times have you been asked a nice, open question like the one above only to be lumbered with some idiot armed with a scientific explanation? You think you've started a potentially interesting conversation full of ethical twists and moral turns and instead find yourself being very slowly and deliberately reduced to a state of near coma.

I believe one characteristic links all bores - a lack of passion. We tend to think of bores simply as conversational bores, but boredom crosses any number of boundaries. People can be boring in bed, boring to work with, boring to get drunk with or boring to play sports with. More often than not, you will find that the boring conversationalist is boring in any number of other areas as well.

The only rational explanation for this is that some people are just born boring. It is too all-pervasive to be anything else. In the same way that some people are born good-looking or hyper-intelligent, it is reasonable to conclude that boredom is a freak of nature that afflicts some and not others simply through birth.

So, am I one? Are you one? It's a tough question isn't it? We've all been aware of boring someone. None of us are interesting all the time. Perhaps the answer is that we are all born boring, but there are those that learn not to be, and those simply too boring to know they are boring.

David Ibison