Distraction Is a Virtue

The insistence of parents, teachers and physicians that children be concentrated fully and absolutely on their school work is a corruption of values, says playwright Hanif Kureishi. 

What's the Latest Development?


When playwright Hanif Kureishi sees his son's friends being given Ritalin to stay focused at school, he can't help thinking that the pseudo-certainty of science is absolving people from their responsibility to engage life at a more human level. Perhaps children are bored at school because school is boring, or because class sizes are too big, or because they have their (troubled?) home life on their minds. Kureishi was a distracted child and frequently fell behind in school. Now he is an important intellect and guardian of society's values.

What's the Big Idea?

Brain chemicals are the parlance of biological determinism which, according to Kureishi, is one of psychology's ugliest evasions. An inability to concentrate has become a disorder, treatable with powerful drugs. But what about other inabilitiesone's inability to speak Russian, for example? For Kureishi, distraction is an important in-between time when solutions to life's vexing questions arise from a creative and subconscious place. Prescribing stimulants like Ritalin is psychological policing, he says, which makes us all a bit duller and a bit less virtuous.

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