Are you really passionate or do you just like it a lot?

What are you passionate about?

I think it’s the most liberally used phrase I hear in my average week. From friendship circles to networking to business meetings etcetera, I keep hearing this word and it’s starting to get on my nerves.

People say they are passionate about food, about saving the world, about writing, about helping business get something. It’s become a bit of a cliché and a colloquial synonym for having an ‘interest’.

You see, passion isn’t just about having an interest. Passion is actually derived from the ancient Greek word, ‘paskho’ which means to suffer. To suffer.

It’s easy to be interested in movies or a person or even a cause until something else comes along and despite best intentions, you get distracted. You can point this out to people and they will assert until they’re blue in the face that because they stayed up late all week, they’re evidently passionate, but ask them to sacrifice everything they have from money, relationships, reputation, their future and even their own mortality, and you’ll start to hear objections.

When you talk with people about passion and ask them to define it, they seem to have a common understanding of the word as a ‘strong desire’ for something showing feelings of intense enthusiasm and emotion. When you start to think of all the things in your life you enjoy and make at least half an effort for, it’s amazing how many things you can be ‘passionate’ about. But are you really passionate or are you just butchering language again?

It’s easy to think that you can see passion when you meet someone and they speak emphatically with their hands, speaking at a million miles an hour and spitting their canapé on your shirt.

But that’s not passion; it’s just them intensely discussing an interest with a level of focus. I know because I’ve been one of those guys and fifteen minutes later I’m ‘passionately’ talking about something else. I’d emphatically talk about the subject matter but to sacrifice myself for a lifetime of suffering to argue the point is a different thing altogether.

We’re encouraged to constantly question the world around us and discuss what we’re passionate about as if it’s some sort of organisational system. Here’s your badge Paul, I can tell you’re passionate about movies. Hey everyone, Paul is passionate about movies. Sigh.

The downside is that just like the words love and hate, the true meaning of the word passion is being diluted and thus grossly mis-interpreted. This just causes a personal dissonance between real motivations and superficial ones resulting in the age-old reflection, ‘Hmm I don’t know what I’m passionate about’.

The upside is that just like the words love and hate, people are aligning with the sentiment of what these words represent and so some could argue that consonance with the subject matter can only eventually lead toward harmony.

Sure I might sound like a stickler for language but I think it’s important to be accurate in your communication. If like is the new love, dislike is the new hate and interest is the new passion, how do you tell someone you really love them, that you hate something and for you to take yourself seriously when you say you’re passionate about something?

Let’s reconsider the origins of the word passion and think about its meaning – suffering. Some people suffer in silence and others will make a song and dance about it. People suffer for a cause, a belief, a way of life, a freedom or a dream.

Most of the time these causes, beliefs, freedoms and dreams involve a massive battle and more often than not, don’t end in a glamorous podium finish. People get hurt, things get lost along the way and there will be plenty of friction because typically the dream conflicts with the norm – hence why it’s a dream.

Yes, it’s true that with passion comes sacrifice, compromise and a somewhat stoic sense of determination. But it also highlights an element most people don’t consider or wish to accommodate. Passion shuts out common reason.

Reason is the little devil and angel on your shoulders trying to keep you on the straight and narrow – to keep you within boundaries and maintaining a certain harmony. The law is originally based on the theoretical values of  ‘what a reasonable man would do’ but when was the last time you met someone reasonable on every front?

Reasonable people are pretty rare – if not impossible to find – because reason is subjective and what’s reasonable to you is unreasonable to someone else. This is what makes the law at times difficult to interpret.

What it does reveal is that there’s a conflict with passion – and that’s reason. How do you be reasonable and passionate at the same time?

True passion means pulling out all the stops, removing distractions, fighting when you need to fight and going alone especially if it’s you against the world. Reason is about lots of considerate stoppages, maintaining the peace and structuring everything into a context where everyone else can play along.

I’m all for passion and I agree that real change is effected by passionate people – both singular and plural. However please don’t tell me you’re passionate about ‘technology’ because you have a new iPhone and it’s cool. You just like it a lot.

So whilst this does sound a bit ranty, there’s a valuable consideration in here. I want you to take the time to really think about what you’d suffer for. I’m not asking for what you’re passionate about but rather what in life would you genuinely put everything on the line for, to suffer for, to die for?

If you’re trying to work out what you’re passionate about, perhaps it’s best to stop looking so superficially and take the time to understand who you are, how you work and why it’s perfectly reasonable to you even if it’s not to others. All will then be revealed.

Passionate people will stop at nothing – and I mean nothing – to make a dream come true, not be first in line to get a new phone. I believe we all have the capacity to live with passion but the world we live in has tried to abbreviate it, glamourise it, franchise it, simplify it, polish it, remove effort and make it into a shiny new product. Alas it’s not, in fact it’s the contrary.

Genuine passion is the only thing you’ll have left when everything else is gone and will be the only reason why you’ll get back up and start again.

2 thoughts on “Are you really passionate or do you just like it a lot?

  1. Paul, first of all, thank you for being a stickler for language. I am thrilled that you took the time to define your terminology as a premise for the rest of your argument. The people whom are capable of doing this are few and far between.

    Second, I’d like to challenge you on the notion that reason or rationality and passion are at odds. I think that one may be both passionate and rational. The primary reason I think this to be the case is based on my understanding that being rational and reasonable are two very different things. So, in essence, I challenge you on some of your terms – and then on the conclusion you’ve drawn from them.

    Etymology of “reason”:
    From Anglo-Norman raisun (Old French raison), from Latin rationem, an accusative of ratio, from ratus, past participle of reor (“think”).

    Etymology of “reasonable”:
    The term reasonable had been coined as a legal fiction in conjunction with “man” (as in “reasonable man”) in common law to describe an individual whom
    lived up to a certain objective standard.

    Thus, there is a fundamental difference between a man of reason and a reasonable man: the man of reason is the man of thought; the reasonable man is the man whom satisfies someone else’s “objective” standard – which by definition cannot be objective.

    I posit that a man of reason can be passionate – indeed that *only* a man of reason can find that for which he has passion – and that at the primary, one’s passion is connected to one’s ultimate standard of value. In order to prove this statement one must show that one’s passion may be the result of a process of thinking – of rationality. Before I go into the logical proof of this statement, I’d like to first ask you whether you agree with me – based on your own understanding of “reason” vs “reasonable”?

    More importantly though, I’d like to present a case for why perhaps the “passion” (as in, suffering) of a man whom possesses an ultimate standard of value is not a necessity – so long as his ultimate standard of value is his life and its improvement.


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