Friday, September 9, 2011

Passion Considered Harmful

I had a discussion with a colleague recently, and she was telling me about work in the university. As we parted ways, she quipped that for those university jobs, one really "needed to be passionate about education."

I'm sure that she was serious, and in some ways it is true. I'm also sure that there over 50% of the people working in those jobs who could be said to be less than passionate. Middle-manager dreary even. I've seen those people at work, and the utter banality of their expressions is sometimes just torturous to watch. So naturally I'm a little confused by the apparent contradictions.

My question is, why?

It is important to be committed to what you are doing. My question is why is it necessary to be so passionate that you never stop to think about whether it is important or good. We could save a lot of really worthless economic activity, not to mention heartache and grief, with a little dispassionate introspection.

Should we encourage teens to join the sex industry, since many teens are passionate about sexual activity? Passion is not the source of commitment.

Nor is passion a necessary outcome. I want my doctor to be keenly interested in his profession, to be dedicated and deeply involved in whatever it is that he specializes in. But I don't want him to have an unusual excitement, enthusiasm, or compelling affinity for his mode of treatments above alternative protocols that are equally valuable.

A doctor's attachment to his specialty should not cloud his judgement about your specific situation. Passion is a fog to judgement, a useful motivator but deadly without restraint.

Besides which, people lie about being passionate. They especially exaggerate their passions when it is perceived to affect their job prospects. Sometimes, a pretense of passion can indeed turn into the real thing. Yet the incessant drumbeat for passion has become such a common refrain that it has corrupted and colored the very message it was meant to filter.

Professional actors are paid to present a pretense of passion. Such passion is hollow at best - a clever deception for our own amusement - but it is all too common to find people who can act a passionate role with excellence but have little value for honesty and integrity.

In marriage, passion without honesty, integrity, and commitment is just a precursor to divorce, or worse. Passionate actors poison their relationships.

Passion shouldn't be an acid test. It shouldn't even be the first thing you look for. Look for healthy relationships instead. When you find them, the passion will grow out naturally.
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