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Plod makes the world go around, not the boring declaration of passion.

Passion is over-rated. Today it is everywhere and cheaper by the minute. Every applicant for a job, every airhead interviewed by the mass media, every bus rider claims to be passionate. The chef is passionate about the quality of each meal prepared in his restaurant. The statistician is no less passionate about regression analysis. The Vice Chancellor will not take second place in her passion for learning. I am sure the cleaner , given half a chance, would declare a passion for mops.

Enough, I say!

These days most people seem to think they have to proclaim their passion about just about everything. Banal prejudices, second hand opinions, trite observations, they seem to think, take added depth, weight, and profundity if wrapped in passion. “Take what I say seriously, because it is a passion.”

Am I the only one who finds these routine declarations of passion distasteful and even alarming? The automatic declaration of an emotion as an overriding concern bothers me. Why?

Substituting emotion for reason, evidence, or logic is not the right road to take, regardless of the noble cause. Emotion turns the volume up, static and all; it turns the heat up, UV rays and all, but it does not advance a single step. A passionate incompetent is still, well, incompetent. I expect this passion for expressing passion all began, as do many other irritating middle class habits, in the advice given at a corporate training seminar to put more energy into activities. Nothing wrong with that. But exerting energy does tire, and so to substitute the ritual of labeling oneself as passionate becomes a labor-saving device for expending energy in doing anything.

It gets worse. The self-declared passionates I encounter, it turns out, are mostly passionate about telling other people what to do. They seem far more occupied with being bossy, then with doing anything much themselves. Here I think of the passionate Green voters who drive the urban Panzers that loom over littler beings at traffic lights. Sheer prejudice you say! 'Fraid not, the Bavarian Tiger Tanks I see at Newtown intersections do, occasionally, sport Green bumper stickers. That combination is hard to top.

Note to readers. I expect these comments will attract censorious comments, and perhaps even the suggestion to remove this comment. (That has happened before.) We shall see.

A person who operates only on passion can of course only do those things that evoke those passions. Otherwise, where is the passion? Nowhere. Hmm. Let’s consider a contrast.

A professional is someone who does the job that has to be done, and does it regardless of one’s emotional state. Rain or shine, healthy or sick, the professional plods on. A professional considers the situation with detachment and proceeds methodically. That no doubt sounds boring but it is how things get done: step-by-step. One of the dangerous signals of the capitalization of Passion these days is the implication that passion produces results in quick-time. Hardly. Noise and heat, yes, these can produced quickly, and not much else is.

When things changes, when reality undermines a bright idea, as reality often does, a new corporate chief ends a program, or a new government of the day ditches the policy of the last decade, the professional takes a deep breath, and perhaps a pain killer or two, and changes tack to catch the new wind. The professional plods on.

In contrast, the passionate one cannot adapt to change but rather reacts to it with anger, denial, blame, and, perhaps, grief, and a hissy-fit. None of these reactions are worth the minimum wage.

All of this comes home to me nearly every day when I talk to university students, who are just an inclined as all those media role models today to declare their passions first, as though it is passport for entry into serious business of life. It is uphill push to convince these students, bombarded from all sides by trivial expressions of passionate commitment to everything from healthy living to recycled paper towels, that one goal of education is professionalism, and the professionalism includes detachment, reliance on evidence, adaptation to reality, and a great many other boring approaches that will never make it to ABC Stateline or Channel Ten current affairs. The alleged quick-fix of passion is much more glamorous than the slow boring of hard boards that gets things done.

In a long lost but glorious British television series the Sandbaggers the very unpleasant Neil Burnside lectures a hapless colleague on what it takes to win the Cold War spy-game. He says it takes hard, unremitting, and largely thankless work at a desk studying maps, reading weather reports, counting kilometers, meticulously preparing documents that may never be read, briefings without end, cajoling allies, compiling resources that might never be used, taking everything seriously just in case, and the list goes on. When his associate dares to protest that action then and there was needed, he replies “If you want James Bond, go the library.” In the real world it takes work to get anything done. Amen to that, Brother Neil. By the way, the DVDs of Sandbaggers can be had from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005N5RK/imdb-button/

I suppose I had better anticipate one reaction to this argument, though it is tedious to do so. When I advocate professionalism, I am not advocating blind obedience. The only alternative to the vagaries of passion is not blind obedience but rather a measured professionalism which is after all what the world truly runs on right now. The world does not run on either the noise or hot air of passion, but on the daily toil of professionals from cleaners to chief executives, and more. It is a boring old world.

Comments

I agree. The word is a menace in business. People quiz you about your 'passion' for promoting their product etc.
I went to a lecture last year by John Armstrong on his recent book "love, life, Goethe' he made a similar point about the benefits of balance in life rather than extremes, http://newhumanist.org.uk/1528
"Goethe’s productive genius, for example, lay to a very large extent in his capacity for hard work, his willingness to accept (although hardly to enjoy) periods of rejection. But many of his admirers did not want to locate his genius – his creative abililty – in such strenuous and unappetising matters. They preferred a more superficial view of genius, one which could more readily be imitated."

I would agree: http://engineerswithoutfears.blogspot.com/2007/04/words-meaning-4-passion.html

It is my view that passion has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by many of us. Why is there an increasing need to describe oneself as a person with a passion? Are we hoping that by adding this to our resume we can claim the power to transcend the ordinary in whatever we do?
I believe passion is ephemeral and a force of nature. It is not something we can seize and own and 'faking it until you make it' is not going to get it for us.
Passion is personal,partial and prejudiced. It is not always a force for good.
Nevertheless, I am of the view that a surge of
passion, can not only help one pursue what one really wants out of life, but is also an important component of achievement at an elite level. Passion can also give us the bounce and drive to lift us out of our comfort zone in order to step up to a challenge.
I also believe it is critically important to allow ourselves time in our day to step into a 'passion-free zone'. Placing a boundary around our passion gives us an opportunity for more effective clear-minded thinking and facilitates the understanding of and empathy for others.

Michael,
Why would you imagine that real passion would preclude hard work?

A large percentage of the world's work and meaningful decisions are made by people who are ill, feeling off, or handicapped in some way.
Passion is wonderful in your lover, at the theatre, or in the occasional rare creative - but for the mills of the Gods the grind goes on.

However when energy and brilliance are observed, stand back in awe! The tsunami can make you dizzy, and leave you very wet, but profoundly affected. A rare moment.

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