Passion Diminished

The word passion is derived from the Latin passio and the Greek pathema, both of which mean suffering or enduring. Today this meaning is most closely associated with what Jesus Christ went thru in the last hours of His earthly life.


Modern usage of the word passion is more commonly connected to other definitions… ardent affection, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept, and of course sexual desire. It is the first two definitions that have been on my mind lately, especially as they are connected to the Latin & Greek terminology.


ponderThe question that I have been pondering is this: Is anyone truly passionate about anything anymore?? It seems to me that most of us have subjects that pique our interest, activities that we enjoy, & stuff that we get involved in for one reason or another…but are we really passionate about any of it?? Nelson Mandela once said that “there is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”, yet that is exactly what most of us do…we play small and settle.


This train of thought began, in part, with a conversation I had with The Owl. We were lamenting the lostbowl art of customer service. We are both old enough (especially him) to remember the days when one could go into a clothing, music, shoe, electronics, or any other kind of store and find genuinely helpful salespeople, the kind of folks who had been doing the gig for a long time and really knew their stuff. They were passionate about their work and cared about doing it the right way. Oh sure they wanted to make a sale and earn extra cash, but it seemed to be understood that the two things weren’t mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, back then it felt like everyone knew that being honest, respectful, knowledgeable, & diligent is what would clinch the sale. I am sure that kind of service is available today, but it is certainly rarer than it used to be. Such jobs are looked down upon now. They are viewed as stepping stones to something better. Few employees are passionate about the products they produce/sell or the companies for which they work. It’s just a job, a necessary evil to be able to pay bills & put food on the table.


bbeeBut this lack of passion isn’t just reserved for the 40 hours/week that we are on the job. It permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We are overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are so many choices at our fingertips that we go from one thing to another, like a bumblebee gathering nectar & pollen, darting from flower to flower, never staying in one place or focused on one thing for too long. We are always in a hurry and have such a diminished attention span that we don’t take time to embrace excellence or let our passion ripen. We have developed faster & cheaper ways to do just about everything, but quality suffers because craftsmanship has become all too uncommon.


passionWatch a ball game. Go to a concert. Check out a museum. Read a book. Go see a theater production. What do all of those things have in common?? Passion. Excellence. Hard work. Effort. One doesn’t make it to the NFL or NBA, get a book published, become part of an orchestra, or star in a play, movie, or television show without all of those things. Certainly natural talent plays a part, but the finished products that you & I enjoy are the result of a lot of blood, sweat, & tears and countless hours of training & preparation. Yet the people that do those things at a high level make up a fractional percentage of the population. Most of the rest of us just try to get thru our day with as little stress as possible and without putting forth any more effort than necessary. And when we are forced to work hard we usually don’t feel good about it because we really don’t enjoy what we are doing. We feel obligated to serve on the committee. Parents feel like they have to involve their kids in every extracurricular activity available. Folks begrudgingly volunteer for the hot dog sale, book drive, or brainstorming meeting. We show up because we like the people and believe in the organization & its mission, but also because we’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to do, we don’t want anyone to dislike or be disappointed in us, and simply because we don’t know how to say no even when that is exactly what we would prefer to do. I’m not saying these are horrible reasons to be involved in something or that anyone has bad apathyintentions. I am only suggesting that those reasons/excuses don’t mean a person is passionate about their involvement and in the long run it shows. Most everyone has a job and atleast one hobby…but in my experience few people nowadays have a true passion. On the rare occasion that those things intersect it is obvious and the outcome is beautiful. Harriet Tubman observed that “every great dream begins with a dreamer”. Perhaps that is part of the issue. We have become far too pragmatic. We play it safe. We don’t take chances. To call someone a dreamer is at best dismissive and possibly even an insult.


lukewarmSadly this issue infiltrates our churches and the spiritual realm. Sunday mornings are oftentimes just a social outing where we get to drink coffee and hang out with friends. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with good coffee or great fellowship, but how can we say we have a relationship with a God & Savior that we only interact with a couple of hours per week and even that time lacks passion?? The meme you are seeing on the left is something that I ran across a few weeks ago and it’s been gnawing at me ever since. Those words are probably responsible for this discourse as much or more than my conversation with The Owl. None of us want to spend eternity in Hell so we seek salvation, but salvation should be as much about living our earthly lives in relationship with God as it is spending eternity with Him. We rob ourselves of years of joy by continuing to wallow in sin and paying lip service to God, playing “church” on Sunday but doing whatever feels good or seems cool & hip the other 6 ½ days of the week. God tells us in Revelation that “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The third chapter of 2 Timothy talks about “having a form of godliness but denying its power”, which I believe is a perfect definition of religion in America.


Part of the reason why we lack devotion is because we prefer to avoid suffering, thus the two meanings of passion concurrently toe-in-the-wateroverlap and diverge. Not only do we not have the dedication to put in the work required to attain excellence, we are uncomfortable with the idea of suffering, whatever that may entail. It is much easier to just dip our toe in the water than to dive in and fully immerse ourselves.


I do not say these things to pass judgement. I am as guilty as anyone for lacking passion in my life. Neither do I offer solutions because a) I’m not that smart and b) I’m not sure there is one pithy, one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. These are just things that I have observed, and the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.

Who’s Invested??

hospital-clip-art-539060Winston Churchill once opined that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. Author & clergyman John C. Maxwell says that “people may hear your words, but they feel your attitude”. While spending the past couple of months institutionalized…in a hospital & then a rehab facility…I have done much pondering about such matters and considerable soul searching about my own outlook on life. However, I won’t pester The Manoverse with internal skirmishes. I think it is more productive to consider the big picture with insight that may be edifying to others.


Laying in a hospital bed is a humbling experience. You’re pretty much helpless. Reliant on others to do just about everything. It is frustrating, humiliating, and a hundred other adjectives. Depending on the nature of one’s particular malady and the mix of medications being consumed in various forms moods can swing back & forth like a pendulum. Sleep is elusive at best. In my particular case I was raised by my parents to be polite & respectful, and intellectually I realized that ticking anyone off who might literally have my well-being in their hands would not be smart. However, I’d be lying if I denied having formed opinions about people and occasional fantasies about hideously violent acts of retribution. Yet ultimately those momentary flights of ferocious fancy gave way to observations not only about the medical profession but about professionals & professionalism in general.


rnI have come to realize that I am oftentimes too quick to judge. The old saying is that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest…that is exactly what we do. And it isn’t just about ugly vs. pretty, thin vs. fat, or young vs. old, although those are the easiest snap judgments to make. I became very sensitive to tone of voice. In hospitals the staff becomes accustomed to interacting with elderly people so they almost automatically talk louder. Since I am neither a senior citizen nor hard of hearing I took this as people yelling at me needlessly. Whether or not that person modulated their tone after an interaction or two was very instructive. I am also aware of a person talking to me versus talking at me. Yes I was a patient. Yes they are the “experts” trying to get me well. But I am also an adult with a certain level of intelligence, comprehension, & decision making skills. I am more than happy to do what needs to be done if I understand why it needs to be done and what the benefit is in the long run. The only people who should assume “because I said so” is ever a good enough explanation are parents talking to their small children. At any rate, a strange phenomenon occurred more than once during my…time away. There were people who I initially couldn’t stand…for whatever reason…and dreaded dealing with on any kind of semi-regular basis. Conversely, there nursewere people that I was almost immediately comfortable with because they seemed “nice” (whatever that means). Yet more than once I was forced to reevaluate my initial assessment. Contrary to popular myth first impressions are not always lasting impressions, and they shouldn’t be anyway. A pleasant disposition becomes meaningless if it isn’t accompanied by an adequate level of competency, and a gruff or stern demeanor becomes less imperative when a person proves to be more than capable of doing their job well. Ideally the two intersect somewhere at a satisfying point on the grid, but that isn’t as common as one might prefer.


Eventually I came to a couple of conclusions. First of all, the medical profession is kind of like the President of the United States…one may or may not like the particular person doing the job, but we should maintain a healthy respect for the position itself. I don’t know about doctors. They are very intelligent and I trusted the judgment & skill of all that played a role in my treatment, but I didn’t interact with them enough to make any concrete observations. Aside from that though, everyone who works in a hospital…nurses, aids, housekeeping, food service…is to be admired. They have tough jobs. They deal with sick people on a daily basis. They see death. I am quite sure that there are some patients & families that aren’t cooperative. It can’t be easy. My perception is that there are a lot of young folks who happen to be good at math & science and who have the noble & idealistic notion of wanting to “help people”. These youngsters are gently persuaded by parents, teachers, & riveting episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or Chicago Med to go into the medical profession. Hey, why not?? It’s noble, exciting, pays well, & there’s job security. But in the two months that I was…confined…I frequently pondered how many of the unripened 20-somethings I encountered and made me glad that I’ve never procreated would be working somewhere in a comfortable little office by the time they are 30…far away from the prickly reality of blood, pestilence, & grief.


empathySecondly, I concluded that the line of demarcation is empathy. Lots of people are…proficient. They’re smart. They have a degree or certificate that says they have learned the right things and attained the proper skills & abilities to complete necessary tasks. But do they care?? Are they invested?? Or is it simply a job that they retain because there are bills to pay & mouths to feed?? As a patient in a hospital the most important thing is to be treated properly in order to get well and go home to a normal healthy life, but being treated with empathy by people who are invested in the outcome makes the ordeal a little less difficult.


This thought process can & should be expanded beyond medicine. Henry David Thoreau said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. Especially in 21st century America there seems to be a collective question of “is this all there is??”. People get up, go to work, come home, spend money, & die. No matter where one may be…a shopping mall, a restaurant, a sports arena, the barber shop, church…it is often fairly easy to surmise who is or isn’t invested. Like Maxwell said, people can “feel your attitude”. Obviously we don’t always know the details of a person’s life. There may be a reasonable explanation for their mood. Everyone has good days & bad days. We must be aware though of the difference between an isolated episode and a pattern, and since we can’t control the behavior of others we should concentrate on applying that awareness to ourselves. How are you perceived by others?? What is your level of commitment & passion for the things in which you are involved?? Are you just going thru the motions, or are you truly dedicated?? You may think that only you can answer the question, but that’s not exactly true. Others can probably make deductions with a high level of accuracy. Who’s invested??