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For many years I’ve been told — mostly through reading, but also in person — that passion is the key to advancement and success. If you’re not passionate about something, you’re not going to succeed at it, or at anything else. In fact, if you’re not passionate, you might as well pack up and go home. Just resign yourself to a life of failure.

That advice my be well-meaning, but it’s rather depressing, especially for someone who doesn’t wake up in the morning and jump out of bed passionate about diving into a bowl of cornflakes and washing it down with a glass of orange juice, and heading off to their job … the same job they had yesterday, and the day before that and the year before that too!

It really struck home for me when I was reading an article: “Inside the exclusive world of Supreme Court clerks driving America’s legal controversies“. In that article I see a bunch of passionate people, and I see the root of much of the discord in American society. If I’ve been learning anything over the years it’s that passion may be the key to advancement and success, but it also creates fundamentalists and extremists. If you’re passionate about your belief that people of the same sex having sex with one another are “opprobrious”, guess what? You’re going to stop at nothing, in your passion, to ensure that they be stopped from doing so! And guess what? If you’re going to do that you’re going to run into and make enemies out of passionate people who want to have sex with people of the same gender! And if you’re passionate in your belief that Jews should be eradicated from the face of the planet, guess what? Do I really need to pull out that example of where passion can lead, both in the 1940s and in October last year?!

Bingo! Passionate sides at war with one another for the rest of time.

Something that also struck me in this article was that, apparently, some of the judges on the American Supreme Court in 1978 thought that racism would be a thing of the past twenty-five years hence, by 2003. It’s stunning to me that the apparently highest minds in that land actually thought that millions of years of human nature — and hundreds of years of American history! — would suddenly reverse itself within one generation! But beyond those millions of years of human nature lies “passion”. If you’re a passionate supremacist of any colour — White supremacist, Black Supremacist, etc., both “-ists” — what logic is going to convince you to tone down your passion and stop being a racist? Pretty much exactly none! After all, you’re passionate, and nobody with passion just gives up their passion because some idiot with an “agenda” came by and tried to use logic on you! “I have to show my fellow racists (‘passionatists’?) how passionate and committed to the cause I am by sticking to our mantra!”

So with what do we replace passion? I don’t think it’s really reasonable to suggest that if you’re just moderately interested in something, keep at it, slog through it, you’ll become successful at it. Yup, doesn’t quite ring true. On the other hand, we can’t all become successful billionaires (society’s objective barometer of success) because we’re passionate about something, because there will likely always be someone who is just that tiny bit more passionate than you, and he/she gets the top job, or a higher position on a list of rich people.

We all know passionate people. They’re a hoot at a party, going on and on about their passion. Actually, they’re probably not at parties, unless their passion is parties! But such people don’t fit into general society, which is why they’re (again) not generally at parties. But society needs positively passionate people; I don’t think I really need to pull out any examples, but we can all think of them. As much as I can’t stand the idea of “Swifties”, they exist because of a passionate person named Taylor Swift. (Or is she? To be honest, I don’t really know. Is she passionate about being a good singer? Does anyone know a Swiftie to ask?) But yeah, society would be a black hole if there were no positively passionate people.

The point is that passion isn’t always positive, and people who vaunt passion as the key to advancement and success need to realise that it also creates division in society. So, like many things, it ironically needs to be touted in moderation. Perhaps truly passionate individuals can’t be moderate — and nor should they, if their passion is positive — but people who claim that you cannot succeed in life without passion need to find something else to harp on about and write different books, or their books and mentors in general should counsel passionate people to think things through a little more carefully.