What is passion?
There are countless definitions and approaches (both philosophically and psychologically) to this subject and I assume that we have yet to reach a final and conclusive answer to this question. Talking about passion makes me want to discuss emotions, motivation (lots of interesting research on that one, too), needs & self-actualisation, etc. But where would that all end? To avoid siding with one or the other great thinker’s definition, I will just opt for the one and only Wikipedia’s description of passion as
a feeling of intense enthusiasm towards or compelling desire for someone or something (‘Passion (Emotion)’).
And even that particular identifier of passion is debatable as Aristotle counted calm among the passions (Meyer and Barsky 2).
Why is passion on the team?
Granted, if your goal is to be the ultimate rational-minded, self-optimising individual then passion can feel too rash, emotional, fickle, and generally too impatient to be considered helpful. I may risk oversimplification here, but the Stoics were not fond of it, regarding it more like a disease or irrational behavior (Sandbach 63). This distrust and repudiation of passion has been shared by the Confucians (Li 175) all the way up to Kant (Meyer and Barsky 2) and beyond. Detachment from strong, passionate feelings is a recurrent theme in many religions as well. The passions should be brought under control through rigorous self-disciplining and my rational side would likely agree – so would my cultural influence from Asia. Having said that, I already know that I will have to introduce reason as another team member later.
But throughout the literature one can always find discussions about whether a moderate amount of passion is in fact beneficial. Moreover, in the 21st century it can feel like passion is something to be lived out and celebrated without regret. The Peripatetics around Aristotle already differed from the Stoics in that they preferred a state of moderate passion (metriopatheia) to being completely passionless (apatheia) (Sandbach 63) (not to be confused with the modern-day use of the word ‘apathy’). This evolution of thought towards a more balanced view is briefly touched upon by the Wikipedians here. The “proper management” of passion eventually led us to contemporary concepts such as emotional intelligence.
I see this gradual rehabilitation of passion as good reason to accept it as an equally entitled member of the Inner Team. Passion’s struggle with team member reason can be intense at times and I think it has always been looking for a seat at the table. Nevertheless, let us not forget that Schulz von Thun warned of one member being too loud most of the time. I guess I am aiming for metriopatheia. 🙂
What is passion not?
Let us just say here that passion cannot make a constructive contribution to the team if it serves as cover for any and all emotions. Although it is said that one can hate with a passion I doubt that hate or anger deserve equal recognition. I do not intend to grapple with the term “hate speech” here and whether that concept is always useful, but if your passion involves physical violence towards others then your Inner Team is bent on (self-)destruction and is likely not doing yourself any good.
Aristotle’s idea of calm as a passion is an interesting one – I can see it being a passion actually, but I can also see it as a rather passive personality trait (introversion?). In fact, I thought of something like calm or savoir-vivre/l’art de vivre as being an independent team member of its own that is neither wholly rational nor passionate. So could all team members be passions really? Can reason be passion? Argh.
What am I passionate about?
Liberty and fraternity (in a gender-neutral sense): I am passionate about liberté and fraternité. I know how blissful it can feel to be doing “my own thing”. It rocks! Having the freedom to unleash your full potential and pursue dreams is what Maslow placed at the top of his hierarchy of needs. Freedom of speech forms part of the US Constitution’s First Amendment and I can see why one can be very passionate about this right. Should personal freedom have limitations when others are affected negatively? Yes (this is where Germany’s Basic Law, Articles 1 & 2 specifically, come into play), to an extent; especially where physical violence is involved. But I’m no fan of an extremely intolerant “cancel culture” either.
About fraternité – well, we are social animals. A project, a goal, a duty, a vision or just a simple moment of joy shared with a good friend or a group of friends is amazing. Forming and sustaining a strong community – yes, I would say I am passionate about that. Political fraternity keeps us from fighting each other without having to rely on government intervention.
But would it be naive to suggest that a deep fraternal relation can be maintained with anyone? Probably. To that end, Rousseau wished for a sense of fraternity to be widespread among citizens in order for politics to be less Machiavellian and manipulative. Hobbes, by contrast, pinned his hopes on many individual, self-interested actors managing their differences by way of having agreed to a binding contract (Yack 122). We probably live in some sort of hybrid version of these two ideals, but one thing is clear: When looking at political polarisation and identity politics, the challenge lies not in being fraternal towards your in-group, but maintaining that civic commitment to rules protecting yours and other groups alike.
You may ask about equality – that feels more complicated. I guess I could say I am passionate about truth, justice, fairness, and being “social”. Yes, equality before the law. And there is an argument to be made that political fraternity has always been rooted in equality (Puyol n.d.). However, B. R. Ambedkar, one of the drafters of the Indian Constitution and former “untouchable”, argued that there is no liberty nor equality without fraternity (Gilbert and Keane 902). On a different note, France and international human rights bodies have been arguing back and forth with each other for years over the issue of minority rights – France has so far rejected them on the very grounds of equality, the United Nations seems to encourage their legal codification (ibid. 886-893). Recall that seats in the EU Parliament are assigned through a mechanism in which votes are de facto weighted differently – smaller member states receive disproportionately more seats than larger members (compare with Electoral College in the United States). Equality can also have the ring of totalitarian uniformity to it. Sure, freedom can likewise have the ring of egoism to it and fraternity that of collectivism. There are also arguments against those views, but I am digressing and this is just a stream of consciousness-type comment and not an academic paper. Equality’s definition has been contested for ages and I tend towards relational rather than distributive or absolute equality, but I remain open to debate.
This post has become quite long already because I truly enjoy sharing these thoughts on passion with you (and they do get mixed up with political philosophy). So here are a few more things I would say I am passionate about and perhaps they all deserve their own in-depth write-up:
- Building up and growing a team/organisation/community;
- Deep intellectual conversations;
- The study of power and political legitimacy;
- Our relationship with technology;
- Small political communities and sustainable living;
- Returning politeness to polite people;
- Having the courage to love and accept love;
- Overcoming my own perceived flaws;
- International Relations and conflict;
- Art, humor, and every form of expression that can fully capture my attention and “get under my skin”;
Am I in sync with team member passion?
I concede that my passionate side feels somewhat neglected. It desires a stronger sense of belonging and the commitment to doing something meaningful (subjectively speaking). Working in development cooperation in Myanmar felt meaningful, but that time has come to an end. As a team member, it demands more space for the dreams of a) playing an active role as part of a larger community with shared goals and aspirations and b) putting my skills to greater use. I suspect that I still left out some important points that I will address at a later point.
Perhaps the passionate side is held back by reason or maybe by fear. Or both. So reason is the next team member I shall focus on.