“Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.”–Alexander Hamilton
I happened upon the above quote while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. It was instantly relate-able not only to social media culture, but to our species in general. Our species is an odd one because, in part, we believe we’re special due to our minds and what we do with them. We’re not only capable of acting out of necessity, much of what we do is the result of premeditated passion.
When we think of the arts, athletics, civilization, or interpersonal interaction, we see the results of ongoing passion. Is there great music without passion? Sports are popular because of the excitement and passion fueled competition. Civilization and human interaction are the result of our social passions.
Passion goes by many names. Today, joie de vivre fits one definition of it. One might define joie de vivre as a comprehensive joy of anything we might do or imagine. This is not only an appreciation of life; it is a hearty embrace and love of being alive. To possess joie de vivre, is to be passionate about the enjoyment of living.
During introspective moments we might daydream about doing some great, heroic act, or creating some sort of artistic masterpiece like a great book, song, photograph, culinary delight, or similar great deed. Such grand accomplishments are rare because great passion about them is mostly absent within many people.
When we contemplate the lives of great architects, painters, sculptors, musical composers, philosophers, and so forth, we notice that their lives were directed and focused with an inbred or cultivated passion about their fields. It’s almost as if some sort of muse or spirit possessed their minds with an unquenchable desire to create and perform to their heart’s content. They did not merely follow the advice to follow their hearts, their hearts burst forth with geysers of passionate mental energy. Perhaps they believed they were “called upon” by some sort of divine entity to do what they love.
“There is no passion so contagious as that of fear.”–Renaissance philosopher, Michel de Montaigne
There is a dark side of passion that is easy to indulge. People can become caught up in fear and loathing. The tools of those who wish to use this dark passion include scapegoating and slander. There are few things as horrifying as a crowd that has been whipped into a frenzy by a demagogue. The charismatic leader has become skilled in the art of exploiting ignorance, prejudice, and fearful passions of the crowd. They continually practice techniques that shut down their followers’ reasoning abilities.
The demagogue knows that fearful passion is one of humanity’s greatest, albeit evil, mental tools. In a manner of thinking, the tyrants sell themselves and their fanatical followers to the “Devil”. This powerful, negative, manipulative approach appeals to our worst nature. crowds who fall into the trap set by demagogues enable the downfall of civilization.
As we think about how passion can fuel our most positive, beautiful desires to create beauty in the world or can fire utter destruction, we realize how careful we must be with our passions. What will be our legacy? Will we be known for our uplifting contributions or for the temptation to tear apart and harm the world? We ask this as individuals and society as a whole.
“On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail.
Reasons the card, but passion the gale.”