1. Strong and barely controllable emotion.
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The veneration of “passion” as a basic value and guiding principle in life is everywhere these days, in the self-help literature, in TED talks, in spirituality circles. Passion is applauded as that which makes life worthwhile, and we are encouraged to “find our passions” and pursue them. We are told that we do things more quickly, with more skill, and with better outcomes, when we do them “passionately.”
All of this is by now more or less taken for granted; everyone describes themselves as following their passions, bringing passion to their work, and so on, without a hint of regret or doubt.
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I don’t buy any of it.
What role should passion have in the decisions and works of an adult, a mature and virtuous adult?
In my opinion, none.
© Aron Hsiao / 2002
The canons of western and eastern philosophy stretching from antiquity all the way up until recent times are overwhelmingly oriented toward the regulation of the passions, with those few exceptions being read and understood as polemical and subversive lines of thought and attributions of value.
Passion is dangerous. Passion is irrational and chaotic. It causes people to act against their own interests just as often as not, and more to the point, the impulsivity that it represents and the undermining of social norms that it so often engenders tend to destroy larger social predictability, which is the entire basis of modern social life and indeed of civilization and our ability, as individuals, to get along and lead lives in it.
In short, passion is not the great thing that it is advertised to be. It is, as so many have pointed out across so many, many years, something that must be regulated carefully in adult life. The regulation of passion is one of the basic virtues that wisdom and maturity both comprise.