Whither Passion and Obsession?

Rock climbers need focus and intensity

If you are looking for a motivational or inspirational message, the words, “passion” and “obsession” (usually “healthy obsession”) are ubiquitous. We are constantly exhorted to “find our passion”, and develop a “healthy obsession” for our “burning desire”. Recently, I read a comment about how the only times the word “passion” is used in the Bible, it is considered a weakness. I did a little searching, and, sure enough, “passion” in scripture, is considered something to be tamed and brought under control. It is the mark of someone who is out of control, immature, or downright evil. And an obsession is a psychological disorder where someone is unable to control his thoughts. Stalkers and serial killers are the products of obsession. Having a “healthy obsession” is akin to being a “helpful kleptomaniac”, or an “eagle-eyed myopic”.

Why do we have this propensity to redefine “bad” to mean “good”? Words have meaning, and watering them down or redefining them for effect does not really serve us. There are over 170,000 words in the Oxford dictionary. There MUST be some word that means, “intense desire for something good” or “powerful positive motivation to achieve a goal”.

How about these:

Enthusiasm
Eagerness
Yearning
Fervency
Devotion
Earnestness
Intensity
Vehemence
Single-mindedness
Focus

This is the result of about three minutes of research. None of these words gives the same image as “passion” or “obsession”. When I think of these words, I picture one of the bad guys in an action movie who just cannot be killed. Like Al Pacino’s character, Tony Montana at the end of Scarface. Riddled with bullets, and knowing he was dying, still shooting until he couldn’t hold his gun any longer, then screaming at people until his ultimate demise.

“Earnestness” or “fervency” gives me a picture of a mountain climber, focused on the next handhold, with the picture of the summit in his mind. Less dramatic, to be sure, but closer to the intended message.

In our sound-bite age we are tempted to be more dramatic or provocative in order to rise above the din. An enduring message with real substance can use words for meaning rather than effect.