Passion and emotion inflation

Earlier this week I went to see ‘Rocket to the Moon’ at the National Theatre.

Written by Clifford Odets in the late 1930s, it is set in a New York Dentist’s office and features sharp, crackling dialogue fashionable in comedies of that period.  The story centres around the impact of the arrival of a young woman to work as receptionist assistant on the dentist who feels he is trapped in a dull marriage.  Complication is added through the attachment his father in law also develops for the young woman.

At the climax, the dentist fails to seize the chance of throwing up his stable life in return for the love of the woman.  His passion for her isn’t enough to give him the courage to take the big risk he dreamed of.

It was an old fashioned play, and fidgeted quite a lot in the first half, waiting for something to happen through all the set up.  But I’m glad I stayed to the end, as it was more thought provoking about youth and the need to seize life’s opportunities, than first indications suggested.

On the way to the theatre on the Tube I overheard a conversation between two be-suited young men I decided were salesmen, which went along the lines of

‘Yeah, I’m really passionate about that product.’

‘Yeah.  Me too.  And the job.  I’m passionate about the job.’

While I was sitting in the lobby at the National waiting for the play to start I noticed that the  strapline on the poster for the show promised ‘In the heat of 1930s New York, passion and the promise of escape turn one man’s world upside down.’

And it started me thinking about the words ‘passion’ and passionate.

It’s impossible to meet a person who claims to be serious about the quality of the service they provide, or someone starting up their own new business, without them describing themselves as ‘passionate’ about this, that and the other; things that I would only ever manage to muster a modicum of passing interest in.  It goes along with someone telling me they always give 110%.

I’ve always felt that this is rather over egging a bit of enthusiasm and a desire to succeed; all inflation and exaggeration.  It’s the insincere hyperbole of Regan and Goneril, when what you really want is the measured honesty of a Cordelia.

Passion suggests something irrational and out of control to me, so of course I consulted the dictionary to check out the definition.

It gives the following definition of ‘passion’: ‘Strong emotion; outburst of anger; sexual love; strong enthusiasm; as well as the suffering of Christ on the Cross’.

‘Passionate’ is ‘dominated by strong feeling, especially love or anger’.

I’m not sure I’d really want to do business with someone who is ‘dominated’ by strong feelings of any kind.

I don’t think I’ve ever been remotely passionate about any job I’ve done.  Some have been torture, but I’ve enjoyed a couple; I’ve had days which have generated a certain degree of satisfaction and, once, I even felt personally upset when a commercial deal, on which I’d worked very hard, collapsed when my employer was outbid.

Maybe I’m too much of an accountant, or too cynical, or I just resist the exaggeration of the word and its application to something commercial; it should be about untidy, unbridled emotion and reaction to the vital essence of life and relationships, not vacuum cleaners or their equivalents.

And anyway, as the play illustrated, passion won’t necessarily make you choose the most rewarding option.

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