Playing with Passion
The fire and passion of Beethoven

“To play without passion is inexcusable.” Ludwig van Beethoven

Among classical composers, Beethoven stands out as one of the most memorable and powerful creators of music. While erudite musical analysts and critics can provide detailed and specific reasons for his greatness, his quote about passion perhaps offers an ideal summation of the power of his work. Indeed, passion plays a significant role in much of his work, especially his later pieces.

However, this is not an essay on either history or classical music, but rather a rumination about the power and impact that passion brings to one’s life. While many dictionaries will first define passion as a “strong and barely controllable emotion,” most individuals will agree that either “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something” or “a thing arousing great enthusiasm” are more apt and accurate descriptions as we use the word today. (As an interesting side note, the root word of passion originates from the Latin word “pati,” which translates to “suffer.”)

It is pretty clear that in our current times, few people, if any, correlate passion to any form of suffering, although many passionate love affairs will disintegrate and leave one or both people in a state of suffering and despair. In most cases, people find that passion provides the impetus and inspiration to complete difficult tasks, be it a business project, a game of sports, or a work of art. Even more interesting is the fact that outsiders can sense the presence of passion in any given endeavor.

We have all seen people going through the motions rather than giving their all to the job that faces them. What most people do not understand is that a lack of passion in anything one attempts makes that encounter that much more difficult to endure and manage, not to mention that it sucks dry any possible joy that could be experienced.

Even more interesting is to observe the use of the term passion over the years (as measured by Google searching through published books). As illustrated in the graph below, the word passion appears to be diminishing in use over the past couple of centuries.

Are we losing our collective passion?

According to the above chart, our use of the word “passion” has been cut in half since the beginning of the 1800’s. Could it be that we now deem this term as too old fashioned to use anymore, or is the population in general simply losing their passion for life and creativity?

Or are we now using different words to connote passion? Some common synonyms of passion are listed below:

  • affection
  • devotion
  • attachment
  • fondness
  • fervor
  • ardor
  • enthusiasm
  • zeal
  • love

While the word “love” is still bandied about regularly, love has been homogenized to mean an above average liking of something, such as “I love to read books” or “I love chocolate more than any other sweets.” We do use “enthusiasm” quite a bit, but the rest of the words listed above are not typically encountered in our daily conversation.

So this returns us to the question: is the human race losing its passion for living and creating art? And have we perverted passion into simply a strong feeling? I remember years ago, when Bill O’Reilly was a rising star on the Fox News Network, he was asked why he was so verbally abusive and constantly yelling at any guest who had a different ideology than his own. His reply was that he was not abusive but passionate about his beliefs. However, in my perspective, hurling insults and interrupting your guests is not acting in a passionate manner at all; rather, it is one’s attempt to dominate another person and to override conflicting (and perhaps intimidating) belief systems. A passionate conversation or exchange will find all parties building their own enthusiasm by listening to other points of view and then using these different (and sometimes new) ideas and concepts to further their own appreciation and understanding of the total picture. This does not mean that one has to change her or his mind; oftentimes, it deepens and expands their own perception and convictions while remaining rooted in the truth. Compared to out-screaming your opponent, this approach is more mature and more likely to strengthen one’s own position based upon specific facts rather than vague feelings.

If you ever get me as a Lyft driver, you will find the Beethoven quote pasted in front of the passenger seat as well as another one that is visible for those passengers in the back seat. I have had several passengers take a picture of the quote, and most people who do read the quote find it truthful and inspiring. Of course, it is not just in “play” that passion is important; to work or live without passion should be just as unacceptable as playing without passion.

The good news is that while the general public may have lost their idea and desire for passion, any individual can nurture and encourage their own passion and find that life is more vibrant, exciting, and beautiful than simply going through the motions like most other people. Create your passion and let it carry you to greater heights and deeper experiences!

(originally posted on 6-22-17)