Pursuing Passions

One of the greatest harms a grownup can do to a child is to trample on that child’s passions. However, one of the next greatest harms a grownup can do to a child is to teach that child that pursuing a passion is the same thing as pursuing a result.

So often, we adults tend to guide our children into activities we have selected for them. At other times, we pause long enough to let the child choose the pursuit but then immediately launch into parental mode by adding the planning of the pursuit of that passion. Then we nail the coffin shut by establishing goals for that child, with or without the child’s cooperation, thus making certain that the passion can never be held and pursued for its own sake and therefore never allowing the passion to flourish. Eventually the passion becomes replaced with the goals and ceases to exist at all.

Let’s say a small child goes skating for the first time. Soon that child is asking to go skating all the time. She just seems to come alive on the ice and could keep skating forever. Eventually her parents notice that the child seems to be a faster skater than everyone else her age.

That winter the Olympics are on TV and the child sees the long track speed skaters and she expresses great giddiness in seeing the events. The child declares her excitement so clearly that the passion is identified. As a bit of a side note, the child notices the medal ceremonies at the end of the day and thinks “that’s kind of cool”.

Then the parents unwittingly lead the child into dangerous territory. It’s not the wrong thing for the parents to do, at least not yet. However, this dangerous territory is full of potential pitfalls. The parents find a speed skating rink and a coach for the child. The child excitedly takes to the ice because that is where she becomes alive. Her enthusiasm as well as her talent seem to grow. Her Mom and Dad drive her to practice every day and all seems well. Then a very dangerous step is taken. The “kind of cool” medal ceremony that had been an afterthought to the child starts to seem to gain prominence in the minds of the parents and coach. Eventually, the idea of Olympic gold is openly talked about in the presence of the child and over time it becomes the whole reason for skating in the minds of the parents and coach. Unfortunately, it also becomes the child’s reason for skating. The grownups found the pitfall and, while holding Mom and Dad’s hands, the child fell in with them.

The goal of Olympic gold is certainly not a bad thing. Pursuing passions with a plan in mind is not inherently bad. However, if the passion is speed skating, that is not the same thing as winning at speed skating events.

A person is certainly able to have more than one passion. It could well turn out that the child also develops a passion for competing in athletics. Her two passions work together very well, as passions. But as the years go on, if both passions are replaced by the “dream” of Olympic gold, what happens if that dream is never fulfilled? Tragically, this “dream” never was the same thing as either the child’s passion for skating or the child’s thrill of competing.

On scales smaller than Olympic gold, this process of unintended passion substitution occurs all of the time. Not every young basketball player even makes the varsity or becomes a starter on his small town high school team. Not every young writer wins a Pulitzer, much less the local essay contest.

So we teach ourselves, and unwittingly teach our children, to either not have passions in the first place or to substitute a goal or some other concrete thing for the passion. In so doing, we become dull, disappointed adults. Or we ardently pursue as “passions” things that others told us we should pursue. And we still end up feeling dull and disappointed. Eventually we give up and forget that there even was such a thing as the unbridled thrill of gliding on skates.

This experience of disappointment is not limited to children. Adults can and should have passions too. Yet by the time we are adults, we have become so jumbled in our thinking about passion that we don’t even know what pure joy is. We replace the doing of something that brings us joy by the doing of something else which we call a goal. We then replace “doing” altogether and substitute “achieving”. Ultimately, we replace achieving with “having”. Having does not bring joy.

Grownups would “do” well to start doing things again, simply because we are passionate about them. Along the way, we may have “done” the best possible thing for our children by modeling passion. If we feel a bit out of practice in doing things for their pure joy, we may do well by tying on a pair of skates and gliding on the ice while we try to figure it all out.

Copyright 2014 Daniel Blake

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