Friday, 21 September 2012

THE THINKER: Passion & Performance

The virtues of passion are promoted constantly in our society.  The paintings of the great post-impressionist artists are often used as artistic proof for what only passion can produce.  When viewing a Vincent Van Gogh, for example, one can feel the passion that the artist possessed for not only the portrait itself but also the world in which the artist worked. This is palpable long after the very existence of the famed painter and many promoters of this element in his work rarely follow their observation with an in depth look at both the life of the man as well as the possible negative implications his proclivity for unbridled passion had on the production of that work.

The accepted position is that without passion there must be a lack of dedication and with this follows a suspicion of not only a failed work ethic, but also the negation of growth.  A lack of palpable passion that can be physically observed by the viewer, then, is often equated as proof of apathy in the subject being viewed. 
There is an interesting exchange on this very topic in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia.  In the film, Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence is not only the star of the movie but a superstar to many of the contemporaries that view him from a distance within the film.  In one scene, an initially sycophantic reporter questions Prince Feisal about the humanitarian way Lawrence treats his Prisoners of War.  The wise Prince seizes the opportunity to point out a distinction between his own good behaviour toward Turkish prisoners (even though the Turks do not treat his own people according to the code outlined by the Geneva Convention) and that of the famed British soldier:

   “With Major Lawrence” the Prince responds, standing imperiously over the American reporter.  “Mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners.”  He then adds demurely: “You may judge which motive is the more reliable.” 

The full irony of this exchange is exposed a few scenes later when Lawrence responds to the massacre of an Arab village by ordering the Arab Army to completely annihilate the offending Turkish soldiers.  Now exhausted and in full retreat, the Turkish battalion is easily encircled and Lawrence, himself, wanders through the inner circle with his men indiscriminately slaughtering all who attempt to surrender before him.

Passion may be a worthy characteristic, but is it as much a prerequisite for excellence as our culture imagines?  Think about it: Chef Gordon Ramsey is passionate, but would that make him the best English teacher?

"I said conjugate the f#*!^ing verb!  GET OUT!!"

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