Is Passion Sustainable?

Have you noticed how you can’t go anywhere without hearing about something that is ‘sustainable’ or someone who is ‘passionate’ about something?

People who are passionate about the sustainability of the English language should be alarmed. 

Because overuse of those words has resulted in them losing some of their richness.  According to my dictionary, passionate can mean not only enthusiastic, but also filled with anger and affected by sexual desire.  So technically, if someone tells you that they are passionate about whales, you don’t know, without wider context, whether they hate them, like them a lot or have rather kinky tastes.

Similarly, sustain means to nourish, to prove, to prolong, to support, withstand, bear up under, or to admit as valid.  So you could say, “It is not sustainable that sustainability of the arguments about global ‘sustainability’ can be sustained unless I get sustained.”  (Translation:  You can’t prove that the validity of the arguments about global warming can be supported until you feed me).

What has happened is that passionate and sustainability have become code words that have a Pavlovian effect on us.  They are communications shorthand designed to produce a desired reaction in our brains.   I was talking to an HR person who said that if she saw another resume cover letter describing the writer as ‘passionate’ about something she would embark on a screaming binge that would probably not be sustainable.

To prove my point I did a couple of Google searches to see which terms returned the most hits.  Have a look at the number of hits each search returned: 

There are over 50 times more hits for ‘sustainability’ than there are for the eminently sustainable Queen!

The theory is that our brains have been trained to say “passionate equals good and sustainable equals good.” 

So it should come as no surprise that these words crop up a lot in marketing material and in communications from politicians.

In fact, what got me focused on this issue is that on October 9 we will be electing the mayor of Auckland.  Down here we vote for mayor by mail—they send you the ballot and a booklet with each candidate’s picture and their statement of why they should be elected.  A couple of days ago we got our booklets.  Among other things, they contain lots of passion.

Politics in NZ is refreshing by comparison to other places I’ve lived and there is a reasonable amount of transparency.  There are limits on contributions to politicians and political parties and there are spending limits for election campaigns.  For example, for the national elections, the campaign period is limited to three months before the election and during that time, political parties can only spend $1 million.  Individual candidates can only spend $20,000.  For local elections the limits are based on population size of the area.  There are also limits on how much individuals and groups can contribute to parties and candidates and there are lots of disclosure rules so you know who gave how much to whom.

This has the great benefit of (1) preventing big bucks from unduly influencing things and (2) saving the populace from nonstop campaigning.

One of the best rules is that candidates can only put posters and signs up in specified locations and are required to take them down immediately after the election.

The biggest benefit though is that it makes the political process much more inclusive.  If the most anyone can spend is $20,000, being rich is not a requirement for entry.  In fact there are very few barriers to running for office.  This is evidenced by the fact that this time there are 23 people running for mayor of Auckland.  None of them are affiliated with any national political party.  In fact 17 are declared independents.  The other six belong to “other” parties such as the Communist League.

Although the booklet of candidates is professionally done, the blurbs, most no doubt written by the candidates themselves, are unvarnished and unedited and give interesting insights into the people.  These blurbs are what got me thinking about overuse of the words “passionate” and “sustainability.”  Most of the candidates are passionate about sustaining things.  Except in the case of the Communist candidate, who is passionate about not sustaining “power [in] the hands of the capitalist rulers.”  By the way, no one came out as passionate about masturbation, one way or the other.

But the candidate who emerged as a breath of fresh air (no pun intended as you will see) is Nga Dave, who seems to have replaced Scruff Ralph as the real peoples’ candidate.  Scruff Ralph finished 12th out of 15 contenders in the last election.  His tagline was “A Vote for Scruff is a Vote of No Confidence.”  In an interview he stated that the most important election issue for him was that he was looking for a job.

Anyway, Nga tells us:  “Formal education played a very small role in my life.  I left school at 14 once I discovered marijuana and I have walked with marijuana for 30 years.  I am a criminal in the sense that I smoke illegal substances.  But in my heart I know that I am not bad.  I am one of the people I want to represent.  The common people.  I want to resurrect democracy of the people, for the people, by the people.”

Now isn’t that more interesting than hearing that someone is passionate about sustaining things?

There are two front runners in the election—the current mayor and the mayor of a city that is being amalgamated with Auckland in a big local government consolidation.  They have been getting all of the media attention and I thought I knew who I was voting for.  But then I got the booklet and found out about people like Nga Dave . . .

I’ll report the results in two weeks! 

Passionately.

23 responses to “Is Passion Sustainable?

  1. I’m half Italian so I’m definitely passionate about passion. Whether it’s enthusiastically sexual or the rage I feel at the plate of lasagna for being so tasty I am passionate about a lot of things.

    And the English language is one of them. Our brains have been hardwired over the years by our culture. What I find even more surprising is the negative connotation (especially in the states) of words such as progressive, liberal, tyrant, activist and socialist to the point that they have almost lost all of their original meaning.

  2. New Zealand elections sound a lot like Canadian elections, Tom. We also have limits to financial contributions, spending limits for political parties, and limited campaign times (thank God!). Our province is near the end of an election campaign…vote is on Monday…I’m still undecided! Living in a new riding, I don’t know much about the local candidates. I know what our Premier has been doing (and not doing) the last four years, but since the Opposition parties have new leaders, I don’t know them either…

    One thing I do know…if New Brunswickers continue to be passionate about electing dummies to office, our economy will not be sustainable!

    Wendy

  3. Tom, your observation about the overuse (and incompatibility) of these two words is so smart! You are spot-on. I will be using this idea (and attributing you).

    Nothing is sustainable. Least of all, passion. If it were, we’d all be (even more) exhausted.

    In my circle, it is the highest compliment to say that a person is “passionate about the law”. I’m not. My heart beats no faster when I read the law, and my knees don’t buckle. I like it just fine, nothing more. This is my (for now) sustainable position.

  4. I appreciate the approach to refreshing approach to elections . However, I like the HR person you referred to will go screaming from the room if I hear another person use the word transparency. I see that it even made it into your post “Politics in NZ is refreshing by comparison to other places I’ve lived and there is a reasonable amount of transparency. ”

    What exactly does that mean anymore? Will they tell me the truth and not hide things or will they tell me their version of the truth and hide what they need to or tell me the truth they think I want to hear? So much truth so little time…..

    It reminds me of the education seminars that I attended a few years ago that every presenter felt the need to include “paradigm shift” in their lecture. Each had a little different idea of what that meant for education but left me with the impression that none of them really knew anything except that “paradigm shift” was the new catch phrase and they needed to use it to be current.

  5. Excuse my first line in reply apparently my fingers aren’t working well this morning much like my mind most mornings.

  6. Oh man don’t get me started on people overusing words that they don’t even really understand. I’d love to ask 1,000 Tea Party activists what socialism means. Or, for that matter, I’d like to take 1,000 people who hate Bush (not that I’m a fan) what fascism means.

    • That goes hand in hand with people losing touch with history. Anyone who refers to a politician today as “Hitler” has no clue what atrocities Hitler committed.

  7. I totally agree about the overuse of words, but I don’t worry about it as words go in and out of vogue all the time, and words constantly evolve new meanings and lose old ones. “Romantic” meant something very different a few hundred years ago which has largely been lost (except among literary critics), and “text” has gained meanings that would not make any sense if explained to anyone from 1937.

  8. Ever since our last presidential campaign, I break out in hives every time I hear the word “change.”

  9. Vodka and Ground Beef

    Everything makes sense now. My ex told me he was “passionate” about me, and I thought that was amazing. But then he went after my cat with a bebe gun. (Cat is fine, but my neighbor’s child is blind in one eye now). So I guess he meant he was angry at me.

    This is like a learning blog.

  10. I suffer when held from below.

    That’s what it means to be passionate about sustainablility.

    Passion (like German Leidenschaft) comes from “suffering”.

    Sustain comes from sub-tenir.

    But my main and overarching point after seeing your screenshots is the following:

    You use Explorer???? Get thee to the Chrome download page!

  11. The recycling of words with different meanings is so frustrating. I’m so tired of partner being a verb.

  12. Making nouns into verbs could be another post altogether! I heard a parent warning their child that further misbehaviour would be “consequenced.”

  13. Ain’t too sure where I’ve been lately, but I haven’t noticed any overuse of the adjective “passionate” around here. Maybe because I myself have been so dispassionate. As well as apathetic and disinterested. Uninterested? Or downright oblivious, which is probably more likely the case ….
    However, “sustainable” has indeed become the catch word of the day. Despite the attempt, I could not help but notice. It is everywhere. But in these here parts it is usually expressed in the negative, as in something is “not sustainable.” My attention, for example, is not sustainable. (I am good for two point three minutes at a stretch, on a good day.)
    When you have nothing to do, would you please research the term “significant other” for me? Being a balding old married white guy from the suburbs, I am not sure exactly what it means. I have a wife. Is she my “significant other?” I guess so. That seems to make sense. Can I have more than one? Is my daughter another one? What about our dogs? When one of the dogs eats too many sticks or crab apples and has a projectile vomiting episode at 2 a.m. he becomes pretty darn significant. My boss is certainly signficant in my life. My parole officer? Where do they fit in?

    • Thanks for the suggestion–significant other is a complex issue. I’m thinking that is is used to describe a relationship that is sustainable and passionate and that it actually involves an “other.”

  14. “Now isn’t that more interesting than hearing that someone is passionate about sustaining things?”

    Why, yes. Yes it was.

  15. Interesting election rules. The candidates in the U.S. would not survive by them.Three months is not enough time to gather dirt to transfer into mud to sling at opponents.
    Deep base 1

  16. Pingback: Society masquerading as community « The Hannibal Blog

  17. What would we do here in the States? The 1% would have all that extra money for themselves and could not use it to buy the ones who are supposed to represent the 99%.

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