When passion becomes zealousness

Photo by woodleywonderworks

During the last few months I have been attending a practical philosophy course. The contents are very interesting and are providing me with food for thought for many areas of my life and the way I live it.

One of the concepts we discuss is how we focus our attention. The idea is that in each of us there is an internal Observer. When we look at something or listen to somebody the course talks about connecting with that Observer. There is nothing between The Observer and his object of observation – no thoughts, no preconceptions and no running commentary from the mind. Just simple attention to what is. According to this philosophy, if we are able to see things as they are and not become victims to our own emotions and thoughts we will be able to act with wisdom, which in turn will lead to better life.

During the last class one of the students asked an interesting question. Does the idea of the Observer mean that we should not be passionate about anything? If emotions are, by definition, affecting the way we perceive things, doesn’t being passionate about something distort the way we see things and should frowned upon? Doesn’t passion stand between the Observer and object of observation?

We entered an interesting discussion about this question. I was not sure what my answer to this question was at the time. However, the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that the two issues don’t contradict. Passion and the Observer can co-exist. The problem is when passion becomes zealousness. We can be passionate about something. That shouldn’t prevent us from being able to stop, asses something objectively, and act accordingly (maybe even change our behaviors). However, when our passion is so consuming that it overtakes our ability to get in touch with the Observer, thus becoming zealously or fanatic, then we are transgressing into a non objective world that we should worry about.

I think religion is a good example. Even as a secular person, I don’t think there is something basically wrong with religion or belief in a greater power. As I see it, the problem starts when the religious belief prevents people from being open to other things, from accepting other truths. My issue with religion is that the passion overtakes everything and make people close up to the world instead of connect with it, which is in its core – what many religions preach for. If you look at the history of many religions they start with a number of very basic principles about human behavior and develop into zealous closed environments only later when the community starts shutting itself to the world. Or in other words, when passion becomes zealousness to one’s own beliefs.

The same can be said about other beliefs. Can we really say that capitalism today hasn’t turned from passion to zealousness? Yes, it is perfectly fine to hold such beliefs about the way the economy is working. At the same time it should not consume our entire perception in a way that prevents us from understanding other approaches and allows us to re-evaluate when we encounter new data.

The idea is applicable in a much wider set of situations.  We are all passionate about some things – we need to ask ourselves – are we also zealous in a way that does not allow us to observe.

What are you passionate about? Does it prevent you from connecting with your internal Observer?


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