The world seems to be split into roughly three different types of people: Those who have a passion for nothing, those who have a passion for one thing and those who have a passion for everything. This way of categorizing is not to cast a value judgement onto any particular group. My informal observation is that aspects such as intelligence, courage, moral fibre and wisdom seem roughly evenly distributed across all three of these groups although it may initially not seem that way. It’s always difficult trying to describe a group with an insider’s perspective if you’re not an insider but I’m going to give it a try:
People with a passion with nothing are the ones who are content to lead an ordinary life. They are the ones who can grow up, go to school, get married, get a good job, buy a house in the suburbs, raise children and grandchildren and die utterly content with their lives.
People with a passion for one thing are those who have found some calling in life and live and breathe that calling. These people may have multiple “one things” for which they are passionate about but they are interested primarily in the thing itself. These are the people who have dreams about thier passion, who spend idle moments of their day thinking about it and who possess a sense of manifest destiny and purpose once they discover their calling.
People with a passion for everything are not interested in things themselves, they’re interested in interest. To them, the actual objects of study are actually incidental, what’s fascinating to them is the more abstract layers in which everything is interconnected. This is not to say that these people are equally interested in everything or even that there are large areas of human experience are completely alien and boring to them(sport gets cited as a common example). But these people are voracious and indiscriminate readers. They’ll be able to converse knowledgably about a huge range of topics and often know surprisingly huge amounts of trivia. If you’ve ever met someone who is a massive fan of TED talks, this is someone who is fascinated by everything. At the same time, for these people, their lives are constantly wracked by a guilt and longing that there is simply never enough time in the world to truly accomplish what they hope to accomplish or master what there needs to be mastered.
It’s no surprise to people who are reading my blog that I place myself firmly into the 3rd category. As a result, it’s been interesting but difficult for me to really peer into the minds of the other two groups of people. But what I’ve noticed in the process of doing so is how radical communication differences arise between members of different groups. If you’re not aware of these very different styles of thought, then you implicitly assume that other people think roughly like you with slightly tweaked parameters.
When a person who is passionate about one thing meets a person who is passionate about nothing, they feel extreme sadness that this person has not yet found their calling. To them, their life is so infused with purpose from their calling that they assume everyone else without a calling feels the same hollow emptiness inside them that they do. They are horrified with the prospect of living an utterly normal, undistinguished life.
When a person who is passionate about one thing meets a person who is passionate about everything, they just assume that this person is passionate about many “one things”. They understand how you could be passionate about two things or five things so they naturally assume the person they’re meeting must be on the far right end of the bell curve and interested in like… a dozen things or maybe twenty things. Widespread passion is mistaken for intelligence because they assume people who are passionate about everything manage their passions in the same way that people who are passionate about one thing do. What they fail to realise is that the passion is not thing-centric.
When a person who is passionate about nothing meets a person who is passionate about one thing or everything, there is a sense of otherworldliness to it, that those people possess some kind of mutant gene which compels them to action. To these people, passion is an utterly mysterious process which they can only reverse engineer from the outside. To them, it’s like thinking of love as really, really, really liking someone.
When a person who is passionate about everything meets a person who is passionate about one thing, they just assume that this is a person who has settled. Every person who is passionate about everything ultimately faces the dilemma about how to focus their attentions. In order to be successful, they need to settle on something to be “their thing”; They need to become a software engineer or a journalist or a academic. Settling one one thing can, on the surface, looking like being passionate about one thing.
But what people who are passionate about everything fail to grasp is that others could be passionate about something without being passionate about your things. It’s a grave affront to people passionate about everything that you cannot convince someone else that something is worth being passionate about. You can’t convert someone into being passionate about your things but you can at least give them a sense of why your thing is worth being passionate about. It’s an utterly alien mindset that someone could be passionate about A, B & C *only* and care not one whit about the things you’re passionate about.
When a person who is passionate about everything meets a person who is passionate about nothing, the lack of curiosity is mistaken for unintelligence or a lack of opportunity. If only they were smarter or if only they had been exposed to a brilliant teacher in school like I had, they would be infused with the same sense of wonder with the world that I have. I think this is one of the more insidious miscommunications that exists because it imposes a subtle form of prejudice and judgement.
So much of the rancourous debates and misunderstandings I see in the world can be boiled down to a conflict between these basic personality types. Debates about education, about hope, about destiny and about ideals ultimately don’t boil down to the issues at all, they boil down to these three very radically different ways of thinking about the world. Each one is legitimate and each one is valuable and can act as a complement to each other.
The realisation that others have a system of values so shocking different that it seemed almost alien at first was one that enabled me to really connent with many people in a way which I had not previously been able to.