What IS Passion anyway?

I’m going to start with a question – What are you passionate about?

Have your answer? OK, read on.

Here at Brains on Fire we like to talk about passion. Alot. It’s popped up in 28 of our blogs this year alone, and I defy you to come visit our office for a day and not hear the word. We are passionate about passion – and the belief that a passionate customer will take you farther than the most creative campaign will.

And we’re certainly not alone. Google “customer passion” and you’ll get over 5,000 hits. Google “customer evangelists” and you’ll get over 19,000. More companies and marketers are moving past traditional demographic, or even psychographic, targeting and considering targeting customers based on their passion. If you’re trying to make marketing more engaging and relevant, there’s no better way than to reach customers where they already share a common interest.

Quickly peruse some blogs out there and you’ll see phrases like “passionately persuading”, or using passion to get customers to “emotionally act” in your favor. You’ll also see people equating passions with hobbies or attitudes.

I sometimes worry that the word may be thrown around so much that we forget what passion really is – and devalue it in the process. So I thought it would be interesting to revisit the origins of the word.

Common usage today talks about passion as an overwhelming positive affinity for something. But the root of passion is the Latin passionem, from the stem of Latin pati, which means “to suffer, to endure”. In every (reputable) dictionary that you look, it’s primary definition is rooted in the sense of physical suffering and pain. Distress. As in the Passion of Christ – the word’s earliest usage. The Passion Flower (and Passionfruit) are so named because a Jesuit Priest supposedly had a vision of how the flower’s parts represented the elements of Christ’s Crucifixion.

We also talk about passion today as the ultimate state of active emotional involvement in something. But it may be interesting to note that the root of the word is passive – referring to the state of being acted upon, overwhelmed, by something external to you. In fact, early philosophical writings on the theory of mind (e.g. Descartes, Spinoza) differentiate passion from emotion. Emotions are internal – produced by us. In contrast, passions are external – suffered by us.

This is not to ignore the fact that the way we use words evolves over time – or to say that the way we use the word passion today is wrong. But it is to point out that when you’re out there trying to identify your customers’ passions, it would be wise to realize that a true passion is not the same as a hobby, preference or attitude.

Passions are those things that carry us away. Experiences that we get lost in. Things we’re willing to sacrifice for, and personally invest in. They’re irrational, not reasoned. As one of my favorite writers, Kahlil Gibran wrote, Reason is the rudder of our seafaring soul, but it is Passion that puts wind in our sails.

So tell me again – what are you passionate about?

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