The Power of Passionate People

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Creative Commons photo.

One of my favorite things when I was a newspaper reporter and editor was the opportunity to interview people about their passions, passions revolving around things I knew nothing about. So, not only did I get a chance to learn something new, but I got a chance to be around passionate people. Passion is infectious. It is intellectual adrenaline. It is what fuels my fire to keep asking more questions and follow-ups to continue learning from and probing the passion. Plus, I when writing about such people, I had a chance to flex my writing muscles more than if I was doing a straight news report.

Off the top of my head, a few of my favorite interviews and resulting stories along these lines:

  • In the county I covered, it has that intriguing blend of being exceedingly developed, like any modern city, and exceedingly rural, like, if you go 20 minutes in one direction, you could be in seemingly the middle of nowhere. Given this rural makeup, the county had quite a few farmers of one kind or another. As a suburban kid, I don’t know anything about the farm life. I interviewed the matriarchy (and those who would continue the lineage) of a goat farm, where they made (the best) goat soap, and a Marine-turned-farmer who was ostensibly using the farm as a way to help his fellow soldiers acclimate back to domestic life. In particular from the latter, I remember him kneeling down to the ground to collect dirt into his palm as he showed me around the farm and him remarking that within the dirt in his palm, so much life was teeming. That struck me, and still strikes me, as profound.
  • I was fortunate to interview a number of centenarians. One in particular, 103 by that point, has memories of the Spanish flu, and at the time I interviewed her, was experiencing, as we all were/are, the COVID-19 pandemic. The phrase we were using to describe COVID-19 as a “once-in-a-century pandemic,” she experienced two of those! But I just loved to sit with these folks and learn from them. It was such a humbling experience. And where does the passion factor in? For life. And at their age, perhaps a more subdued passion than the Marine-turned-farmer, but there was still something electrifying about asking them to be reflective of their life and the world around them as they aged.
  • One of my favorite interviews was interviewing a high school band teacher. I had no idea how intricate and technologically advanced band was at that point. The way he was mathematically mapping out the steps and the positions and the timing of everything … like, what? So fascinating, and again, about something I wouldn’t have previously thought would be so interesting, and yet! But also, I’ve long been fascinated by pedagogy and so, mining his approach to teaching music and life had me fired up.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is because in my new job and role, I am surrounded by fascinating people in their own right, passionate people in what they are doing for the organization, and immensely talented and skilled people. That I’ve been able to learn from them and ask questions often like I would as if I was a reporter doing a story on them, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my new job. I’m quite thankful for it. It is hard to express how appreciate I am of being around people to where I’m not sure they even realize how brilliant they are. They’ve been doing it so long, that it is every day routine in the sense that they probably aren’t considering how marvelous it actually is. But to an outsider (becoming an insider) like me? It is like seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time: totally awed by it in the abstract and even more awed by it once you learn how it was done. (I’ve not actually see the Sistine Chapel in person, but it was the first example to come to mind. I can’t wait to actually see it in person.)

Especially in this field I’m in now, I think it could be easy to get bogged down in the churn of it all, the day-to-day doing of it, the statistics, the coordinating, and all of that, and maybe see a softening of the passion. But remarkably, that hasn’t been the case from my experience being around these people. Even after years of being immersed in the aforementioned, they are still burning with that infectious passion. And that I humbly get to “warm myself up” at their unique bonfires is such a neat experience.

Émile Zola, a French Novelist, said in, The Ladies’ Paradise, that he’d rather die of passion than of boredom. I’ve done my missives on not being able to understand boredom and how others feel boredom, but suffice it to say, I agree with Zola: To be around such people, doing such work, it would be impossible to not feel the passion bubbling all around. It gets me jazzed, as you can see. I can’t imagine being bored. I can’t imagine listening to such people and having no questions or thoughts or reflections of some kind.

Thank you to those people from my newspaper days, my current days, and all the days, who enthrall me both with who they are as people and what they do as people, personally and professionally. They make careening around on this little blue ball in the vastness of space a whole lot more interesting.

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