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?

11 Responses to “What IS Passion anyway?”

  1. November 13, 2008 at 6:15 am, Robbin said:

    “…carry us away. Experiences that we get lost in…”What a wonderful expression of passion that is! Great post, Justine.

    Reply

  2. November 14, 2008 at 12:06 am, ErikJ said:

    Without passion we are just robots on a mission of living that is brought out by the fear of losing what we have. A passionate person is what creates innovations and makes live worth living. Great Post

    Reply

  3. November 14, 2008 at 4:06 am, Five in the Morning 111408 « StickyFigure said:

    [...] What is Passion anyway? From those folks with their Brains on Fire. [...]

    Reply

  4. November 14, 2008 at 8:29 am, Chris said:

    Nice post! Great foundation piece that someone could use to get themselves and their clients to think.

    Reply

  5. November 14, 2008 at 10:52 am, Rudy said:

    Very interesting post, Justine. I have to wonder if the ‘pursuit of passion’ is going to sustain the long tail, or if we’re going to continue pursuing our interests through ‘one size fits all’ networks that attempt to re-shape themselves for all interests.

    The economic downturn doesn’t reassure me.

    Reply

  6. November 14, 2008 at 3:45 pm, Julia said:

    Great food for thought. I especially enjoyed how you took us to the biblical root of the word and left us with thinking about the things we are willing to personally invest in.

    Reply

  7. November 16, 2008 at 9:44 am, This week’s most helpful posts, 46/2008 | SUSTAINABLE MARKETING BLOG said:

    [...] What IS passion anyway?, Brains on Fire [...]

    Reply

  8. November 16, 2008 at 8:15 pm, Dixie Gillaspie said:

    Justine – you are my new hero for the day and possibly many more days to come. First off, you love Gibran – WOW. (side note – I’m still looking for a copy of Sand and Foam and will NEVER loan it out again if I find it.) And yes, language does evolve but true passion is still the same – something we suffer from and are willing to suffer for. And the word may be overused but the emotion is under experienced. So what am I passionate about? The inherent value of all people, the beauty of our differences, the eloquence of life’s twists and turns and the belief that we all create our destiny.

    Reply

  9. November 17, 2008 at 7:19 pm, DaveMurr said:

    My quick two-cents

    I believe that passion is an organic energy that you can not tap or hope to control. It flows freely when you are on target and knows when to pull back so it can build up again in the reservoir.

    Because passion is pure – people connect to it naturally. They don’t need a market pitch for passion.

    That’s why social media is such a powerful element – its the perfect channel for passion. No ROI, charts, graphs, quarterly reports, etc. are required to sense someones passion through a Twitter feed, blog or podcast.

    So to answer your question – my passion is social media.

    Reply

  10. November 21, 2008 at 12:44 am, mosher said:

    Passion is a Northern Irish colloquial term to describe heavy rain.

    One might comment about the inclement weather “It’s passion down outside!”

    Reply

  11. December 15, 2008 at 12:58 pm, Authentic marketing | SUSTAINABLE MARKETING BLOG said:

    [...] Passion and, once again, passion. What propels you? What’s the mental energy source of you as a person and of your business? [...]

    Reply

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