Sunday, June 20, 2010

Passion is no ordinary word

If you wanted to fly somewhere and were offered a choice between one pilot who was capable and another who was immensely passionate about every aspect of flying, surely you'd choose the former rather than the latter? Feeling strongly about something doesn't make you do it any better. It may well make you do it worse.

England fans blame the team's shortcomings on their lack of passion, the fact that they aren't driven by the same strong emotion that compels them. Well, they wouldn't be, would they? The players are in a position to influence events. The fans exhibit passion - which generally means they shout themselves hoarse - because they aren't in a position to influence events. They persuade themselves that the reason England failed in the last week is because they were thinking about their Porsches. It wasn't because they couldn't pass the ball in a straight line and endured a collective nervous breakdown.

I blogged in the past about what Arsene Wenger said about football and a country's writers. It still holds good. The French dressing room at the moment doesn't look too much like the home of rationalism. I'm sure they'll get over that, as England may even get over their current malaise. At which point all the fans will say, see, they've won because they're finally showing "some passion".

We increasingly sprinkle our national conversation with references to passion. Companies claim to be passionate about everything from magazines to under floor heating. Maybe we do it to invoke a religious or patriotic feeling that we wouldn't allow ourselves to express in any other way. We assume that passion solves all problems. It doesn't. It may well get in the way. Shakespeare wrote his best plays about people in the grip of their own ungovernable passions. Oddly enough he didn't write any about tragic heroes who couldn't do right for doing wrong. That's a far more common feeling.


  1. But what about the two aeroplane pilots, both of whom are proficient, but one of whom spends the whole time checking out his reflection and wondering how he's going to cheat on his wife? Whereas the other one believes in what he's doing, thinks he's lucky to be there, and does the best he can? Aren't ideals there to strive for so that in an attempt to recreate them at the very least we achieve something close?

    Passion is a source of inspiration, it drives people, it emotes them into believing they are doing something above turning up from 9 to 5 to earn cash. England's players have the ability, they just don't care enough. I think you could tell that from the way they were playing.

    And if the plane goes down -- for either one of those proficient pilots -- I'd know which one I had greater respect for. The one who was trying until the end, rather than fucking feeling sorry for himself.

  2. Interesting lesson from the Rugby team. It is clear that all of the players recognised that they had let themselves down by their one dimensional display in Perth last week.

    So yesterday they came out and played their hearts out. Result - best game by England for a long time.

    Passion or technique?

    Both Rocky Elsom and Robbie Deans blamed the English "intensity" for the Aussie failure.

    Steve Thompson may have been playing over the line but his intensity (passion?) was typical of the team performance.

    We beat Australia because we played to our strengths, wanted it more and lastly played the youngsters (Youngs, Laws, Ashton, Foden) where appropriate.

    So now England footballers, your turn, we need a England Rugby turn around from you guys. The right mix of passion and technique.

    BTW the Saxons won the Churchill Cup yesterday as well, well done.

  3. "Passion" is the new "excellence". Googling on "we are passionate about" brings up four and a half million hits. Really. The British people of today are passionate about everything from "sourcing from Cornish suppliers" to "foster care" (although they might want to reconsider the implications of that one).

    Being properly passionate means being irrational, being a horned-helmeted berserker, flying into a blind rage instead of weighing up options and choosing wisely. But I don't think that's what the English mean when they talk about being passionate. I think they use it just to mean "take fairly seriously, as is only to be expected". And on that basis, well, no, a bit of passion English-style wouldn't be a bad thing in South Africa right now.

  4. I agree. If the afore-mentioned pilot announced before take-off "Well, I know I've had a couple of bad flights lately, but, I really need the passengers to give me positive and unconditional feedback throughout the flight, otherwise, I probably won't be able to do my best work, and we could well crash and burn", I'd get off.

    I'd trade 'passion', which I equate to a fervored blind hope, for mechanistic and methodical efficiency any day. Increasing the work rate and making an extra effort isn't the same thing as 'passion', just means one cares enough to give a shit and try a bit harder to do the job properly.

    Reckon these England boys expect too much, for too little.

    Instead of 'doing it' for Bobby Robson, maybe these chaps should try 'doing it' for Bobby Moore. Might give them a better frame of mind.

  5. I associate the word 'passion' with James Brown or Kevin Rowland, both of whom would probably, at their peak, made good England managers.

    James Brown's leadership style would certainly make things a tad more interesting.

    Put em on performance related pay; they'll soon perk up...

  6. Passion = determination, which drives you to put in the extra hours on a project, to make that difficult phone call, to go into that 50/50 tackle, to keep going when others tell you it's hopeless. It augments, not replaces, ability. And it seems like a good thing to me.

  7. I blame Diana and the nonsense after her death. Passion is traditionally not very English but Diana's death opened up a new paradigm which we are still seeing in these comments. In business, I am constantly told that to win work I need to show passion for it. I try but struggle. I enjoy my work but it is not a passion, and I am pretty sure that always happens to anything when it moves from hobby to work, including football.

  8. I've been thinking about this since the game because all the references to passion really confused me. I've never come close to watching a match twice before but I watched this one again - I wanted to see what happened and why I'd missed this obvious problem. Still just saw a familiar, nervy lack of craft (passing, awareness), (and you need to care a little bit to be nervous). There's obviously a fear among fans that players won't give their best, which gets equated with showing passion.

    "We assume that passion solves all problems." Absolutely. Perhaps it's not really a problem solver at all, certainly not for the problems we've had in the two games which I'm guessing had a lot to do with the unsettling effects of altitude changes and being encouraged to play hard and fast when the intelligent thing to do seemed to be to keep it simple, keep possession, don't panic. Thigh slapping and the like in athletes is usually to release tension so ironically some passionate booting of the ball might help them relax, if it wasn't accompanied by whistles. Relaxation plus concentration sounds pretty ideal. All emotion, thought Michael Johnson, wastes energy.

    I'm sure passion has its value (as Gerontius put it), I'd say during preparation mostly, like perfectionism. Prepare with passion, play with poise. Or something, still thinking.

  9. In rugby they talk about having your body in the oven and your head in the fridge. Seems to something to be said for that.