The difference between passion and ‘what matters’

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As I’ve been asking people ‘what matters’ so often these days I’ve noticed that others often step in and do a translation to this pressing question.

Invariably they will say things like: “you know, what matters most to you?”, “what’s important to you?” or “what do you value?”

But rarely do they say “what are you passionate about”.

I’ve thought about the notion of passion at length and I think it’s instinctive that we don’t substitute ‘what matters’ for the word ‘passion’.  Here’s why.

By definition the word passion (noun) “strong and barely controllable emotion” rings true in so much of the community work that I’ve done over the years.  It reminds me simultaneously of my feelings for my first boyfriend as much as it does when I see social injustice.  It’s a wild, unruly, unbounded experience of pure emotion that pushes the boundaries of each and every imaginable feeling.

Passion is crazy, it’s impulsive and mad.  It’s ecstatic, devastated and furious in any given moment.  It lives on ones sleeve and if you’ve ever felt completely passionate about something you’ll know that it can whip you into a state of anarchy – a reckless tirade of happy, sad, mad in no particular order.

Have you seen a community do this?

I remember once going into a community to start a project.  The audience was much bigger than expected and everyone was beaming with delight.  By the end of the meeting everyone was clapping and cheering.  I sunk in my chair.   There was only one way for this to go.

Pessimistic perhaps but I’d been around for long enough to know that those kinds of expectations backed up by the resources on the table would have a very probable outcome – disappointment.  Sure enough we pulled out some outcomes that still exist but naturally it didn’t take long for the shine to wear out…  That’s PASSION in action.

Anyway, I digress.

This is what I’ve come to believe.

‘What matters’ lives in the heart space – if it’s the thing that keeps you warm at night and slowly burns keeping you alive with it’s loving embrace.  What matters is sustainable, it engages and it nurtures.  When action stems from the things that matter they are embraced and in time they come to fruition.

Yet, passion is the thing that comes from your gut.  It is the instinctive caveman response that calls upon fight or flight (or FIX IT MODE) and launches us into action.  Passion comes and goes but when it’s burning it most certainly gets things done, albeit in a bit of a manic way.

I believe that communities need ‘what matters’ just as much as they need passion but we must understand the difference.

And there are some telltale signs.

What matters is usually buried within a soul underneath decades of experiences, beliefs and values.  It is an inner wisdom that we know so well that we can’t quite name it.  We only know when it’s missing through a yearning of something lost.

Passion is garish and loud.  It is the first thing that’s dumped on the table, spat at you or on the lips as a point of urgency of everyone that comes forward in a community meeting.

Perhaps it’s the difference between the inner value and the manifestation i.e. if what matters to a community is the safety of its children – the passion is getting that damn pedestrian crossing in a safe place – OR get the junk food out of the tuck shop – OR make sure every kid has a wide brimmed hat to play and so the debates begin…

I think we all have a dose of ‘rescuer syndrome’ to some extent.  We all know something that needs to be solved or saved and most of us have some idea about how to do it.

I guess our greatest challenge is to understand, and then stay true to the things that really matter in order to direct passion in a logical and productive way…

What are your thoughts?

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