Obsession vs Passion

This past week has been particularly difficult, so I apologize for the lack of posts. I will, however, attempt to get this week’s Blogenning topic (set by Belinda) completed. (Even if it’s technically the next week by the time it’s published.)

The topic is “Obsession”.

How do you approach that kind of subject? You say “obsession” and most people immediately assign a negative connotation to the word, labeling you with words like ‘addiction’, ‘compulsion’, ‘fetish’, ‘fixation’, or ‘stalker’. And even if you don’t automatically jump to that kind of conclusion, it can be an extremely personal subject and many obsessives are in denial about it. So even if I consider myself pretty self-aware (which I do), how can I identify if I’ve got an obsession?

First, I think we need to define what we’re talking about. The least biased definition I could find:

Obsession (Noun): A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly: compelling motivation.

Essentially, having something that’s constantly on your mind, possibly to the exclusion of other matters. While pretty straight forward, it’s easy to see how this word would quickly become confused with those others. After all, self-control being what it is, most people are compelled to act on their obsessions, and no one ever attributes good to that. But can obsession e seen in a positive light too? As ‘Duty’, Dedication’, or ‘Commitment’? As a friend points out, obsession is a necessary part of productivity and creativity. Show me anyone who is famous for their work, and I’ll show you how that person spent long, tortured hours pondering how to successfully achieve what was trapped in their head.

But wait – that can’t be right. Obsession isn’t about what’s inside trying to come out, but about what’s outside forcing it’s way in. Consider the etymology of the word:

1510s, “action of besieging,” from L. obsessionem, noun of action from obsidere (see obsess). Later, “hostile action of an evil spirit” (like possession but without the spirit actually inhabiting the body). Transferred sense of “action of anything which engrosses the mind” is from 1670s. Psychological sense is from 1901.

To besiege! I love that original Latin twist, don’t you?

But then they take it further – to be set upon by a hostile spirit, but from the outside instead of from within.

And that’s an important distinction to make. Because what we have run into is the very thin line between obsession – this reviled psychological condition on the edge of madness – and something else. Something held in the highest regard. Passion.

What is the thin line between them? Can it be as simple as external vs. internal? Well, no. Because anyone passionate about their cause will, at some point, use the word “Inspiration”. And by that, I mean misuse it.

Inspiration Look up inspiration at Dictionary.comc.1300, “immediate influence of God or a god,” especially that under which the holy books were written, from O.Fr. inspiration, from L.L. inspirationem (nom. inspiratio), from pp. stem of L. inspirare “inspire, inflame, blow into,” from in- “in” (see in- (2)) + spirare “to breathe” (see spirit).

Inspiration comes from without, not from within. You are inspired by something. Inspiration, therefore, belongs to the Obsessed!

But what then can be the cause?

Well, it may be quite simple: Passion isn’t actually what we think of it. Let’s take one last trip (I swear) down etymology lane:

late 12c., “sufferings of Christ on the Cross,” from O.Fr. passion, from L.L. passionem (nom. passio) “suffering, enduring,” from stem of L. pati “to suffer, endure,” from PIE base *pei- “to hurt” (cf. Skt. pijati “reviles, scorns,” Gk. pema “suffering, misery, woe,” O.E. feond “enemy, devil,” Goth. faian “to blame”). Sense extended to sufferings of martyrs, and suffering generally, by early 13c.; meaning “strong emotion, desire” is attested from late 14c., from L.L. use of passio to render Gk. pathos. Replaced O.E. þolung (used in glosses to render L. passio), lit. “suffering,” from þolian (v.) “to endure.” Sense of “sexual love” first attested 1580s; that of “strong liking, enthusiasm, predilection” is from 1630s.

The positive, oft romanticized, concept of Passion is a modern invention! It’s roots are buried deep in pain and suffering, even deeper than those of Obsession (something most people didn’t realize till they saw the movie). So then why has Passion become exalted and Obsession reviled?

Because I think we’ve all felt that at some point – the build up of pressure as if something is bursting from within. Taking over your thoughts. Becoming more and more prevalent. Until you just feel like it’ll just force it’s way out whether or not you act. We’ve all been touched by Passion – it’s part of us. As Aristotle said, “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.”

To me, that list is in order of magnitude. And compulsion – the acting out of Obsession – is only tertiary to Chance and Nature. How many of us have consciously felt the weight of something so base to our nature?  And to feel that way about something external – I honestly don’t believe it’s something I can relate to. Wracking my brain, the best example I can touch on is the biblical tale of Jonah. Jesus may have had Passion, but Jonah was Obsessed!

And there in lies the crux – it isn’t something the average person can comprehend. A glimpse of Inspiration may ignite our Passion, but how many of use are truly gripped by something and bent to its will? To be used as the paintbrush, if you would. I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever experienced.

I think those that are passionate about what they do are generally successful. But the obsessed – the ones driven by something beyond reason – they’re the ones that are capable of extremes.

(Note the completely neutral moral compass.)

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