TERRY PRONE: Developing a passion for scrapping this fashion of overstated emotion

THE passion thing is getting to me.

I’m up to here with claims that people have a passion for what they do.

In the middle of a business programme yesterday, someone from an umbrella body said it was essential to be passionate about your business.

The presenter let it pass. Accepted. Of course, if you’re going to succeed, you have to have a passion for your business.

Every second company, these days, builds passion into their corporate sloganeering. Except the banks. To my knowledge, no bank has thus far claimed to have a passion for lending or to be passionate about mortgages, but I’m open to correction on this.

It’s the same with job applicants. They sit in front of recruiters and announce that they’re passionate about software development. Or hairdressing. Or public service. Or charity.

Sometimes they go more global and announce that they have a passion for people. This passion is not confined to their boyfriend or their Auntie Peggy. That would be way too narrow. It would exclude, rather than include. They’re passionate about ALL people, probably including Adi Roche, Pat Kenny and Tony Blair. Plus that young woman who tried to arrest Tony Blair. They’re not fussy. If push came to shove, they might even include Seanie Fitzpatrick, because, they modestly affirm, they’re passionate about ALL people.

Going out for a meal (remember that habit?) subjects the diner to even more of this passion stuff. The menu tells you Amy and Pete, the restaurant owners, are passionate about good food. Or that Amy is passionate about customer service. Or that Pete is passionate about traceability.

Now, that last one is seriously weird. Yes, of course, it helps if you get an outbreak of salmonella that you can quickly go back to the farm the sick chicken came from, and close it. But traceability is a system, for God’s sake. It requires form-filling. That’s all. It doesn’t require you to invest your heart and soul and swear on your great- grandmother’s grave that you care passionately about a system.

If you’re not passionate, these days, it’s like there’s something wrong with you. That you have a crucial deficit and don’t give a toss. Nobody has permission to be mildly interested in sport, for example. You have to be passionate about sport.

You’re allowed to be bored rigid by sport and to not know what game gets played in Croke Park, as long as you adopt a shrugging, smiling, eccentric inadequacy, but there ain’t no middle ground.

Once upon a time, radio presenters introduced the sports reporters in much the same way as they introduced the Met Éireann forecasters: Here ya go, nuthin’ to do with me. Now, every radio presenter gets into a seductive clinch with their sports reporter, determined to prove that they qualify; that they are possessed of the requisite level of passion.

It’s old, this passion stuff. It really is. Old and unsupported. Take the line about passion for business, for starters. Have the businesses that have failed in the last three years failed because of lack of passion on the part of their owners? I doubt it.

Because you know and I know dozens of businesses that went down the tubes, taking the dreams and hopes and ambitions, not to mention in some cases, the very sense of self of their owners with them. Passion is no magic protector in a credit crunch.

Nor is passion any kind of guarantee that the products or services rendered by a company are necessarily good. When a passenger gets on a plane, the last thing they want to be told is that the pilot is passionate about flying. It’s bad enough that he or she comes on the loudspeaker system to give that irrelevant spiel about the names of the cabin crew and the height at which the plane will be flying. We don’t plan, most of us, on having a deep and meaningful relationship with any of the cabin crew and as long as the undercarriage is high enough off the ground not to get into arguments with lamp posts or oak trees, that’s as much as we care about the altitude.

But if the pilot started warbling about his or her passion, we’d be taken aback. The objective is to get the plane from Cork to Dublin without dropping us in Carlow, and what the pilot (and co-pilot, assuming Michael O’Leary doesn’t deliver on his proposed abolition of the second pilot on Ryanair flights) needs, in order to deliver on that objective is skill. Forget the passion.

ADMITTEDLY, some exceptions can be made. It’s OK for Mary O’Brien, the woman who dreamed up Lily O’Brien’s chocolates, to say she’s passionate about chocolate. She did, after all, start boiling up the sweet addictive brown goo on her kitchen stove before making a substantial business out of it, but I suspect, because she’s a practical and determined woman, that when she deals with her friendly (or unfriendly) local bank, she doesn’t make with the passion, because she knows banks don’t deal in that currency.

But we should cut back on this passion thing and develop the capacity to point out that because someone passionately believes in something doesn’t mean it’s right.

Lots of parents believed passionately that the MMR vaccine was responsible for autism. That was understandable. Autism is arguably the most devastating diagnosis any parent will receive about their child.

Coping is made easier by full comprehension of the cause, and so, when any illness strikes, the sufferer and those surrounding him or her seek something which would make sense of the otherwise inexplicable. Hence, within hours of the announcement that film star Michael Douglas is being treated for throat cancer, media was already commenting that he had been a chain smoker up to eight years ago.

The speedy allocation of blame provides comfort to the uninvolved, although it can be drearily dispiriting for a cancer patient to have to tolerate comments about their past habits, when the obvious inference, stated or unstated, is that in some way they’re to blame for their own misfortune.

The need for the comfort of clarity undoubtedly contributed to the eagerness with which parents and others close to a child with autism grasped on to the possibility that the three-in-one vaccine was the guilty party. The fact that a prominent doctor pushed the proposition moved it, in many minds, from possibility to certainty.

When the doctor was proven grievously wrong and censured in the most punitive way for misleading the public, logic would suggest that the myth of the MMR would die. It didn’t die. It wilted, but an unjustified shadow still, for some people, hangs over vaccines, with the result that people who would describe themselves as “passionate about child welfare” still murmur about non-existent connections, thereby helping reduce the numbers of children vaccinated in this and other countries. Which does awful harm to child welfare.

Plato said that when passion and reason collide, passion should take the back seat. I’d be for putting it in the boot. Or arranging a scrappage scheme for it.


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