One man's vision may be another man's insanity. Recently I finished Irving Stone's biography of Vincent Van Gogh, Lust for Life. I also saw "Secretariat", the Disney movie starring Diane Lane
and John Malkovich. Each piece speaks directly to the theme of a personal intense passion. In these two cases the passion produced a monumental masterpiece, or masterpieces. In each case we have a person obsessed with one idea and that obsession eventually leads to greatness. It is easy to see the value of following one's passion by looking at these great historic events. As they say, hindsight is 20x20.
But what about when the past was still the future? Van Gogh's family considered him a monumental failure, the son who could never hold down a job, never learn any business, kept bouncing from passion to passion. His society considered him a madman and a danger. And the other artists generally considered him to have no technique or skill. Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, arguably the best race horse ever, risked the financial future of her entire family, her own children, and her marriage for the sake of an unproven colt. She was considered crazy by her brother, her husband, and most of the racing industry. History has proven them to have been right.
But what about all those passions that never worked out? Never had books written about them or movies made about them because they didn't work out? What about the Vincents and Pennys of this generation? How can you tell the difference? The truth is that you can't. The problem is not that we can't tell the difference between passion and obsessive madness. We are asking the wrong question. The question that we should be asking is - Does it matter? Van Gogh's society judged him and found him wanting. Only future generations appreciated what he did. I wonder if he had been living now if he would have ever painted what he did.
We are so quick to analyze and label that which is different. We want everyone to be happy. On the surface, a lovely sentiment, but underneath it reeks of Brave New World. Just give everyone a happiness pill and humanity is dead. Humans need to feel passion. They need to be allowed to pursue their passion no matter how crazy it may seem, no matter how little "success" they may achieve. Because success is relative. Success is socially determined and is not the same for all or for all times. Van Gogh and Chenery succeeded because they didn't care what others thought. They followed their own inner voice and they risked greatly in order to achieve greatness. They did not strive for greatness. They merely went where their passion took them. The rest followed.
(Just an aside, I, of course, am not condoning any obsessions which lead to the damage or destruction of others. That should go without saying.)
Just think carefully about the world that you want. A world of "happiness" for all or a world full of passion. And then think about our children. Do we want them to be happy or do we want them to be all they can be? Passion is not about happiness or success. Passion is about strong feelings, immense energy, and a roller coaster ride of a life. With pain, failure, stress, anger, but what a high! We would no longer need drugs or extreme adventures to feel truly alive. When you follow your passion you are complete. That is a world of which I would like to be a part.