Zak of All Trades: What's in a word?: 'Passion'

This week's word came about from a lot of reflection on what it means to be a "fan" of a team.

It was a rough week for hockey fans of the Pittsburgh variety, as our beloved Penguins pulled off an epic collapse to exit the playoffs far too early yet again. And so, as a fan, I started to focus on the word.

I heard all sorts of things about fans in Pittsburgh — we're too harsh; we're too focused on winning; we are poor sports — thrown around on the Internet and on a few talk radio shows.

But I know sports fans of all kinds and all varieties — young and old, new to the games and seasoned veterans — and one thing they all have in common is a dedicated passion for their teams.

Some express it differently (Philadelphia fans are known to be harsh with their own beloved, while Oklahoma City's basketball fans are known as the quiet, polite variety), but it's passion nonetheless.

So, my reflection began with the word "fanatic," but noticing that the only definition there has a negative connotation — though "fan" is a more positive derivative.

But after much more thought, I realized that passion itself was what I was thinking of — not so much fanaticism.

Once again, I turned to an old familiar friend in, and while there were numerous definitions about passion in the sexual sense, those weren't the ones that I was choosing to focus on. The aim of my reflection came from the very first definition.

pas·sion [pash-uhn]; noun
1. any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.

Now, the funny thing that we don't realize at times is that our fanhood is certainly a passion, but so is our distaste for other teams that we don't like, as passion is simply a strong feeling in one direction or another.

Many of us would say we are passionate about our favorite team, but those of us in Steeler Country certainly wouldn't be quoted as saying we are "passionate about the Baltimore Ravens," although we certainly are — passionate in our distaste for them.

So, we know that passion is powerful, but we don't always realize that it's compelling. Compelling simply means that it pulls us to do something else — like yell at a fan of the opposing team for no good reason or paint our faces to look like clowns decked out in team colors before we go into the stadium for a game.

Passion is both a feeling and a pull to action — this is true of both love and hate. If I love something — from baseball to a significant other — I'm going to have strong feelings for it and feel compelled to be active for it — to do things to show it that it's loved. Likewise, if I hate something, I'm going to go out of my way to make its existence more difficult and to let it know that it's not-so-beloved.

It is for this very reason that it is important for me, from time to time, to reflect on what I'm passionate about. If I'm passionate about helping others, that should compel me to help others and to seek out ways to do so.

But sometimes, laziness gets in the way of our passions or the ups and downs of life sap some of the passion right out of us. Back to the sports analogy, if my team is having a rough year — or 20 in a row — it might be harder to find the passion to follow them. Even though we have passion, it sometimes buries itself.

In these times, we may find it easier to turn to the passion of hating other teams — blaming them even.

When my Pittsburgh Pirates were mired in 20-plus seasons of losing, I still followed them, but I also followed the New York Yankees — one of the teams that I blamed for the Pirates' lack of an ability to succeed due to their large salary fund — more closely than I ever had. I took a good, positively focused passion and turned it into the kind that I despise — a hateful one.

Listed in the antonym section of the definition for passion, though, we find a trait that is even more despised than passion — both in us and in those around us, we hate this trait — apathy. To show apathy is not to care at all.

In the sports world, this drives us nuts. When I go to a game and sit beside a person who's "just there for the experience" and "isn't really rooting for either team," it upsets me more than sitting beside a fan of the other team. It makes me want to scream, "You've got to root for somebody!"

The late racing legend Dale Earnhardt was known to have said that if the fans weren't cheering you or booing you, you were doing something wrong — but it didn't matter which they were doing.

This follows the thought pattern that the worst thing we can experience is apathy. Children display this desire when they act out, and behavioral scientists will tell you that a child would rather have negative attention than no attention at all. That is, he'd rather be punished than ignored. Isn't that crazy?

The word origin of passion is rooted in the Scriptural reference of Christ's passion — His trip to the cross for the people He came to serve — and while I'm not making any wild comparisons here, that does make sense, as those who are truly passionate about something would do anything to see its completion, and true passion would even lead to giving up one's life for it.

Now, I don't think any of us are truly that passionate about our favorite sports teams, but I'll bet there are a few people and a few causes in our lives that we are that passionate about — and this is speaking in the positively passionate direction.

Perhaps it's a spouse, a child or a best friend, but passion for the relationship you hold with them leads to self-sacrifice in order to benefit the person. And passion for a cause — helping the poor or being kind to strangers — may not kill us, literally, but it will force us to put ourselves in situations we usually wouldn't be comfortable in and learn to thrive.

Sports has taught me a lot about passion, but passion goes far deeper than sports fandom — it's what drives me at my very core. And it's what drives you, too.

So, that's my reflection on the word passion. I hope it's encouraged you to consider what you're truly passionate about, and maybe even made you think about what changes you need to make to help those passions thrive.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and a passionate fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Rossiter Miners.