Don’t Follow Your Passion; Follow Your Reason

“The first and best victory is to conquer self. To be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.” - Plato

“The first and best victory is to conquer self. To be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.” – Plato

Follow your passion! This sounds like an exciting, adventurous idea. Who could disagree that pupils should be enthusiastic?

But this is one of the principles that has led to the current train wreck of self-indulgent individualism which plagues classrooms, not to mention personal relationships.

Follow your passion . . . what does it mean, in practice? It means that if you don’t feel like doing something, you shouldn’t bother doing it. Actually, it’s worse than that. It means that if you don’t have a big warm fuzzy feeling about something, it’s actually your duty not to do it, because if you do, you’re not being ‘true to yourself’. You’re being insincere, even hypocritical.

Now let’s examine a few specific cases. A teenage lad sits in a classroom, where he is supposed to be listening to the teacher explain a difficult poem by Shakespeare. His passion, however, is for the girl sitting on the other side of the classroom. So he spends his time staring at her. He is following his passion. Ought he to be congratulated? Or consider a pupil who is passionate about playing FIFA and never does any homework. When questioned about his poor work rate, he explains that he has been told by many an ‘inspiring’ teacher to follow his passion. And he just doesn’t get excited about doing his homework.

I’m a father of young children. I do not get excited about changing nappies, or getting up in the middle of the night. But I do these things. Am I being insincere, or hypocritical? Ought I to say to a little child who needs my assistance, “Sorry, the feeling’s gone. I honestly just can’t do this anymore. I’m off to the pub.”?

The traditional wisdom has always been that if we wish to succeed, we must overcome our passions, not follow them. Because we are not animals, we can follow our reason instead.

If we want to encourage young people to develop the habits of self discipline which are so essential to success in every area of life, whether it is study, work or personal relationships, we need to stop telling them to follow their passion. It is our duty to warn them, and to train them, otherwise they will be heading for disaster.

The teachers who are training their pupils in self-control aren’t the ones who are likely to win popularity contests. They are, nevertheless, the ones who care most about the young people in their charge. They care about them far too much to let them remain as they are. They really want them to grow up into successful adults, not toddlers in adult bodies.

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