Higher Living Reflections

Passion v. Intensity

I enjoy being with and listening to passionate people, even on topics in which I might not have an interest. I can be a captive audience, listening raptly to those going on in areas or disciplines in which we share a passion—writing, teaching, gardening, running, e.g.—and in those I am curious about: quantum physics, classic cars, art, old films. It’s my nature. I love learning simply for the sake of learning.

Passion’s etymology lies in the Latin pati, which means suffering. Patiens is the participial form of pati, which gives us our word patient. Think of the time when you sat patiently in a doctor’s or dentist’s office or suffered through and patiently endured an emotive person’s episode as he moved through it. Parents and teachers are pros at that.

As a trait, passionate can be admirable. The reason is that it is self-energizing, welling forth from the individual’s inner core, thus not other-consuming. It can be infectious and invigorating, inspiring one to dive into areas in which she has discovered or rediscovered a powerful interest.

Passionate individuals are often intuitive introverts. While their passion is often expressed outwardly, they don’t necessarily seek or crave attention.

Intensity is different. Its root lies in the Latin tensus, which is the past participle of tendere: “to stretch.”

Merriam-Webster defines intense as “existing in an extreme degree; having or showing a characteristic in extreme degree.” So, rather than the prefix in indicating opposite of, it indicates stretching to the extreme. Intensifying.

Intensity most often expresses itself outwardly. It feeds off and enervates listeners’ energy. When one watches an intense performance, whether an on-stage play, a sporting match, or a heated exchange between political contenders that passes for debate, it can leave the observer drained, sapped, depleted and in need of an energy restorer.

Intense individuals are the ones who stand surrounded by arrows pointing inwardly and yell, “Look at me!” They’re in your face. While they are often quite draining, it’s critical they vent their volcanic energies outwardly; otherwise, they self-combust, erupting and wreaking havoc and destruction. The problem for the listener is that she likely does not have an unlimited capacity to absorb the intensity, particularly on a long-term basis.

I see passion as positive trait. Passion is a steadily burning, warming blaze. It implies deep love for…?

Intensity, on the other hand, is focused, driven. It’s a potential inferno, a conflagration waiting to happen if not redirected appropriately.

Picture passionate individuals in your life and reflect on what drives them. The aching inside about their work or perhaps a noble goal? Create a character sketch of one. What are his qualities that draw you to her and those that push you away?

Then, sketch an intense acquaintance. Same process.

Finally, self-reflect and sketch. Passionate? Intense? Neither? Hmm…

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  • Laurel McHargue
    March 8, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Wow. I never considered the inward vs outward expression of passion and intensity. You will forever be a teacher! Thank you!

  • Cheryl Ilov
    March 8, 2019 at 7:59 pm

    You’re absolutely right that passion is a warming fire. Intensity can be the path to spontaneous combustion which threatens to incinerate anyone (and everyone) in its path. Great post!!