Fanaticism or Passionate?

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I was at a meeting the other day where I may have got carried away.  A little too much in your face attitude.  Was I just being passionate about the topic or had I crossed the line into being fanatical?

There is a fine line between the two, between passionate about a subject and being a fanatic about the subject.  I’m sure that many of you are probably sports fans (oh, wait, a fan is a short form of fanatic) and you go to hockey / football / baseball games and get into the action.  You might have a season ticket.  You are involved and committed to the team.  And yet, at every game, there are one or two people that stick out.  You know the guys, the ones who have the team logo cut into their hair or who colour their face the team colours and proudly bang on their chest for every point as if they had done it themselves.  Are they passionate or fanatical?

I like the quote from philosopher George Santayan who said that fanaticism is “redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.”  But the quote, while humourous, doesn’t really narrow down the difference.

There is some discussion around the idea that a fanatic somehow exceeds societal norms in some respect.  If you are alone in your beliefs, you might be classified as a fanatic, but if everyone around you believes the same then isn’t that now the norm?  I’m sure that thinking the world was round was cause for you to be labeled a heretic or a fanatic.  But afterward?

So, “fanatic” is not cast in stone; it is fluid based on the context in which the actions or beliefs are expressed.  A fanatic one day may be seen as the voice of reason on another even if the belief is the same.

And are your expectations factored into the difference?  Oh, very much so.  One man’s sheep’s milk is another man’s feta.  So I may have been labeled a fanatic in the meeting by one or more people even though I may not have broken societal norms.  I could have broken expectations which then lapsed into “you just don’t do that in a business meeting”, which morphed into “wow, he got so carried away on that topic”.

My definition of a fanatic is a little bit different and steps beyond the boundaries of societal norms.  My definition of a fanatic is someone who adamantly refuses to admit that there is an alternative answer to a problem.

“The world is flat.”

“No, gosh darn it, the world is round.  You’re wrong.  Very wrong and there is no way that you can prove it.”

You may be correct, but you may still be a fanatic.  Fanatics have “discovered” many things.  (OK, Columbus didn’t really discover North America, it had been “discovered” thousands of years prior, by the people living there.  It was brought to the attention of Eurpoean society through Columbus.)  Many inventors are fanatics, so caught up in their vision that they ignore that society says what they want to do can’t be done and go ahead and do it.  Being a fanatic can be good.

Was I a fanatic in the meeting?  I don’t think so.  Sometimes I think I came very close to the brink, dipping my toe into the waters of fanaticism, but I always came back.  If there was a better solution, I was willing to listen.  (OK, my definition of better means not the status quo.  I might need to work on that.)  I was passionate; there was no doubt about it and sometimes too passionate can be a problem as well as it has a tendency of making people put up their defensive walls as if trying to protect themselves from getting caught up.

Being passionate about something is important, whether that is your family, your hobby, your favourite sports team, your job.  Passion is good, it’s healthy, it’s productive.  Being too passionate, being fanatical, is not necessarily good.  It’s also not necessarily bad.  Context is important but most important thing is the idea that you might be wrong, so listen to what other people say.

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