Should We Be Motivated By Passion? Or Duty?

Should We Be Motivated By Passion? Or Duty? July 9, 2012

In the last couple of months, in graduation speeches across this country, graduates were exhorted to follow their passions, to do that which flowed from the depths of their being. I expect that, as a preacher, I have sometimes urged people to follow their passions (the godly passion, that is). It’s pretty much assumed in our day that we should all live according to our powerful feelings, desires, and visions.

But is this right? Is this enough?

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, in the spring

I just read a challenging piece in The High Calling by Stephen Martin, a speechwriter and journalist. In “Don’t Let Your Passions Overwhelm Your Duties,” Martin examines the example of Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “Science is my passion, politics my duty.” Of course, Jefferson devoted much of his life to politics, including such minor tasks as writing the Declaration of Independence and spending eight years as the President of the United States. Talk about living a life guided by duty!

Noting our tendency to follow our passions most of all, Martin comments:

Jefferson suggests a wiser path: don’t get so hung up on our passions that we forget our duties. They include providing for ourselves and families, helping friends, contributing to our communities, and paying heed to God. Sometimes that’s going to mean walking out the door to a job that doesn’t thrill us every moment of the day. And that’s all right.

This sounds almost heretical in our current cultural setting. It sounds, well, so “Downton Abbeyish,” if you know what I mean. If you served in the military, you’ve probably know what it’s like to be motivated by duty. But, for the most part, we just don’t use this sort of language anymore.

Should we? Should we revive a sense of duty? Should we follow Jefferson’s example and choose duty over passion, at least some of the time? Or, in so doing, are we losing ourselves in the process, denying who we really are and what we’re meant to do?

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  • Bill Goff

    Insightful post! 
    However as a retired (but still ambulatory) person I usually feel left
    out when I read admonitions about work.  During this stage of my life I am more
    inclined to follow my doctor’s advice (including abstention from coffee which I
    love) than my passions and I’m not so sure anymore what my duty is.  I hope that sometime in the future you will
    use your wisdom and talent to address some of the issues that people like me

  • LMH

    Bill, I don’t think this has to do with only work.  Every group/community we are a part of gives us a chance to both follow our passion but also fulfill our duty.  Take church, for example, my passion is local missions work but I have children in the church who are in the children’s ministry programs.  Therefore, even though it is not my passion, it is my duty to assist with this ministry.  Children cannot run it, so the larger church community must….who has the most investment in the children?  Their parents, of course, so we (the parents) must step up and do our duty to insure that our children get a good, solid christian education.  this concept of passion vs. duty is so much more than work.  In the communities that you are in, what is your passion and what is your duty?

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