Why We Fear Passion

Caitlin Wray


“We fear it. We fear passion, and laugh at too much love and those who love too much. And still we long to feel.” – Jeanette Winterson

We long to feel. This is the irony of a child like mine who feels too much, in a world that is losing its ability to feel at all. Have you noticed that most children have an inborn passion? Even if they cannot understand or express it outwardly in typical ways. They are grounded not in thoughts or assumptions or judgments, but in feelings. And when they have those feelings, that passion, they let it fill them up completely. Because they haven’t learned Control.

Control has come to represent the zenith of success in our post-modern society. Control your weight, control your behaviour, control your finances, control your future, control your children, control your self. And yet … we still speak of passion as something we desire, seek, crave. How can this be, when control is the antithesis of passion?

Young children have no concept of acting ‘normal,’ staying ‘calm,’ or keeping things in ‘control.’ While we all know that children must learn a measure of control, their absence of restraint is such an integral part of what we love about them, and what we so fondly recall of our own childhoods. Surely none of us smile secretly to ourselves as we reminisce about the times we followed the rules and behaved properly. No, it’s a child’s reckless abandon that we envy, something we have long ago forsaken in our quest to ‘grow up’ and ‘be normal’

For an autistic child, control is another thing altogether. So too, is passion. Both come packaged with lead weights attached by the neurotypical world. For some school-aged autistic children, the pressure to find a balance between control and passion can be devastating. In our experience, our son’s autism put a spotlight on a glaring need to tolerate more passion in an education system that is underpinned — or rather pinned down — by control.

So how do we allow our children and ourselves to be truly passionate beings, without being seen as “out of control”? I know my son struggles tremendously with this. He almost explodes with passion for life each day, and I find myself following him around like a vacuum cleaner, suctioning up all the random bits of emotion that are whirling around. Hastily explaining to people, in messy little sound bytes, his larger-than-life personality.

Do you allow yourself to be openly, publicly passionate? Or do you carefully control your reactions, not wanting to look … strange? How do you feel when you see another adult acting really passionate about something? And I don’t mean on TV. I mean, you’re walking through the mall and a grown man is gesturing wildly, his eyes beaming with wonder, his mouth gaping in astonishment at some new discovery or someone’s outlandish claim.


He would look weird. I would think it. So, likely, would you. What makes us feel so awkward to be in the presence of overt passion?

“Our problem is with passion … part of the reason is that we are hopelessly modern. Our world discourages behaviour that takes us out of ourselves.” -Eric H. Yoffie

Have we spent so much time controlling ourselves, blocking out the world with the white noise of progress, that we have lost our deeper, more primal connection to each other and moreover — to ourselves? How is it that my son — who delights in finding corners of the universe invisible to the rest of us, and who can literally hear what is scientifically defined as silence — how is it that he is diagnosed with an “inability to connect with the world”? Isn’t he connecting in ways that the rest of us, being so disconnected, don’t even understand?

Meanwhile, those of us who’ve perfected the art of Control, cajole ourselves by tossing around the word ‘passion’ with careless ease, e.g., “I am passionate about golf.” As far as I’m concerned, this is an oxymoron. Until they write poetry about golf, it does not qualify as passion. There is such a profound difference between really liking something, and being passionate about it, but our culture has all but erased that line. And I think it’s because we are fundamentally uneasy with true passion — because true passion does not allow you to have control. It takes control of you.

Passion for a cause can be so powerful that our actions actually defeat the purpose of the cause in the first place. Passion = zealotry. Passion for a person that is unrequited can break your heart. Passion = obsession. Passion for something that doesn’t pay the bills is considered fiscally irresponsible. Passion = immaturity. Any passion that goes too far, that is unrestrained, is desperation. Passion = insanity.

On the other hand, passion can sweep you off your feet to a place of such intense Love that you feel you are holding a piece of eternity in your heart. Passion can carry you to the ultimate purpose of your own existence. It can deliver a newborn baby into your arms, blind you to danger in the name of justice, or empower entire nations to rise up. Surely one day, if we haven’t snuffed out the last spark of passion, it will be the one to find the cure for cancer. Whoever said money makes the world go round, didn’t know a thing about the power of passion.

Still, we savour passion but fear it, and favour control.

While my son’s neurological differences — his autism, his sensory processing disorder — bring with them many challenges, they also bring so much passion. And I now recognize that, buried in amongst the many times when he needs my help to gain Control, there are also opportunities for me to share in his passion. To share in his intense feelings for the experiences this life has to offer. Some of those experiences are painful to him, others are painful for me to watch, but most — most are transformative for us both.

So I say, what the world needs now is a little less Control, and little more Passion.