President's Forum

Icon bar Features Endnote Letters Alumni Essay CUA Alumni News In Class Reading List Scoreboard Explorations News@CUA President's Forum



Used by itself, the word “passion” can evoke any number of ideas. Study its roots and you will find that the English word derives from the Latin root “passio” — from the verb “patior,” meaning “to suffer.” The word “patience” has similar roots.

Often enough, we relate passion, though, to some intense emotion, usually feelings of desire or affection. We find such a definition in Webster’s dictionary.

In his treatise The Philosophy of History, the German philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) wrote, “We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” We do not have to be philosophers to understand what he means. Think about his idea, however, not merely in terms of emotional intensity but, rather, in terms of the root meaning of the word “passion”: suffering. Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without suffering.

Suffering for its own sake is rather pointless, really. Suffering for the sake of something “great in the world”; for something significant, positive or noble; for the sake of someone else, for the community and its good — that is another story.

We speak of people having a “passion” for this or that cause: for education, for justice, for sports or politics or the arts. If we were to be true to the root meaning of the word, we would acknowledge that people with passion are willing to suffer, to sacrifice for these causes. When such people cross our paths, they can inspire and excite us. Passion has an infectious quality. But passion can also frighten us if we are not ready or willing to move or be moved. Either way, passion — when it is observed or encountered — always yields some response.

As we approach tasks required or expected of us every day, it is sometimes hard to generate passion about them. The job will get done, sooner or later. But just inject a little passion, and see what happens. It can change you, it can change those who work or live with you, it can change the routine, it can even change the outcome.

Take a moment to think about yourself, your life, your family and friends, your work, your goals, your world. You can simply let things happen without much energy or investment; they’ll get done as they always do. Or you can determine what it is you hope to accomplish in this world and why, and, then, what you are willing to give and give up to accomplish these things. Suffering to create something good, sacrifice to make things better — that’s the element of passion. It can make ordinary things extraordinary. It can make routine things anything but. Try it! If the only change that occurs is within you, it’s worth the effort!

Back to top

magazine cover

Return to the CUA Magazine Contents Page

Return to the CUA Public Affairs Home Page

Revised: November 2008

All contents copyright © 2008.
The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.