Find A Good Outlet For Your Passions

From, this is not my content.

Although today we consider “passion” to be a good thing—as in find your passion—to the Stoics, the passions were something to be wary of. Desire, rivalry, excitement, infatuation, anger. These were powerful forces that, if left unchecked, were likely to hurt the person who had turned themselves over to them (and likely to hurt innocent bystanders too).

The warning against manufacturing or feeding these emotional drives is a good one and ought to be heeded. But what is a person to do when they find themselves unexpectedly angry or hurt or excited? Should they just stuff this emotion down? Should they pretend it doesn’t exist? The Stoics talk a lot less about this.

One suspects they might agree with the solution proposed by the beloved children’s television host, Mr. Rogers:

“But do you know what I do when I’m angry? I like to swim, and so I swim extra hard when I’m angry...There are many things that you can do when you’re angry that don’t hurt you or anybody else.”

What he’s talking about is the need for an outlet for dangerous passions—so we can get them out of our system as soon as possible, with as little harm as possible. One suspects that’s why Marcus Aurelius was such an avid journaler—he was pouring those passions out onto the page. His temper, his fears, his frustrations. All of it came out in a practice he knew well. But one can just as easily do this on the basketball court or the swimming pool. Or into a microphone or on the keys of a piano.

A politician fueled by anger is going to get themselves in trouble. A politician who lifts weights when they are angry is going to make better policy decisions. A hurt spouse who gets up and takes a walk and then comes back to the argument later is going to be more rational, kinder, and less likely to say something they regret.

Passions are inevitable and unavoidable. Life creates them. Life incites them. Still, we can’t give ourselves over to them, simply because they are natural, or we will hurt ourselves and other people in the process. Nor can we try to stuff them down and white knuckle it. Like a long-quiet faultline or a sleeping volcano, on the surface there may be serenity, where beautiful things can grow and life can be lived, but under the surface the tension and the pressure has been building all along, and eventually, inevitably, it is going to find a way to vent. Stuffing down your emotions and passions only makes it more likely that they’ll explode in spectacular, life-altering, earth-scorching fashion.

We have to find helpful, harmless outlets for our emotions if we want to be able to manage them and avoid seismic, cataclysmic disruptions to our lives.