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Passion and Persistence

Patch Adams, M.D.

Passion and persistence can change the world! I'm talking about hanging in there joyfully. That last part is extremely important. I'm traveling around quite a lot now, both to build our hospital and to stimulate service. Whether I'm speaking to CEO's of hospitals or to university students, I encounter amazement. When I probe, because I would like us to be commonplace, not amazing, I hear not amazement for our ideals and the breadth of our work, but for the passion and persistence I display in its pursuit. This is disturbing to me, because I have a great desire for tremendous social change. Our society is suffocating under powerlessness, bereft of self esteem. I don't want people amazed at our passion or persistence. I want them inspired to work their butts off.

Passion and persistence are not attributes of special people, blessed to possess them, but rather extremely important tools for change. I want to make these precious gems commonplace, so that it is no longer interesting that people are full of passion and persistence, because it is the rule.

To show you the company that they keep, some of their cousins are: desire, intensity, inspiration, obsession, commitment, compulsion and concern. Passionate and persistent people are relentless, dauntless, consumed, crazed, insane, raging, energized.

I'm not sure passion and persistence can be taught. But they can be inspired, studied, desired, and pursued. I think that's why I am me. I consider myself a designed person--I don't have very many unintentional acts. I'm trying to be a person that might inspire passion. I get good feedback, which is why I do it. Get involved!

Can passion and persistence be found, through revelation, vision or rational thought? I think so. The shy and quiet exhibit passion and persistence in equal depth as the loud and obnoxious, though I'm more familiar with the latter.

I believe passion and persistence are incompatible, in fact dramatically damaged, by cynicism, apathy, discouragement, whining. If you are going to be a social crusader you must eliminate these from your vocabulary and behavior. They are pernicious.

Passion, of course, implies glorious scenes: the future grand opening of your hospital building, or getting a bill passed that you worked on for 10 years. But that kind of passion needs no encouragement. The passion that tips the scale is the passion to hang endless posters one more time, you yet again call a meeting where almost no one shows up, though they promised. And to be feverishly enthusiastic for those two people. The passion that actually loves scutwork.

As a communitarian you want to say, "What are the jobs that people like the worst?" And you find the seduction so that people love them. That is passion.

I represent extreme bias: mostly my own experience as a crazed person. I think I can say that I have spent my entire 50 years exploring passion and persistence in other people as well. I'll list some pointers:

  • Ground yourself in missions of higher good and service. In my office and at home I have photos of murdered children, and children on the day they died of starvation. I have a personal ritual. I stand in front of those pictures until I am sobbing to remind myself that in my luxury, right this second, men are taking pleasure in pure torture. Ground yourself deeply in your mission.
  • Unite your mission with your personal, perpetual experience of the miracle of life. Couple it not with pain and tragedy. Celebrate and be thankful to be together enough to step out of your selfish self, giving yourself to others and the world.
  • Make it fun! As Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution!" Feel your path as a rich, varied and uplifting experience. It needn't be my kind of fun--make it your own brand.
  • Persistence is a byproduct of passion. If you see persistence, passion is at work. To me passion feels like surrender, a freedom from doubt, a zest for pursuit.
  • Try to live as close to your authentic self as you possibly can. As a friend of mine says, "Do what you want to do." "It's redundant to say 'authentic self' because self is authentic." Say what's on your mind--that day. No more lag time for perspective. No more sacrifice.
  • Find creativity in every act, and do not sacrifice your need to e creative. Creativity is one of the greatest medicines ever. Exercise it int he way you wash dishes, in the way you walk down the street, and in the way you make art. Creativity is essential nourishment. It is not a cute thing to add to your community, nor a luxury, as our government implies. It is the very soul of our sense of self worth.
  • Responsibility, sacrifice, struggle, and whining hurt passion, each in their own way. They are horrible reasons to move yourself forward. There's a very good chance if you are motivated by a sense of responsibility, sacrifice and struggle that you will grow to blame the object of your passion as an excuse for it's not happening, or for your pain, frustration, or disappointment.
  • Passion is not a final product, like world peace. Passion is the name of the process. This confusion is one reason so many people quit passion, or never even join on to a Big Dream. They quit because achieving the final product is too slow. Certainly the single tragedy in Gesundheit's work is the loss of great people because it's taken so long to get out our final product. "How is Gesundheit! doing?" always implies the final product, rather than the process. You must feel that passion today, in the process--don't tie it to a finish line.
  • Invite co-travelers, unless you are clearly hermetic. Co-travelers are the juice. Is there anything in your life more important than your friends? live your lives that way! Commit yourself to your friends and colleagues! They are your pillars of persistence. Acknowledge them, support them, go for the intimacy of your wildest dreams with every human being you meet. It'll get easy.
  • Live the life of an enthusiator. Seduction is my job. I want all of you working around the clock, every day for the rest of your life, for your dreams. Not because you're paid to, but because you can't help it. It's that good.
  • Fee the thrill of the quest all the time. Dream the impossible dream, fight the unrightable wrong... Corny stuff, and the best.
  • See life itself as a break. I'm not a break person. As Weird Al Yankovich says, "I'll be mellow when I'm dead." I want you to find so much delight with your co-travelers, so much thrill in the quest, that a break is an irritation. no if you need a break (and this is Dr. Adams speaking), I want you to take one THAT DAY. I don't want you working under stress. The reason there are so few social activists is that in the history of social activism, it looks like it's not any fun! It looks like sacrifice, struggle. It looks like everyone you know in it needs a break. Burnout? You know, we should be burned out from selfishness, from vacations, from breaks. Life, your life, needs to be designed so that the idea of a break is an unwelcome interruption. Until you reach that point, take a break the day you need it.
  • Exercise your wonder, curiosity and imagination at all times.
  • Exercise your body. Be physically fit. if you're not, your community will have to take care of you. In order to be a passionate worker, if you have a big project, you'd better stay physically fit. It's going to take a long time! (Unless your project is... dinner.) Make fitness part of the ethic of your effort. Rest when you need it. Otherwise spend your time wisely.
  • Define success as something achievable. For myself, I define success as: Did I try? Did I give my time? Did I never give up? These are all very easy to do. Do not put success in things or outcomes.
  • Don't borrow much money. Over the course of our work trying to build a free hospital countless people have urged us to borrow money. The weight of borrowed money can cause you to lose your dream.
  • Delight in compromise wherever you can. Have the shortest possible list of nonnegotiable points. Say, "Sure, I like your way."
  • Be cautious about the power your passion brings. Passionate people are give a lot of power in our society, whether they ask for it or not. Because we have so little self esteem, such boredom and loneliness and fear, passion is extremely attractive. Be cautious.

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