Most days, colleagues at work eat their lunch in a dedicated lunch room. At 12 o’clock, the office empties of all but those who have urgent business to complete. I tend to be one of those people, preferring the quiet of lunch at my desk to get some work done.
Today, the usual lunch room was otherwise occupied. Instead of colleagues disappearing at noon, they pushed back from their desks and ate their lunch in the office in groups a of twos and threes. The usual peace of the half hour break was gone, replaced by people discussing their plans for the weekend or impending holiday. Some days I might have been annoyed, today was not one of those days.
As I sat checking my emails, I found myself inadvertently listening to the conversation of two colleagues sat at the desk opposite. Although I tuned in half way through the conversation, I do not think I would understood even 1% of the conversation had I been listening from the beginning. My colleagues were discussing, as far as I could tell, a selection of their favourite bands. They might as well have been talking in ancient Babylonian for all the sense they were making.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you I am not a music fan. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy listening to music, some music at least, but it is not something I would consider a hobby or interest, and my music knowledge extends little beyond the most popular of songs.
Having little knowledge of, and drawing only the limited pleasure from, music, I found myself fascinated by both the depth and passion with which my colleagues were holding their conversation.
While I struggled to follow much of the chat, I did pick up snippets of the discussion. One album was ‘too heavy to get fully absorbed in’, another song was ‘too experimental to be listenable’, while my personal favourite phrase inspired my title; ‘it was more prog and not enough rock for my liking’.
I know this post risks sounding like I am mocking my colleagues. It is easy to laugh at people talking so passionately about a subject that they risk sounding pretentious or aloof. That is not my intention here. Rather, it is the passion with which they could speak about music which fascinated me, and is something I have been reflecting on.
Like everyone else, I have hobbies and interests. I am fascinated by physics and science more generally. I love sci-fi and comic book movies. I have been privileged to travel to some amazing places around the world. I find writing relaxing and cathartic.
And yet, even though I find these things and more interesting, I do not feel I would be able to discuss in such depth and with such passion about any topic which I call an interest. Why then, does someone like my colleague develop such a passion about a topic while someone like myself merely finds something interesting.
I wonder whether the emotional attachment to something like music plays a part in the development of such passion. I do find myself stirred by music from time to time. Anthemic pieces in particular rouse the spirit, and there are some songs I can listen to several times over when the mood takes me. But this is limited to a narrow repertoire of songs, and does not occur every time. Crucially, listening to on song by a particular artist or band does not drive me to want to listen to more of their music. Similarly, while I might enjoy a particular superhero movie, I am not so enraptured that I have to immediately watch it again or speak at length about the content or meaning. I might have enjoyed the film, but I have little emotional attachment to it.
Contrast this with my colleagues. I did not ask them directly, but I would be willing to put a lot of money on a bet that they are emotionally moved by a particularly good piece of music, and conversely they can tell a poor song by a lack of emotional involvement. Become emotionally attached to something, and you can quickly find yourself enraptured and prepared to speak passionately on the topic.
This passion does make an appearance in other areas of my life. My wife, my family and my dog draw emotional responses from me, and more often than not I can find them being drawn into conversations with colleagues and friends. It is not that I lack passion for anything, rather I do not find hobbies and interests so all embracing as to arouse those passions.
To develop such a passion also takes an element of dedication and focus. During the short conversation I overheard, my colleagues discussed at least a half dozen albums and they had likely discussed more before I tuned in. To take the time to have listened to those albums, possibly more than once, so that they are able to discuss them in depth, is a significant commitment of time and requires a focus at the exclusion of other interests.
As much as I might complain every now and then that I have too much to do and not enough time, if I am honest with myself this is not the case. If I wanted to I could dedicate more time to my hobbies and interests, but this is not a priority for me at this point in my time. Similarly, while I can find myself daily distracted by something more interesting than whatever I am currently doing, I am also capable of focussing on something which interests me at the time.
Yet to develop such a passion as my colleagues have for music, I would need to devote time to an interest at the exclusion of others. This could be done, of that I am certain, but it is not something I have found myself doing with any of my interests so far.
Again, this probably harks back to the emotional involvement in the interest. My colleagues are emotionally invested, so the exclusion of other interests is a price worth paying. I wonder if a part of me sees any in-depth investment in a particular interest as time not spent on other equally important things, and this is a sacrifice I am not quite emotionally prepared to make.
I do not think I will ever develop a passion for or focus on a subject to the level my colleagues have a passion for music. I suspect if this was ever going to be the case I would have done so by now. This does not stop me having a fascinated appreciation for those who are so passionate. And of course, without such obsessive passion, we might not have had such beautiful works of music and art and scientific discovery in the first place.