‘I think the really good mountaineer is the man with the technical ability of the professional and with the enthusiasm and freshness of approach of the amateur.’
One of the most endearing, positive qualities we can have in our lives is that of enthusiasm. It adds an extra sparkle to our day, motivates us to go the extra mile, brings us endless joy, and inspires and uplifts those around us. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek en theos, which literally means ‘God within’, or ‘inspired by God’. Like grace and love, there is an inspired quality to enthusiasm – we all know what it feels like, but we can’t manufacture or control it.
Because enthusiasm is so beneficial, it is all too easy to try and force enthusiasm – perhaps in a work situation where everyone has to be upbeat and revved up all the time; or in religious group, where your enthusiasm is proof of your religious conviction; or in intimate relationships which operate mainly in a heightened state. Sometimes in these situation we may start out with genuine enthusiasm, but that initial flush can be difficult to sustain. Our enthusiasm may then develop a fake, pinched quality – it comes across as forced, and doesn’t really convince anyone. The strained smile, the false cheerfulness – these can be used to hide dysfunction and disengagement, to stop people from asking difficult questions or expressing doubt.
Enthusiasm is also easily manipulated – an inspirational speaker can fire up a crowd to behave in ways the individuals themselves would not, for better or worse. Add some music, balloons and colour, clapping and singing together… We can soon find ourselves being swept up in the mood of the crowd, which could be euphoric, one of the best experiences of our lives, or else it could be nasty, downright dangerous.
Enthusiasm without wisdom reminds us of the saying – ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’. There are many times when enthusiasm is not warranted – where it’s much more skillful to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and either walk away or else participate in something with a high degree of skepticism and caution.
As Edmund Hillary has expressed so well, as responsible adults we need to balance our learning and experience with the childlike enthusiasm of a beginner. It’s easy to end up at one end of the scale – either heavy with world-weary ennui, or else sparkling with fireworks exploding all over the place. Next week, we will look at ways of cultivating enthusiasm which are healthy, and based in reality.
Weekly practice idea:
When completing a task which is a little tedious, imagine yourself being very enthusiastic about it. Playfully, not taking yourself too seriously, imbue the task with enthusiasm and notice how this feels.