The Transience of Passion
Last month’s editorial1 commented on the strange way in which our emotions drive our judgments. We are driven by passions. And those passions may be fleeting.
The fleeting nature of human passion—and its impact on our decision making—is illustrated by a simple thought experiment on a person’s willingness to wait for a larger reward. If someone is offered the choice between $100 now and $110 tomorrow, he or she might grab the $100 today and not wait. Yet, if someone is offered $100 one year from now or $110 one day later, he or she is likely to, wisely, choose the $110 one day later, irrespective of knowing that one year from now, he or she would be facing the original $100 now and $110 tomorrow choice. We are not rational (in the sense of not making consistent choices); our emotions in the moment deeply affect our perceptions and judgments and choices we make.
This past summer, having just returned from a visit to Palestine and having seen first-hand the oppression under which Palestinians live, I returned with a passion to act. I wrote letters to and met with my Congressional representatives, arranged to speak in my community, and worked on some grand plans to educate people. The passion faded, and while I still write on and devote resources to the issue, it is no longer a hot flame driving me (its more smoldering coals now).
Making and sticking to a good long-term plan is a difficult hurdle for humans. We face this problem regularly with adherence to treatments. Patients may have every intention to take their pills, apply their creams, stay on their diet, and get to the gym, but their initial passion to do so may gradually fade, and in the heat of some other passionate moment, things may not go according to plan. Whatever the goal, we should consider, logically and dispassionately, if and how we will maintain the motivation to continue or whether we want to get involved at all. Unfortunately, we are creatures of passion and may not be able to view things in a logical, dispassionate way despite our best efforts.
Steven R. Feldman, MD, PhD
Chief Medical Editor
Dr Feldman is with the Center for Dermatology Research and the Department of Dermatology, Pathology, and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC.
1. Feldman SR. Preexisting biases affect our perception. The Dermatologist. 2018;26(9):8.