Saturday, May 23, 2009

The transformation of passion into compassion

A deep and consistent thread of personal growth that I am sharing here concerns our culture's "awakening of the heart to compassion," as recounted by Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, 1988). The context of this quote and the title of this posting is important - interviewer Bill Moyers asked Campbell for elaboration on the "sign of the cross" as a symbol for our culture. Besides its association with "the one historic moment on Calvary," the underlying meaning holds a connection between the physical and spiritual. Campbell begins his response with:

The big moment in the medieval myth is the awakening of the heart to compassion,
the transformation of passion into compassion...

In light of a recent annual library conference in which I was a co-presenter, I gave a lot of thought to the question of motivation. What gives us the desire to do the absolute best we can do? In library work, what moves us to provide that extra element for each patron? What is the passion that drives us to be librarians?

My personal passion is a great generator. Passion raises the level of my personal commitment to the quality. It challenges me to do more, be better, provide excellent service. It motivates me to learn and to seek information and the tools in finding that information so that I can bring this to my patrons in timely and effective ways.

Passion is a strong emotion, however, and can become enmeshed with my beliefs about myself - my ego. If I believe in something and become passionate about it, the playing field of my vunerability is exposed. I may have a passion about a politician, about intellectual freedom, my children and husband, my home - which in reality I do.

So I began to think about Campbell's words and meaning, moving from passion to compassion, in the context of my own work and life. I can have a passion for library work, but without compassion I have a hollow, egotistical career.

I must have compassion for those librarians, historians, educators, curators before me. I must have compassion for those who have tried to represent the best interests of freedom of information and the value of education. Most of all, I must have compassion for those who seek answers no matter how trivial it may seem. A young patron asked how to get unstuck in a Nintendo DS game. A student seeking research about the psychology of the interpretation of dreams. Another patron wanted to know how child custody laws work when each parent lives in a different state and told me her son hadn't seen his father in five years.

Moving the passion for library work into a compassionate realm moves our hearts from fear of attack (and being on the defensive) to quietly listening in a place of calm care. It's easier to calculate how best to help our patrons when we are confident enough in ourselves to focus upon their needs.

Have a wonderful Memorial weekend! I hope your days are restful and pleasant.

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