Who has a why to live, can bear with almost any how.
When you have a great passion, it dramatically changes your willingness to spend energy and take risk. When the stakes are a large sum of money people don’t take great risks. When the stakes are love and life and that which has incalculable value, people go the extra mile.
A great passion is the epicenter of everyone’s hero’s journey story. Passion is one of the three foundations of good storytelling
So we will find them in the end, I promise ya. We will find them just as sure as the turning of the earth – Ethan Edwards (John Wayne)
Without passion, no character in a book, or movie or in art would do anything interesting, meaningful, memorable, worthwhile. Without passion, our hero’s journey story has no meaning. It has no coherence, no direction, no inexorable momentum. Without passion, our life still ‘moves’ along – whatever that means, but it lacks an organizing principle. Without passion, it is all but impossible to be fully engaged. To be extraordinary.
The film The Searchers is about an obsessive quest. The niece of Ethan Edwards (Wayne) is kidnapped by Comanches who murder her family and burn their ranch house. Ethan spends five years on a lonely quest to hunt down the tribe that holds the girl Debbie (Natalie Wood)–not to rescue her, but to shoot her dead, because she has become “the leavin’s of a Comanche buck.” Ford knew that his hero’s hatred of Indians was wrong, but his glorification of Ethan’s search invites admiration for a twisted man. Defenders of the film point to the famous scene where Ethan embraces his niece instead of killing her. Can one shot redeem a film?
It is clear from the way Ethan’s eyes follow Martha around the room that he secretly loves her. His hatred of Indians flares the moment he meets Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter): “Hell, I could mistake you for a half-breed.” Martin says he’s “one-eighth Comanche.” Ethan rescued young Martin when his family was killed by Indians, and left him with Martha and Aaron to be raised, but it’s clear he thinks one-eighth is too much. When Martin insists on joining Ethan’s search for the captured Debbie, Ethan says “I give the orders” and treats the younger man with contempt. In a saloon, Ethan pours out drinks but snatches away Martin’s glass, snarling “Wait’ll you grow up.” Martin at this point has been a ranch hand, is engaged to be married, has been on the trail with Ethan for years. Does Ethan privately think it’s dangerous for a “half-breed” to drink? One of the mysteries of “The Searchers” involves the relationship between Ethan and Martin on the trail. Living alone with each other for months at a time, sleeping under the stars, what did they talk about? How could they share a mission and not find common cause as men?
Ethan Edwards, fierce, alone, a defeated soldier with no role in peacetime, is one of the most compelling characters Ford and Wayne ever created (they worked together on 14 films). Did they know how vile Ethan’s attitudes were? I would argue that they did, because Wayne was in his personal life notably free of racial prejudice, and because Ford made films with more sympathetic views of Indians. This is not the instinctive, oblivious racism of Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” Countless Westerns have had racism as the unspoken premise; this one consciously focuses on it. I think it took a certain amount of courage to cast Wayne as a character whose heroism was tainted. Ethan’s redemption is intended to be shown in that dramatic shot of reunion with Debbie, where he takes her in his broad hands, lifts her up to the sky, drops her down into his arms, and says, “Let’s go home, Debbie.” The shot is famous and beloved, but small counterbalance to his views throughout the film–and indeed, there is no indication be thinks any differently about Indians. Consider one of the most famous of all Ford shots, the search party in a valley as Indians ominously ride parallel to them, silhouetted against the sky. And the dramatic first sight of the adult Debbie, running down the side of a sand dune behind Ethan, who doesn’t see her. The opening and closing shots, of Ethan arriving and leaving, framed in a doorway. The poignancy with which he stands alone at the door, one hand on the opposite elbow, forgotten for a moment after delivering Debbie home. These shots are among the treasures of the cinema.
With passion, on the other hand, people do amazing things: good, smart, productive things, often heroic things, unprecedented things. Passion is the thing in your hero’s journey you will fight for. It is the ground you will defend at any cost. Passion is not the same as ‘incentive’, but rather the motor behind it, the end that drives why you have energy for some things and not for others.
I have seen many seen articulate their passion to themselves and to others. But articulation is not nearly enough; in fact it is really not even worth of a pat on the back, so long as one continues to live one’s life in a way that does very little, if anything, to support that passion. Indeed, to say you have a passion and then to do nothing about it is, first, a sham, and, last, a tragedy.
Most people who have been living in this way, when inspired to be passionate, will quickly identify what they claim to be their true passion in life.
To find one’s true passion sometimes takes work. Fortunately, the skill it requires is one that every person is blessed with.
For a few people, naming one’s passion comes with remarkable ease. The individual feels it in the deepest part of his or her soul; the passion has always been there, even if it got lost for a very long while, remaining unexpressed to oneself and to those who are the objects of one’s passion. Deep enduring passion is virtually always motivated by a desire for the well-being of others.
You know passion when you see it.
To author a workable, fulfilling new story, you will need to ask yourself many questions and then answer them, none more important than those that concern passion. Passion is the sail on the boat, the yeast in the bread. Once you know your passion – that is, what matters – then everything else can fall into place. Getting your passion clear is your defining truth. What is the passion of your life? Whatever it is, it had better be someting for which you will move mountains, cross deserts, seven days a week, no questions asked.
Once you find your passion, you have a chance to live a story that moves you and those around you. A story that make them live happily ever after.