“Did that make her passionate about becoming a writer?”
I paused for a moment, stumbling. “No,” I said. “I wouldn’t say she is passionate about anything, really.”
Perhaps that was not the wisest move. Ambitious kids are, after all, supposed to have a passion.
And yet, is having a passion always a good idea for young people?
“The right way to wholeness,” said Jung, “is full of fateful detours and wrong turnings.” When we expect our children to commit to a passion too early, may we unintentionally limit their ability to make some of the detours and wrong turnings which are so necessary for wholeness.
The word “passion” comes from the Latin for “to suffer, to endure.” Rooted in suffering, a passion is something we cannot not do, no matter how high the price. To be passionate about an undertaking sacralizes it, transforming it from a mere interest or hobby into a higher calling that defines us and gives our lives meaning and direction.
Some children are bitten early by an abiding love for something – music, theater, science, sports, dance, art. They are clear and unwavering in their choice, and pursue this interest passionately and tirelessly. For such kids, supporting their passion is without a doubt the right thing to do. However, most kids will enter young adulthood without having authentically committed to any one interest or pursuit. This is true in spite of the fact that the competitive college arms race tends to place a premium on passion and the high level of achievement and expertise that often goes along with it.
When we expect young people to have a passion, what is it we are valuing? Typically, young people are expected to be passionate about an academic subject or an extracurricular activity. We boast about our kid’s passion for chemistry, field hockey, or trombone. These are pastimes well rewarded in the marketplace of college admission. I haven’t heard parents talk much about their child’s passion for collecting crushed pennies, baking cupcakes, or playing video games. When we talk about a passion in regards to our children then, we generally mean an interest or a pastime that is adapted to the outer world of adult expectation and achievement. A kid with a passion has expertise and focus more than just enthusiasm. A kid with a passion is Going Somewhere.
I would to celebrate the virtues of being a dilettante, and to argue that we ought to support our kids who do not naturally incline toward an early allegiance to a passion in exploring widely and keeping their options open. The dictionary defines “dilettante” as a person who cultivates an area of interest without real commitment or knowledge. Being a dilettante, then, is in some respects the opposite of being someone with a passion. And etymology bears this out. The word comes from “dilettare,” which means in Latin “to delight.” While passion is rooted in suffering, dilettantism is rooted in delight.
The spirit of the dilettante is captured in the image of The Fool from the tarot. The illustration on the card shows a carefree youth setting out on a journey without encumbrance. “The Fool shows us that we can enter a new area of life with wonder and without great expectations, and often without previous experience.” Without expectations, expertise, or prejudice, we are free to explore any path that presents itself. Like The Fool, we can listen to the whisperings of our heart and our intuition to find previously unknown directions which may delight us.
The archetype of the dummling shows up often in fairy tales, and can help us explore our relationship with being “foolish” or inexperienced. These stories begin with a father and three sons, the youngest of which is always hopelessly slow, lazy, or stupid. This is a common motif in fairy tales the world over, but Russian tales are especially famous for this foolish youngest brother, whose name is always Ivan. When a challenge threatens the kingdom, Ivan’s older brothers quickly set out to solve the problem. Their father the Tsar equips them with fine horses, but when asked for help by a talking animal, they arrogantly refuse. With their finely honed adaptation to outer life, they cannot be bothered with the needs of a distressed animal. Of course, they inevitably fail, leaving the kingdom in worse shape than it was before.
At this point, Ivan, who has been lazily sleeping away the days behind the kitchen stove, blithely asks his father if he may try to go questing. The Tsar laughs at his son, certain that lazy and stupid Ivan will not be able to succeed where his smart and focused brothers failed. But Ivan is insistent, and eventually he is allowed to make an attempt.
Unlike his more accomplished brother’s Ivan embarks upon his hero’s journey with the open-heartedness and open-mindedness that comes with being a dummling. When the talking animals ask for assistance, Ivan renders it, and is rewarded by being given the crucial piece of information or magical item that will lead to success. (By the way, here’s a tip. When a talking animal approaches you, always listen to its advice.)
The older sons in the tale represent those parts of our personality that are well-developed and adapted to achievement and success. In ordinary circumstances, these aspects of ourselves can take us far. However, the naiveté, spontaneity, and open-heartedness of our own inner dummling will often be what is needed at crucial junctures or in times of crisis.
Allowing young people to remain dabblers and dilettantes allows them the freedom to explore their world without prejudice. As adults, many of us can look back and see how our own paths have followed surprising and meandering courses which we may not have had the freedom to traverse had we become prematurely expert in a given passion.
 From The Tarot Handbook by Hajo Banzhaf, p. 18