Passionate Data Collection

In his 2012 Ted Talk, Yann Dall’Aglio traces the concept of love from the 1300s up until modern day. He claims that with the evolution of the free market and material free will, love is now measured by the number of things a person collects, directly translating into amount he or she is desired by others, or what he calls ‘seduction capital’. He shows stock images of fancy cars and tailored tuxes while emphasizing the importance of the stock market and bank account to the modern person. In our Friday evening book club, also known as Sangha Soiree, we discussed our own personal ‘seduction capital’. For some, it was stuff. For others, it was the active process of freeing themselves of stuff. For still others, it was feeling cool or being noticed. I realized, as I stood silently ruminating while people conversed around me, that my seduction capital is knowledge.

I read incessantly, choose documentaries over Breaking Bad (a travesty, I know), sign up for very random workshops and classes, and collect all the information I possibly can in my tiny brain. I’m more inclined to talk to someone who seems completely different from myself than from someone who seems similar because I subconsciously think I may learn something about them, or the world. I study people’s behavior, ask them why they reacted a certain way in a certain scenario, and sometimes I’m more likely to sit silently watching and observing than to engage in conversation, even with my friends.

I’m comforted by the idea of knowledge. I feel that if I know everything there is to know, I will be safe, protected from harm, threat, the unknown. I’m that person that friends ask their random questions. People will call me out of the blue to ask me about that specific concept that specific author discussed in that one book that one time and are seemingly surprised when I don’t know the answer, which I very rarely do (my desire for knowledge definitely doesn’t equate with actual knowledge). I don’t necessarily think that the attainment of some certain level of knowledge will make me more loved but I definitely find myself collecting facts over cars, as Dall’Aglio puts it.

This need for knowledge means that I spend a lot of time trying to learn about a lot of random topics. I find myself delving far into subjects for which I have some certain affinity. I have an endless number of interests but no known passions. My lack of passion but multitude of interests crosses over into my professional life. My position as a program manager at a local non-profit ends in July which means that I really should have started job searching yesterday but I find myself floundering about what to do next (seriously you should see sheet number of tabs I have open in different job databases right now – it’s ridiculous). My mom taught public school in Darby for 37 years before retiring recently. She dedicated her life to her students and was incredibly passionate about education in underserved areas. Her example intimidates me. My dad wandered through countless professions and experiences including: business school, the army, owning his own business(es), seminary, and driving an ice cream truck through the hills of San Francisco while working part-time as a construction worker. His stories and adventures fascinate me and I’m constantly amazed by all he’s experienced and learned in life.

With two perhaps contradictory examples before me, I find myself feeling like my dad but wishing I were like my mom. The idea of a stable career with a pension and the opportunity to be progressively responsible in a field that I love is intoxicating. But maybe it’s not a matter of figuring out what I’m passionate about. Maybe I need to figure out who I am. As Parker Palmer explores in his book The Courage to Teach, good teachers (and good people, I’m extrapolating) must discern what is integral to their selfhood, what fits and what does not, and choose life-giving ways of relating to the forces that converge within themselves. Or as yogis might say – “know thyself”. So I better get to it, because July will be here before I know.

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