Call it the sweet nectar that lifts our mundane existence to another level. A gift given only to us—birds don’t have it, nor most dogs, cats, or geese. We might get an argument over monkeys, but probably not zebras or leopards. Mainly just us and selectively a Golden Retriever or two.
Icons who pushed Americans to achieve success in business, sports, the arts, politics, war, and life have praised personal enthusiasm as their catalyst. Ralph Waldo Emerson laid it out: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Novelist Paulo Coelho sees it spanning every endeavor: “An enthusiastic heart finds opportunities everywhere.”
This human trait displayed in spades this week during the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals (“Nats”). The Nats had it, even when they weren’t winning. Renown football coach Vince Lombardi inspired: “If you aren’t fired up with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” No ballplayers were being fired during the World Series, but it is a testing ground that is years in the making to create a team able to withstand the rigors of a long baseball season, followed by a “now or never” series. Washington managed to win four Series games on the road to clinch it all.
It took years for the match-up to happen. Houston became “Astros” when they moved into the Astrodome in 1965 nestled in the home of the nation’s (Manned) Space Center, but welcomed the Nationals to Minute Maid Park for the 2019 Series. In a switcheroo, the original Washington Senators’ team left to become the Texas Rangers in 1972. Baseball didn’t return to Washington until 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved south. The subsequent 14 years have awakened an unexpected passion in the souls of federal workers and politicians alike—the American Pastime!
In baseball, unlike other field sports, the rivalry can get heated as the fans demonstrate their loyalty to their perspective teams, winning or losing. In other athletic events, malicious adjectives fly between the fans, sometimes followed by projectiles or punches often coming from an excess of enthusiasm, beer, or both. Perhaps this is naive, but being a Nats fan (after a childhood as a legacy Chicago Cubs fan) I heard about none of that. Instead, just a light-hearted, “We didn’t have a big enough fly swatter!” That seems civilized for a loyal Houston fan.
But it’s not just baseball or sports in general that generates enthusiasm. Successful inventor Henry Ford obviously carried a passion for moving from horses to a four-wheeled machines, but also carved a path for others: “Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.”
Enthusiasm can also work to raise the downhearted and provide a reason to rally for a cause. Winston Churchill drew his countrymen together when nightly air raids and continuous bombings were decimating London and would have terrorized and paralyzed a less courageous nation. He could see England’s future when no one else could. “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” he said. Churchill wore down America’s Franklin Roosevelt until he finally sent his airmen across the Atlantic and he began building the planes and tanks essential to the fight.
Churchill could not be swayed by the naysayers who believed Hitler would conquer England, just as the Nazis had run across Poland, Eastern Europe, and raced across France. He stood like the father in the door protecting the innocent. His belief in the future remained strong, as if he were listening to H. Jackson Brown: “Protect your enthusiasm from the negativity of others.”
America’s cheerleader, Dale Carnegie, taught a generation to believe in themselves and to become the optimistic and successful salesmen and women of the world. “Flaming enthusiasm backed by horse sense and persistence is the quality that most frequently makes for success,” he wrote. This flaming enthusiasm exposes itself through modern political discussions—don’t think we can call it “discourse.”
This wouldn’t be the first time political discussions have fallen into a food fight of ugly words and course actions, but now the words act like swords that pierce, divide, and destroy. Political discussions no longer carry a banter of policies or an attempt to come closer to solutions to fermenting problems. Politicians rush to opposite walls, believing that will be enough for a win. But the country remains in the middle, like children, some supporting one parent or the other in their battles, but just wanting the ranting to stop and whatever passes for normal to return.
Enthusiasm can be used for good or ill, but in times like these it’s important to remember to power our inventions, enliven our friendly sports competition, build back a nation’s gumption, or remind us what we’re capable of doing. The value of enthusiasm, despite its potential for evil, is strong enough to recommend it as an antidote to what ails us. Encourage your children to find their passion, whatever endeavor they choose.
American businessman and politician Bruce Barton urged parents: “If you give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.”