Enthusiasm: Is it contagious?

As part of a course evaluation, one student wrote: “I love your enthusiasm when you are teaching, it is contagious and made me want to come to class.”  Consequently, I began thinking, what is it that I do?  How does one articulate what one does?  Where does it come from?  Is it contagious?

Confucius reminds us that when you drink from the spring, remember the source.  What is the origin or source of the word enthusiasm?  According to the Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto, the word is derived from two Greek words, “entheos” = “state of being inspired by a god.”  By the 17th century the Puritans distained the word, for to them it smacked of religious fanaticism and bordering on blasphemy.   Thus, slowly over the centuries, the word “Eagerness” was preferred.  There is no doubt that “Dream…Learn It. Live It.” has caught or is catching  the flow of enthusiasm weaving its way in and through the pulse of our academic community as manifested in workshops, e-mails, randomly placed posters, and  new ideas from far and wide.  Without the flow of enthusiasm within the fibers of our being, this world would indeed be bland, gray, and robotic-like. Who are the individuals you recognize and know as enthusiastic?  There is no doubt that enthusiasm is contagious, invigorating, and engaging. Others will be motivated by your enthusiasm; others will be attracted to you because of it; and others will admire and love you for it, and they will follow you.  Isn’t enthusiasm one of the essential qualities of leadership?

A story is told about three brick masons busy with their work.  When the first is asked what he is building, he answers without looking up, “I’m just laying bricks” and I am counting the days when I am able to retire.  The second replies, “I am building a wall,” and “I too am waiting to retire.”  But the third responds with great enthusiasm, “I am building a cathedral!” and “When I, transition rather than retire, I will continue to share my talents and my skills with the community.”  Two of the brick layers perceive what they do as labor, earning a living, and doing their job. They seem to lack motivation, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment.  The third brick layer is energized, committed, and eager to not retire, but to transition into the world of other possibilities so as to make a difference in the community.       If we work with only our hands, we are laborers and may lack the energy and motivation to make a difference in the lives of those we work with.  If we work with our hands and our heads, we are persons with a craft, and thus we manifest some signs of enthusiasm about our work.  Whereas, if we work with our hands, our heads, and our hearts we are artists who paint portraits of enthusiasm thus revising the concept and practice of work in such a way that it becomes purposeful, meaningful, and fulfilling.

In his book, “Honest Business,” Michael Phillips offers kindling for the fires of enthusiasm for your work and the work of Dream Builders:   1. Your work should be a area of great passion; 2. Your work is something you can spend your life doing  while allowing room for curiosity, room to keep learning, growing in compassion; and it should offer you challenges that will try you, and yet appeal to you again and again;  3. Your work should serve the community, and you will be serving others best when you are using your unique skills most fully; and 4. It should be totally appropriate to you.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote:  “Many go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

Anthony De Mello in his book, “More One Minute Nonsense” shares a final story about a cook who makes exceptional hash:  A woman stated she once had a cook who made the most wonderful hash in the world.  Another person was listening to her testimony about this cook, and she asked, “How on earth did he make it?”  The woman’s face glowed with pride. She said, “Well, ma’am, I’ll tell you: beef’s nothing; pepper’s nothing; onion’s nothing; but when he throws himself into the hash – that’s what makes it what it is.”     “Dream…Learn It. Live It.” offers a vision and a task:  “A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without a vision is drudgery, and a vision and a task is the hope of the world.” ( From a  church in Sussex, England, 1730 ).

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