The Passion Gap: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke

To some this woman represents the ultimate in feminine beauty. In Cape Town, South Africa many women and men intentionally have their four front upper teeth removed because they believe “the passion gap” makes them more sexually attractive.  Seems dysfunctional to me. It is unclear if this is a male fetish and the women are unwilling participants in it  Or, it could be that the women  of Cape Town mistakenly believe their beauty enhancement techniques have made them irresistible and the men just go along with this madness. Another possibility is that both men and women “drank the Kool-Aid” and jointly subscribe to this self-mutilation as a cultural norm of female pulchritude.

Regardless, human dignity and respect for life and health suggest that this practice  along with many other forms of harmful mutilation would better discontinued than perpetuated. Female circumcision of adolescent girls is another troubling practice enhanced by cultural norms which seem questionably inhuman.  One might argue that adults should be permitted do to themselves whatever they desire as long as it doesn’t injure another. Whether any of these practices are truly voluntary if culturally imposed is open to serious debate.

Public policy adherents use similar language to describe the voter apathy that leads to undesired political developments.  In 1968, a time of extreme political unrest, Eugene McCarthy attributed his failed presidential campaign to the “passion gap” that kept concerned citizens from the polls in support of his political initiatives.  1968 was certainly not a period in U.S. history noted for its passionless civic response to perceived inequities.  However, the streets rather than the voting booth was the chosen venue for many protesters.  In 2010, the Democrats are citing a “passion gap” as a possible cause for what may prove to be a seismic shift in political power in this year’s mid-term elections.

This seems to be a question all cultures should be asking.  Do “passion gap” tolerances for undesired behaviors serve us well when societal injury results?  It could be argued that unethical corporate conduct can be ignored because it will “all come out in the wash”.  That argument won’t satisfy many whose personal or retirement investments were in Madoff funds or Enron securities.

If we believe that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to remain silent, why is it so easy to say nothing when others do serious damage to themselves, the organizations they lead or the relationships they damage by dysfunctional behavior?

Of course, fear is a factor.  “What will happen to me if I act?” is a legitimate question. An infant toddling toward an open sewer is not a risk about which many of us would accept as worth remaining silent. The “passion gap” is not so great that we could tolerate apathetic acquiescence as a morally defensible option.  Risk to self would be insufficient to justify inaction.  When risk to others is great and immediate, cowardice is difficult to sanction.

Another factor (perhaps the most predominate one) is competence.  Do we even know how to address behavior in others that seems unhelpful, inappropriate or damaging?  As posted here last (Confronting Erroreous Thinking: A Lost Art), the skill of correcting mistaken thinking promptly, respectfully and authentically can immediately influence others in their choices.

Passive apathy in the face of behavior which is less than beneficial for the actor and others is a “passion gap” we can ill afford.  How much better will our society become if we can acquire the skills of respectful confrontation?  If I decide to remove my front teeth for aesthetic beauty, please ask me if I fully understand the consequence of such a decision.  Please don’t let me be a victim of your passion gap.

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