I just watched Legally Blonde for, perhaps, the millionth time. Based on Amanda Brown’s 2001 novel, and released as a movie in July of that year, it was both of my daughters’ favorite movie for the longest time. Starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, Legally Blonde tells the story of a very fashionable college senior, dumped by her boyfriend, who decides to follow him to law school. While she is there, she learns a lot about herself. In the movie, on the first day of law school, one of her professors starts the class with a quote by Aristotle – law is reason, free from passion. Over time, Elle comes to believe, however, that passion is a key ingredient in the practice of law and in life.
While I believe the movie made the quote famous, I have been reflecting on it recently, as my son gave me a stone engraved with the powerful Passion word for Christmas. The stone itself is blue and white – a nod to Kent School’s colors – and it has been added to the stone collection on my desk. Students frequently stand in front of my desk and ask me about all of the words on the stones, many of which have been my words of the year. Passion, defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion, is a key ingredient in my life and my work. I could not imagine otherwise. And, reason, the power to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic is also critical.
I have long been passionate about books. My mother, who began her career as a first grade teacher, instilled in me the mantra that books are your friends. I took that to heart, (unlike my three brothers – but that is another story). In the front yard of my childhood home I had a “reading tree” – a beautiful big oak tree whose shade comforted me while I read Ramona, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and every single Nancy Drew mystery. It was my sanctuary. My reasonable side had actual human friends, but I was so passionate about my book character friends and spoke their names as if they were present. I still sometimes think, when I am using reason to investigate a situation, what would Nancy Drew do first?
The only way to parent is with both reason and passion. Parenting is a tough job and one must act with reason, and also with passion, with each and every decision made. With an empathetic nod to all parents, I know it is an exhausting role, but the rewards and outcomes are so beautiful, I promise. Having my adult children as friends is a gift that I am so grateful to have. Yet, it was not always this way. Saying no to a party, with good reason, is often wrought with guilt that you are socially harming your child. It is a constant struggle, made even more difficult today in this time of COVID. I was just talking to a parent about this very issue and the angst in her face was so palpable to me.
Educators, like parents, must also use reason and passion in their daily role. It is why I love and respect teachers so much. Even when they are reprimanding a student, and actually most often when they are doing that, it is because they care so much about each student that they are trying to help them become the best version of themselves. Creating honorable citizens is a role we take seriously and it involves both reason and passion.
Honestly, I don’t think you can or should divorce reason from passion. Both are critical to leading a life of purpose. Feel free to quote me: Life is reason, full of passion.