In Defense of Zealotry

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Because zeal for your house has consumed me.

Psalms 69:10

Guy Kawasaki brilliantly attached his name and reputation to the word “evangelist” during his time at Apple Computer as it launched the Mac in 1984. Since then, he’s made a career of advocating for compelling product “evangelization,” entertaining and enlightening us with “Rules for Revolutionaries,” teaching us the “Art of the Start,” and showing us how “Enchantment” is the path to changing hearts and minds.

Kawasaki cleverly associated the religious connotation of “evangelism” with the missionary aspects of launching a new product. The word use was edgy in drawing upon the religious connotation and opened up a new world of implied mission, purpose, and necessity for whatever one might be evangelizing.

For most of us, attaching our daily activities to any sense of mission can be difficult. For many, the search for purpose remains elusive as we grasp for meaning in the chunk of time we invest in every single working day. Our bookshelves are full of books, and the web is heavy, with the words of others trying to help us find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our daily existence.

This brings me to the title of this post. Zealotry carries many negative connotations. The word’s most basic association is with religious fanaticism and we’ve read and seen enough history to understand the problems that can come from fanaticism of any kind. Curiously, the root word “zeal” doesn’t have the same cringe factor as “zealot” or “zealotry.”

To have zeal for something is to feel an intense passion for it. Being “consumed” by zeal suggests a surrender to its calling and a purpose held within some higher mission. The zealot is one lost to this passion, consumed with it, likely at the price of other, lesser, priorities. In this sense, zealotry sits at the light and dark edge of being absorbed into a greater purpose; of being consumed with something of such meaning that almost nothing else matters.

There is something compelling and dramatic in these words that taps into the positive and negative of our secular and spiritual selves. They evoke our sense of the Divine and our search for meaning and the joy that might come with it. They also repulse at their extremes.

Zealotry in our world is primarily relegated to religion, politics, social movements, and causes that capture our hearts (and sometimes our souls). Our world struggles with such zeal as it frequently falls into the extremes of fanaticism. However, those extremes reveal the power of zeal. Behind it all is belief with purpose – often backed by will.

Belief with purpose is a powerful thing. Though I cannot defend zealotry that seeks to harm others, I can recognize its power to unite, to move, to empower, to inspire, and to change almost anything. To have zeal for a thing is to have a mission, a purpose, and the will to pursue it.

In our company, we are nearing the completion of some major marketing and positioning initiatives as we move to launch a new category of products and services in our space. The journey has revealed many things about our organization, mission, purpose, and place in the broader world. For me, the exercise has affirmed exactly where my mission field is located. I feel an intense zeal for what we’re doing, those we serve, and those who share our mission. It calls to me and drives me.

Why aren’t we all in a place in which we feel a zeal for our mission? Why do so many still wake up and approach their day as another slog uphill? There is no zeal. There is no purpose. I’m not talking about the natural troughs of existence. We all walk through uninspiring periods in our journeys. I’m talking about those who allow themselves to exist without enthusiasm in general, and refuse to see or change what amounts to apathy.

Ours is a world of staggering beauty and possibility. There are too many needs to list, too many possibilities to imagine, and too much good left undone to spend more than a few moments uninspired. We need zealotry of a different sort; we need a fanatical willing of the good of the other and that starts in the mission fields in our homes, outside our doors, down our streets, in our Zoom calls, and in our offices.

It starts with putting ourselves in a place where we can deploy our passions to good purpose with positive intent, and to the daily fulfillment of a progressive mission. Don’t squander untapped zeal, seek opportunities to harness it and bring it to bear where it can matter.

If you don’t feel it, can’t see it, or feel buried under the excuses, justifications, and gloom of the uninspired, there is only one course for you: action. Take action. Find the zealots. Find the inspired. Find the dreamers and believers. If you can’t find them, then find those who need you. Bring your unique combination of gifts to bear in the service of someone or something else. If you can’t see your purpose, attach yourself to someone else’s. Act. Go all-in. The world needs your zeal. You need your zeal.

  • Trish Berry

    You have opened up my morning meditations. Thanks, I needed that!
    Sometimes we just need to listen.

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