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Today people urge you to be enthusiastic about everything. It is fascinating for me to find out that such a common word as enthusiasm has a topsy-turvy history behind it.

The word enthusiasm comes from Greek and has a religious angle to its meaning which is very nicely hidden under the surface. For a certain time, enthusiasm was used in a negative and derogatory sense. This is certainly one of the words that has now undergone a complete transformation.

Enthusiasm – audio en·thu·si·asm   (ĕn-thū’zē-ăz’əm)

  1. Great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause.
  2. A source or cause of great excitement or interest.
  3. Archaic.
    1. Ecstasy arising from supposed possession by a god.
    2. Religious fanaticism.

[Late Latin enthūsiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein, to be inspired by a god, from entheos, possessed : en-, in; see en–2 + theos, god.]

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” said the very quotable Ralph Waldo Emerson, who also said, “Everywhere the history of religion betrays a tendency to enthusiasm.” These two uses of the word enthusiasm—one positive and one negative—both derive from its source in Greek. Enthusiasm first appeared in English in 1603 with the meaning “possession by a god.” The source of the word is the Greek enthousiasmos, which ultimately comes from the adjective entheos, “having the god within,” formed from en, “in, within,” and theos, “god.” Over time the meaning of enthusiasm became extended to “rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god” to “an overly confident or delusory belief that one is inspired by God,” to “ill-regulated religious fervor, religious extremism,” and eventually to the familiar sense “craze, excitement, strong liking for something.” Now one can have an enthusiasm for almost anything, from water skiing to fast food, without religion entering into it at all

It connects neatly to another word that appears in Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance. Gumption.

If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.

Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen.Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.

You can of course replace motorcycle maintenance with whatever you happen to be doing right now. You should watch out for gumption traps. These are the things that drain off your gumption reservoir preventing you from reaping the benefits of aligning with your work.

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