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Z is for zeal

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

"Nothing can be fairer, or more noble, than the holy fervor of true zeal." Moliere

The word ‘zeal’ comes from the Middle English word ‘zele’, from Old French ‘zel’, from Late Latin ‘zēlus’, from the ancient Greek ζῆλος (zêlos, “zeal, jealousy”), from ζηλόω (zēlóō, “to emulate, to be jealous”). It was first coined in 1382 and is related to the word jealous.

‘Zeal’ is usually a positive word meaning energetic enthusiasm or devotion to a cause, ideal or goal. Enthusiastic people might also be described as having a "zest for life." When a person takes zeal too far, or is blindly devoted to a cause or a cult they are called a ‘zealot.

"Zeal without humanity is like a ship without a rudder, liable to be stranded at any moment" Owen Feltham

Other synonyms of zeal are ardour, earnestness, enthusiasm, fervour, and passion. All these words imply an ‘intense emotion compelling action,’ but zeal goes a step further and implies energetic and unflagging pursuit of an aim or cause.

"Determine what specific goal you want to achieve. Then dedicate yourself to its attainment with unswerving singleness of purpose, the trenchant zeal of a crusader." Paul J. Meyer

The difference between passion and zeal can be seen when they are used as nouns. Passion simply means any great, strong, powerful emotion, (e.g. romantic love or hate) whereas zeal means the tireless devotion or fervor for a person, cause, or ideal and shows deliberate determination in its furtherance.

"Enthusiasm is a form of social courage" Gretchen Rubin

In the early 2000s Scientists discovered that there was a common language of 24 character strengths that make up what’s best about our personality. Everyone possesses all 24 character strengths but in different degrees, so each person has a truly unique character strengths profile. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson divided each character strength under six categories of general human virtue, which are universal across cultures and nations: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transendance. Zeal (or zest) comes under courage.

"When you are labouring for others, let it be with the same zeal as if it were for yourself." Confucius

We should act with zeal and do our best in all our endeavours regardless of whether it is for ourselves or others

"Zeal without knowledge is like expedition to a man in the dark." John Newton

"Zeal without knowledge is the sister of folly." Sir John Davies

We need to apply zeal in our quest for lifelong learning and subsequent wisdom.

"Through zeal, knowledge is gotten, through lack of zeal, knowledge is lost; let a man who knows this double path of gain and loss thus place himself that knowledge may grow." Gautama Buddha

It is not sufficient to just gain knowledge we need to know which knowledge to act upon.

"Teach yourself freedom with the same zeal that the world has taught you limits." Alan Cohen

It is not enough to have good intentions we need to have knowledge and discernment before we act.

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." Louis D. Brandeis

"Moral crusaders with zeal but no ethical understanding are likely to give us solutions that are worse than the problems." Charles Colson

As we gain wisdom we learn when to put up boundaries and when to break barriers down. Over time we can replace unhelpful habits with ones that support the direction we want to travel.

"Weaken a bad habit by avoiding everything that occasioned it or stimulated it, without concentrating upon it in your zeal to avoid it. Then divert your mind to some good habit and steadily cultivate it until it becomes a dependable part of you." Paramahansa Yogananda

Finally, the collective noun for a group of zebras is also called a zeal (or sometimes a dazzle) ! !I did try to find out the origins but have not yet discovered why. I did read though that the Native American culture refers to the zebra as a symbol of balance, agility, clarity without filters and sureness of path so maybe part of the explanation lies in this.

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