Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why do anything?

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what motivates me to do the things I do.

I have read over-and-over that there are only two real motivators, one being fear and the other being love. I know that fear used to be a very strong motivator for me in the past. I feared that, if I didn’t perform according to certain criteria, if I didn’t exceed my budget, if I didn’t have the car, the house the possessions, if I wasn’t a “nice”, sweet person who “massaged” the egos that counted and conformed to societal expectations, then I would not receive the recognition, affirmation, acceptance, ie: “love”, from society that I craved. The roles that I have chosen to play in the past have all been aimed at being told that I was acceptable and therefore worthy of love (because, of course, I feared that I was neither). This fake “love” is like fast food for the ego, but it always left me feeling hungry for more. Addictive and not at all satisfying or truly nourishing.

We learn from a very young age that there are certain behaviours that are rewarded by the giving of love and treats, whereas there are other behaviours that are discouraged through the withholding of love or the infliction of punishment. This conditioning continues into adulthood. When we play socially sanctioned roles, we are rewarded in the form of approval (respect, acceptance, status, power), money, possessions etc. so that we will continue to play these roles for the maximum utility of the corporation, the family, the society or whatever other institution requires our acquiescence. When we behave contrary to what is required by the institution, we are “punished” by the withdrawal of the aforementioned tokens of approval.

If we view society as an organism that is principally concerned with its own survival, then it makes perfect sense for society to strongly dis-incentivise its members from engaging in anti-social behaviours such as murder, rape, theft etc. It also makes sense to strongly incentivise people to devote their time and energy to activities that support the prevailing ideology and maintain the status quo and to discourage ideas, belief systems and activities that threaten it.

I suppose that we all have, to a certain extent, the choice whether to support and participate in these institutions or not and there’s nothing wrong with this at all, if we are very clear about the transaction that is taking place. As individuals of course we require (or believe we require) certain things from society such as security, infrastructure, community, a sense of meaning and purpose, and in exchange we are prepared to offer our acquiescence to the prevailing “way of being”. For me (and others, I suspect) the problem comes in when we mistake the rewards we receive for our acquiescence for love, and when we become dependent on this substitute “love” for our sense of self or well-being.

But how to distinguish between true love and the fake substitute? Well, for myself, I have come to the realization that true love accepts and rewards me for simply BEING myself in every moment, whereas substitute or fake love rewards me for DOING what the institution wants me to do. I have also realized that no expression of love from a source external to myself is ever going to feel completely satisfying unless I have found true love for, and acceptance of, myself. And then, ironically, I no longer require any external expressions of love at all!

But, coming back to love or fear as a motivator; actually I suspect that most of the things we choose to do are motivated by a combination of love and fear. For example, the motivators for sending my child to the most expensive private school could be a combination of the following: I love my children and want what’s best for them, I fear that unless they have the best education they will not have a secured future, I fear I will be considered a bad parent if I don’t send them to the most expensive school, I fear my children will come to resent me and eventually reject me if I don’t give them the very best, I love to see my children happy, secure and adjusting to life in a good school, etc, etc.

I am currently in the fortunate position of having very little that I absolutely MUST do (other than eating, sleeping and maintaining basic standards of hygiene!) It is actually very interesting to observe what it is that I choose to do in this position. Fear is playing a virtually non-existent role as a motivator right now. I guess it is love that is currently motivating me to keep simply choosing to do that which brings me the most joy and personal satisfaction. When viewed from the outside, I’m definitely not doing a whole helluva lot! I have never, in my whole life, been so blissfully indolent.

I suspect that I am merely pupating at the moment. Even though the caterpillar in the cocoon appears to be completely immobile and doing absolutely nothing at all, a miracle is taking place, which will reveal itself when the butterfly finally emerges. Hopefully, in due course, I will emerge from my own cocoon of inactivity as a whole new being with a great deal of purpose and fully energized to contribute my best and most meaningful gifts to the world.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Going With the Flow

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