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What really gets us going?

It is interesting to think about what really motivates us and makes us do the things we do. I have long resisted the carrot and the stick theory. I felt it repugnant that we do things because we expect pleasure, or not do them because we expect pain. But do we do everything we do because we make a decision that doing it is right? Because we apply some higher principle or higher motive? I think that most of us would think we do things rather out of habit and even if we do things that are out of the ordinary, and we give them a great deal of thought and consideration, what we are really doing is running old, automatic programmes that do not lead us to understand any better than before we ran the programme. It seems we do, or often do things for motives that are anything but rational.

Running with the herd

For example, the virus checker is running away on my computer at the time of writing this. I got an e-mail from One List and also from another source warning of the Happy99.exe worm. I almost immediately updated my virus checker and scanned my computer. Good sense, you might say. But did I respond because I had two e-mails in the same delivery giving a similar warning. Even though I checked that no such worm was on my computer. To be honest, I am sure I just didn't think before I did the update. Two sources had given a warning and I reacted out of some habit. I just followed the herd!

This is perhaps one of the strongest motivators. We do what the rest of the people do. What they do seems right, and when our emotions are raised we do anything to move with the mob, perhaps goaded on by some powerful demagogue. Witness the history of lynching, bullying and even going to war. We go on and do something, and later, when we think about it, we feel bad. We followed the herd and sacrificed our higher motives. We do not think of ourselves as 'that sort of person', but there you go - we went and did it.

How duty makes us good

Then on other occasions we are puffed up with righteous indignation and we decide we will face up to the authorities and put the case for what is right and fair. Have you ever felt like that? And what did you do? A lot of us get all puffed up and brave but when it comes to it we cower to the authority or accept their weak, but confident explanation and give up our just quest! Remember the Milgram experiments? The man in the big white coat says give them more shocks, and even though we hear them screaming we turn the current up and give them another jolt. It makes you wonder whether Doctor Mengele and those who infected prisoner of war in China with anthrax were all that different from the rest of us! The US government did let the ones who used anthrax off, if they'd let their doctors see the results!

No one likes a rebel

I suppose that no government has wanted anything more than dutiful wide-eyed obedient citizens. And what teacher wants her pupils to be other than obedient. Does even the most liberal person want rebellious pupils or citizens. After all, we can get more done if we get organised and all pull together. As long as it is sanctioned by authority. Our whole social climate is based on obedience and conformity. Even the prisoner in the dock, awaiting execution stands there obediently awaiting her sentence!

If you go fishing for humans, then you get plenty of bites if you let them think they are going with the crowd, or if you say some authority says they've got to do it. Yet there is another powerful motivation that moves us.

No, Pandora, the best and the worst had already escaped

Have you ever had someone half tell you about something, and then say they aren't going to tell you the rest. Usually, I avoid being bitten by this one, but sometimes I get mad, and say I'm not especially nosy, but now you've told me half the story, I've got to hear the rest. The rest is never all that interesting really, but it's that being half told something that makes you so restless. Then you've just got to know. You can't wait, and you can't think of anything else. You've got hooked and they must tell you. Some people make a career out of this sort of conversation. Curiosity is supposed to be a good human motive, but I am not sure of that.

Science is supposed to be our crowning glory, according to scientists. Yet the rich sciences are those that promise and deliver a better way to kill the enemy. I suppose that Nuclear Physics has received more money than any of the other sciences. Astronomy, since the days of sailing ships has been well rewarded by governments.

Aching to know

Curiosity may be related to loss. When you drop a pound coin and it rolls off somewhere in the street, you get down on your hands and knees, even in your best suit, and crawl around trying to find that lost pound. If you don't find it, when you pass that place again you remark, that's the place I lost that pound. I couldn't find it anywhere. And normally you wouldn't give two figs for a pound! But lose one, and that's different!

So perhaps curiosity is a bit like being separated from something you really want, which is unity and wholeness. There is a gap. A space where something should be which isn't. And this ache and desire can be a very powerful motivator.

It makes us think and reflect. Even though we might, under some passion follow the herd or do something because we were told to do it, it is curiosity which will raise it head and begin to challenge us and make us think about what is right and what is wrong. Makes us think about whether we have acted in accordance with someone else or something else instead of in accordance with our own hearts and minds.

When Pandora opened the box and released the woes into the world, perhaps the author was not right when she referred to Hope as our great salvation. Perhaps it was Curiosity and its relationship with wholeness, that is our salvation. Even the Doctor Mengle's of this world have to deal with curiosity which brings the opposite of the emptiness which we have in our lives because we have pursued too extreme a course.

It can help to note what forces are trying to move us. By simply labelling the force, we can reduce its power. Are we going with the herd, or are we obeying authority? There are other powerful motivators too, such as sex, hunger, thirst, power, etc. Power, for example, is the other pole of authority. People in this sado-masochistic game seem to be extremely obedient or extremely domineering. This should not be confused with true power.

Which motive is our salvation?

Perhaps it is as well to remember that however powerful some motivators can be, there will be a time when we will ache for the resolution of our duty to our own integrity and the what we might have done because of strong influence. Curiosity is one way of thinking of this force because it aims to find answers, and make sense of our lives and our world. It too is a strong motivator. It is neither good nor bad in itself but it tends to balance the other motivators and from the balance we may be able to develop powerful higher motives.

Don't forget to give feedback.

Speak soon.

Ken Ward.

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