Underlying Motivations

I’ve said it before, but when you start contemplating an idea, it seems to pop up just about everywhere. And after posting over at advoc8 on the (RED) project, and thinking about how much the motivation behind some of those benevolent actions actually matters, there are a number of issues that have hit home surrounding this area of motivation, and specifically: to what extent does the underlying motivation for good works overshadow the works themselves.

My initial instinct is to go idealistic. So that we’ve got a solid starting point, we’ll limit the discussion to the broad area of humanitarian, social justice-y type stuff. In lots of ways, the answer is a lot easier to deal with to begin with, that any attempt to make a fist of humanitarian action that begins from a place of self-interest is ultimately a doomed proposition. So in the context of (RED), the fact that this is being fuelled by the consumeristic, self-absorbed motivation would mean that while it might fix some short term problems, the long-term focus on “buying your way out of trouble” actually reinforces the worldview that has caused the problem to begin with.

So from that end, I’d love to be able to say that the motivation behind good works needs to be completely pure. That the transforming of your heart and mind needs to occur before you can be effective in having your actions shift. But at the same time, I can hear the disgusting pride in that standpoint. The notion that I’ve ever done anything in all my life with completely pure motives, is most likely a furphy. That idea of waiting until you have your head right, must surely be a contributing factor to the reason that Christians don’t do more for the least in the world.

And there is something deeply appealing, and compassionate about Bono’s pragmatic approach in the (RED) manifesto. Getting this money for these people will mean that they live. That’s a human life. Who gives a stuff where the money comes from. Can’t we throw out all the posturing for idealogical high ground and just show some compassion. The arguments are hard to counter – they cry out for people like me to show some heart and actually just get my hands dirty.

But surely these problems cannot just go away by having money thrown at them. There has to be a shift in mindset. I suppose that the question is which needs to come first? Does having people make deliberate decisions about buying stuff that is sending money to Africa actually represent a significant step in a positive direction – one that will eventually result in a transformation of how they think about the consumeristic impulses? Or does approach just merely dissuade the guilt of a soceity trying to deal with the niggling issues of the way it has neglected the vast majority of humanity.

I don’t have answers – I don’t even know what I think. Please help to rescue me from this confusion and give me some nice solid propositional truths!

3 Replies to “Underlying Motivations”

  1. nice post…get ready for some rambling thoughts…

    i’m constantly challenged by the fact that the dominant synonym for wickedness in the poetry of proverbs is “laziness”; not so much doing harm, but doing nothing.

    steve sjogren often says, “anything worth doing is worth doing wrong.”

    along those lines i think the formational catalyst for purifying one’s own motives is the making of mistakes along the way: “what was i thinking?” or “why did i do it that way?” and “why didn’t that work?” eventually lead us to the ultimate form of wisdom, which is, i think, knowing our own hearts. how can we possibly know what we’re made of inwardly until we give it expression outwardly?

    the truth is we’re all doing something all the time. if i want to know what my motives really are all i have to do is ask myself two questions, “what do i spend most of my time and money doing?” and “how, exactly, do i go about doing those things?”

    i think the pharisees in matt 5 passed the first question, but failed the second. their motives were exposed by the character of their outward expression.

    or, that’s what i think…today, at least..

  2. “i’m constantly challenged by the fact that the dominant synonym for wickedness in the poetry of proverbs is “laziness”” – I’d not heard that before but that makes a lot of sense and hits something very true. I like what you’re saying – that we find the meaning and truth by reflecting on what we do.

    There might be an element of over-reliance on experience, but I think that if you do this smart – it’s about as good a model as I’ve contemplated.

    But like you – that’s what I think at the moment 🙂

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