Friday, 18 January 2013

What's your WHY?

You don't have to listen to CDs or read self-improvement books long to realize that everyone says you NEED to know your WHY.  Call it your motivation, your meaning, or your definite major purpose in life - they all agree.  If you don't have that driving force in your life, you're likely to do a lot more coasting or aimless wandering than you'd like to admit.

I agree, but that subject has been thoroughly explored.  I'd like to talk about a different kind of why.  As in, why do you do what you do?

Ever done something nice to someone RIGHT after someone else has done something mean to them?  YES, it makes them feel a little more special than they did before, but I bet you got a pretty sweet benefit from it too.  It kinda makes that person look like a total jerk, and makes you look like a hero - even more so than if you had done something nice to someone different.  Extra points for you.

I had a really interesting discussion with my wife (and after that with my conscience) about why I was spending so much time on Twitter recently.  There's no intrinsic harm in playing social media.  But the question I found myself asking was not about whether I should be on twitter or not.  It was, WHY am I on there?  Was I using it as an escape - a way to check out from reality during a stressful time in my home life?  Or was I just playing on it the way that people watch survivor: just to pass time - a leisure activity?

I think people are often just really un-self-aware.  We don't know WHY we're doing something.  Sometimes we do really nice things for people.  At a conscious level, we might know that it is a kind deed and feel good about ourselves.  But at a slightly more instinctual, subconscious, base level, perhaps it's an attempt to manipulate - to see what we could get, or just... see... whether we can exert power over that person - get them to think, act or feel a certain way in relation to us. 

How often do we evaluate our motives?  I could buy a coffee for the same person 5 different times with a different motivation each time.  Do we play fast and loose with those motivations?  Because sometimes I think we intentionally overlook them.  Pretend our actions happen only at face value.

But suddenly we can find ourselves down a road we didn't really want to be on.  Because we did nice things for people with the wrong motivation.

So yes.  We certainly need to know our major purpose in life.  Our WHY. Our reason to get up in the mornings.  But I think we'd all do well to be a little more aware of the little whys too.  Why we said that.  Why we're interacting with the people we choose to.  Why we do or don't adopt certain behaviours.  Because if we're doing good deeds for the wrong reasons, we may still end up as bad people for doing them.

Does anyone talk about this stuff?  Is this a thing, or am I an evil genius who's tendency to overthink things has taught him how manipulative he can be?


  1. "The root issue is never the root issue. It's always power." I can't remember who said that, and he was quoting someone else anyway. What I have found is that it hangs true.

    Who gets to pick whose desires get priority? We have all kinds of implicit assumptions about who holds power and how to get it. I agree with you that the hardest people to deal with are the self-unaware, where there is no internal understanding of power dynamics -- there is just the desire to claim it.

    And yet there's a balance in this stuff, too. Thinking about myself too long, even about something that feels ultimately generous is just a different kind of self-absorbed.

    I think the paradox is best captured by this (apparently) Buddhist tenet: "Try without trying." If we're not trying, or if we're trying to hard to try, we ultimately arrive in the same place. Egocentrism.

    Run, right? :-)

  2. Wow, Brad, that's a great comment. I think that's where the major purpose - the BIG WHY comes in. If you are aware and confident in your own identity, your motivation tends to spring from that.

    And another interesting point, that too much introspection and self examination is just as self-absorbed as self-unaware selfish actions.

    Which one am I doing now? Wait, shoot! What about now?