Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Carrots and Sticks (2)

So I got an e-mail:

I understand what you say here, " The point I'm really aiming at is the value of being accountable to yourself rather than to someone else. " Sometimes however I feel motivated by the enthusiasm of others. There are days like today when I just want to ask, "am I on the right track." Of course I'm looking for an affirmative response so if I received the contrary, I might be utterly shattered. But if I can get some dialogue and discussion to affirm that I am on the right track, it helps me keep going just a little longer. I'm still doing the work for myself (I think/hope) but sometimes the energy to go after that carrot does have to do with the support of someone else...don't know if that makes sense, but it's what I thought about when I read...

Answer number 2:
I think that there's a difference between (1) having internal motivation and (2) being motivated by external events. But that doesn't mean that the internal motivation can't be affected by external forces.
I think that internal motivation is a sense of purpose, a sense that you're doing the work for yourself, and not just as make work, but because the work itself is meaningful to you--meaningful as a part of your life and what you want to accomplish with your life. As a result of this sense of purpose, you pursue the work that you do because you see it as integral to getting what you really want in life.
By contrast, I see the carrot and the stick as representing more external motivations: you do something because you hope that people will treat you well, or you do something because you fear they will treat you poorly. The motivation is not in the act itself, but in the attempt to please others--the search for the carrot and to avoid the stick.

Even if you have internal motivation, that doesn't mean that how others treat you will entirely run off you like water. Just because we have a sense of purpose, that doesn't mean that our emotions don't ebb and flow; it doesn't mean that we won't face difficult moments. You may be filled with a sense of self-purpose, but if someone starts yelling at you or telling you that you're stupid, that may still be difficult. It may be difficult because we're just learning to cultivate our sense of purpose. It may be difficult because the person who is berating us is someone we respect. Having someone yell at you is generally difficult, I think, for most people.
Sometimes people will yell at you because they want you to do something other than what you're doing. That's the stick. At such a moment it behooves us to understand the differences between the potential courses of action, so that we can choose something that suits our purposes, not just something that we chose because we wanted to avoid being yelled at. If someone we respect is telling us we're doing something bad it can be particularly difficult because we want to trust ourselves, but also we want to be able to recognize our own fallibility, too--otherwise we become too dogmatic.

The other side of this is positive feedback. You can have a clear sense of purpose and still gain in motivation through contact with the enthusiasm of others. Let's say, hypothetically, you have a project that you believe in for reason A, and you find a person who thinks your project is very cool for reason B. Why shouldn't you gain in motivation from sharing this new perspective and enthusiasm? Or you might find someone else who is excited for the exact same reason as you (or something very close): is there any reason not to gain from their enthusiasm? Of course not. Just because we believe in something, it doesn't mean we can never share in the enthusiasm of others. And to the extent that scholars are generally people trying to share ideas, if you find someone who shares your ideas that in itself is cause for excitement, and if they connect with what you've written that's an indication that your work in succeeding in reaching the kind of people you want it to reach. Clearly that's reason for excitement and a sense of accomplishment. Getting stroked is nice; the question is whether you're chasing the strokes (the carrots) for their own sake or whether they're coming to you because you're doing something you would do anyway.

Imagine a musician. A person who loves to play music, who loves the creation of music and the interaction with the musical instrument. That person can enjoy playing in the solitude of the home. But he may also take his music out in public, and thereby create the possibility of being appreciated by others. Does that mean that he doesn't love the playing for its own sake any longer? The attentive reader will have noted that "Balance" is one of the labels for this post. Realistically, this is another case where it is a matter of finding balance. The musician--and metaphorically all of us--puts extra effort into taking the show on the road, and from that extra effort gets back (or hopes to get back) the appreciation of others and the sense of sharing. If we are grounded in our love of the music and the playing of the music--in our sense of purpose--then mixing that with a desire for appreciation and sharing with others and their encouragement seems like a balanced, human and social thing to do. It is neither kowtowing to the masses, nor is it self-righteous setting oneself apart.

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