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July 24, 2009 at 9:56 pm #139508inariParticipant
A topic that Beral and I have been chatting about over the last few days is the concept of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The ‘wrong reasons’ are those where we act in a manner that directly or indirectly supports negative aspects of our own personality and ego; for example to look good in front of others; for fear of the consequences to ourselves etc. Ideally, we would make the right action and never have so much as a thought of any such ‘payoff’ for ourselves.
This is a situation that I struggle with from time to time. One reason is that when I am faced with any sort of conflict requiring a choice of actions (not including things such as driving emergencies where reflex takes over and rationality doesn’t get a look-in) my mind automatically tots up potential outcomes and consequences. These get weighed against my own personal ethics and the situation itself. Another factor is my empathy, usually I quickly understand the emotions and motivations of both ‘sides’ of a conflict (though it is harder when I am personally involved), when I was younger and less experienced this sometimes lead to a paralysis of action…understanding made it very difficult to make a decision. These days it is a little easier.
Often, I hesitate to post about things I’ve done, especially those such as the bird incident yesterday, because I am concerned that some might read about it and think I am looking to brag about my behaviour, or show off. I can understand such thoughts if people have them. The real reasons I share them though are to help me remember, during my daily domestic grind, what sort of person I want to be. Also, I believe it is beneficial for students to see instructors mistakes and successes and to get a realistic perspective of events in their own lives by comparison with others (I wish I could do this more myself). And also to help overcome my own fear, the fear of people of making judgements about me based on what I have posted. Is posting, then, something I do for the right reasons, or the wrong ones? Perhaps a little of both?
If you are willing, I’d like us to share some episodes from our lives where we are unsure of our motivations for action. Were they ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? How much does a ‘right action’ become negated by the ‘wrong motivation’? What is a ‘right action’ anyway?July 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm #152025Beral KhanParticipant
This is an area I also struggle with. It seems anytime I look to do something of value for my community, I can tell it becomes a reason to have attention brought to me doing something of value for my community.
One might ask, what is the issue of motivation behind a deed if it is good? From my perspective, doing good things for selfish reasons is a path through the Dark Side. It starts out all well and good for everyone: I get the attention, good things get done. However, it eventually becomes more about the feeling I get for doing these things, the press about it, the response to it.
I know this to be true because when I didn’t get the response I wanted or the press I thought something deserved I felt that people didn’t like ME. At that point, I had to face that it was about ME and not the cause. So this fear lead to anger. Sometimes that anger lead to Hate.
This is my personal view on the subject and I look forward to reading other peoples experiences.July 25, 2009 at 4:57 pm #152026AslynParticipant
Interesting topic, and one I rather happen to be fascinated by. For myself, though, I’m not gonna share any experiences. I have them, but you don’t benefit from hearing that, to my mind. Okay, so you find out people are or have been in the same boat as you from time-to-time, but you already knew that, so I don’t plan to compound that understanding. What I will do, though, is offer my perspective on the topic.
First and foremost, understand this: nothing we ever do is entirely a selfless act. Humans have a tendency of making themselves believe that, but we’re fundamentally beings of ego, and most of us feel pretty good about ourselves when we help out another. To an extent, you could even take it to the extreme of it generating a superiority complex: you are better than someone else, and as such, were able to put your superior skills/knowledge/capabilities towards a positive end by assisting another person achieve one of their goals. It’s essentially a state of benevolent superiority. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something you have to be aware of when it happens, since one can easily turn that state of mind into condescension. However, keep in mind this: it’s not a bad thing to necessarily think like that – people are not equal in capability, so naturally you will be better than me at some things, and I will be better at other things than you. That’s natural.
I seem to recall Beral and I discussing the idea of motive forces at some stage: the reasons for which we act. I usually roll it out as part of my teachings on Mindfulness, so anyone familiar with those will know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t, a motive force is essentially a reason for which you take an action – an influence, a thought, a feeling, an impulse. And so on. The tricky thing with motive forces is that, once you come to understand their origin, you realise very quickly that humans are naturally selfish to an extent – and I call that a matter of evolution. It’s a basic defense mechanism. We’re somewhat odd in the formation of communities, and in the motivation to help others because we potentially put ourselves at risk, and strengthen those who might otherwise not cope or even survive. But anyway, you have to take two things into account: firstly, motivations always carry a selfish element and, secondly, it’s very much possible to have several motivations regarding a singular action, of which only one with be the primary or paramount motivation.
Say, being taller than someone else, you see them trying to reach something from the top shelf in a grocery store. They struggle, whereas you can very easily grab it for them. Knowing this, you do so. Why did you do it? Because you could? Because you like the fact that the smaller person said ‘thank you’ afterwards? Because you like to feel good about yourself for doing it? Because you simply wanted to help someone who would benefit from that assistance? I’m willing to bet you’ll have felt each and every one of those things. So, you’re combining compassion and selflessness with selfish impulse as well. That’s quite normal.
Beral kind of touched upon the solution to this ‘problem’. For many people, the idea that we could help someone while having selfish motives is essentially both counterproductive and morally wrong. And to an extent, maybe it is, but the truth of the matter is that it’s also natural. To have selfish motives when you help someone else is not entirely bad, as long as you a) understand the origin of that feeling and b) don’t act purely on the basis of self-interest, but with a genuine desire to wish to help. Why? Because if you act based purely on your own selfish desires, even when helping someone else, you’ll really only do enough to obtain their gratitude. When you act out on their interests, you do so because you genuinely wish to help, and as such are going to do so to the utmost of your abilities, understanding even as you do so that it could be to your detriment.
So, self-awareness is the real key here – you need to understand what your motives are and where these originate. We’ll be particular with this point: you do so because in understanding your motives, you offer yourself an insight into how you then act. If you think your motives are selfish, work to clear your mind of this and focus a sense of personal compassion in your interactions with people. Or simply accept it as the cost of doing business, if you will – invariably, most people will be more interested in what you do, rather than why you did it. Intentions and motives are more the purview of the individual (and occasionally the courts), and as such, you’re the one that has to square with them. I really don’t care if you help the little old lady across the road because it makes you feel good, or if you do so because you wanted to help her – what matters is that you did it regardless. If you believe that being selfish even only inwardly is a bad thing, being aware of this as part of your motives gives you the ability to change that.
And, frankly, that’s what the Jedi Way is about. Intentions, understanding of one’s reasons, accepting them and acting on them appropriately. Let’s not delude ourselves into assuming we can always do the right thing all of the time, or be permanently selfless. If you have a problem with selfish motive (and, frankly, you should have a problem with that), then be mindful of your thoughts and actions, keep on top of your motives when it comes down to the decision-making process and do something about it. That, I think, is all any of us can realistically ask.July 25, 2009 at 6:46 pm #152027Magdelene NashiraParticipant
I have an experience I can share and also some thoughts on the topic.
The experience is one I had at work at a temporary job I’m doing. Because the work my supervisor wanted me to do depended on them giving me authorization to a particular set of software which her superiors denied me after she’d already hired me, her plans for what I would do were upset. Thus she had me literally sitting around doing almost nothing for quite some time. This bothered me because I have the idea that I should be helpful and also I knew what a heavy workload she was carrying and was looking forward to being able to help her. I think I had grand dreams of kind of being a “hero” to her. I started just acting weird and was just uncomfortable every day at work. Then I finally expressed my discomfort to another person there, who is also a supervisor and freind of both of us. After that the second supervisor, who has more experience leading, has been working with me to find things I can do for my supervisor that benefit but aren’t the original plan. I think she’s also working with my supervisor to help her think of another plan for what they can use me for. So I’m feeling better about it as it just bothers me to feel useless.
From that situation I did learn that it was not the situation that was bad, it was just a situation that was difficult for me. So my behavior while it was not pleasant was the only real problem. At the point where I started to feel better I realized that I had this issue of not wanting to feel “useless”. Also that I wanted to be a “hero”. So my original thought was not only that I would be of help, but that I would be a hero. It wasn’t good enough to simply help. After having ecognized my error in some of the ways I had been acting, I settled down and the tranquility has set in more in the office now.
But a couple of things are coming to mind this morning regarding these situations One is that I don’t know if it is necessarily “selfish” to be motivated to do good because it makes us feel good to be doing good. I think there is a fine line in these sitautions. There is a difference between being “selfish” and “self caring”. It is a nurturing thing to ourselves to want to be sure that we are learning and practicing good acts. It provides motivation that is looking toward ourself, but it is in recognizing our need for self improvement and the fact that what improves me helps those around me. I don’t really see this as being negative or selfish. I think the problem comes in when we insist on a certain outcome or we allow ourselves to become disappointed when it doesn’t flatter us in the way we expected. So if I am motivated to do something good, I don’t worry much about my reasons for being motivated because they are working toward the positive. I only concern myself if I start to see that I am responding in the direction of “ego” in my behavior once things are underway. I think it’s ok to want to feel good about what I have done or to have a sense of accomplishment about it. This is positive motivation. But if I see myself start to feel jealous of others because they do better than I (or I perceive so) or that I am jealous because they are getting more attention when I could do as well or better, that is when it is drifting from feeling self-accomplished to “ego” and selfishness.
Another thing I notice about the example I reference is that of communication. The situation seems to have started fixing itself from the moment that I decided to communicate about it honestly to someone who had the power to help me sort it out.July 25, 2009 at 10:15 pm #152030inariParticipant
Aslyn’s and Magdalene’s posts both reminded me of something I’d been intending to post about and had forgotten. It relates to this topic. It is about the practice of humility.
Some of the posts in the thread ‘How would a physical Jedi Academy’ etc gave me the impression that some people on the Jedi path (maybe many on the path) have this innate desire to ‘be a hero’, as Magdelene put it earlier. I know it was in a different context but the phrase summed it up perfectly. I think we’d all agree that the desire to ‘be a hero’ is definitely a wrong motivation for anything. Why would we desire to this? What does the state of ‘hero’ mean these days? I think that it may mean attention, glamour, fame; all the trappings that our current society promotes heavily (just think of trashy magazines and reality TV). It is my belief that at least initially, plenty of people come to the Jedi path with conscious or unconscious expectations of some day becoming a hero and reaping that sort of reward. I suspect that most of them don’t stay here too long.
I agree with Aslyn’s opinion that it is not possible to completely cut out all selfish motivations. Awareness is indeed the key. However, I think that along with awareness, practicing humility is also important. Humility gets a bad rap when you go and read about it a bit, many people seem to think it means undervaluing yourself or making yourself lower so that others can be higher. I would say instead that humility is not being proud or arrogant. It is remembering that while each of us has our talents and our faults, so does everyone else. A good quote I read from Helen Keller was ‘I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.’ Most of us, here on the Jedi path will probably only be that honest worker, at least most of the time.July 26, 2009 at 10:45 am #152031AslynParticipant
Heh, you’re dead right about the hero complex that seems to be make a fair presence among our newer students. The problems of watching Star Wars one too many times, I suppose (and ironic that nobody ever seems to take into account what happened to the Jedi there). And therein lies the massive contrast between expectation and reality again – wanting to be a hero essentially ensures that you don’t have what it takes to be a Jedi. Maybe we should say it that way to more of the students – get their competitive instincts going until they learn to calm themselves down
Still, let us note here the fickle concept that is both heroism and fame. It’s always struck me as a little ironic at how quickly people get starstruck once they’re noted as having done something worth of fame, and rapidly lose that because of the manner in which they react to it (in essence, seeing themselves as worthy of the fame, and therefore expectant of it, such that they feel they ‘deserve’ such adoration). But, as you rightly point out, a Jedi should neither seek fame, nor react to it (if it does come) with arrogance or the sense of deservedness. It does make you wonder how many people even stop to think about what it was that got them where they are, later on in life. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority don’t perform a good action and think along the lines of ‘I’d never have been able to do that if I hadn’t started Jedi training’. Which is a pity, because if they did, they’d probably spare a thought for some of our foremost beliefs about behaviour.
Thinking about it, though, the topic itself does sort of make me wonder: why do people start Jedi training in the first place? Is it not always for selfish reasons to begin with? How many of us arrived with the intent to ‘better ourselves’? How many joined our numbers under the arrogant notion that studying our disciplines would make them better than the ‘average’ person? How many are struck by this ‘hero complex’ you mention? You really have to wonder if anybody around here joined up simply to learn how to better serve others. I’m pretty sure of the dozen or so that admitted to it, half of those would be lying to themselves, too.
Curious thought, no?August 1, 2009 at 4:27 am #152055Magdelene NashiraParticipant
I think maybe something we learn in time is the difference between a “fame” hero and a “silent” hero. The one in it for the fame is conquered the first time a strong wind blows. The “silent” hero goes on without even being noticed (though not always) but they do what they do because of the sense of it being right, not out of being noticed. But being a true hero is a thankless job most of the time. We shouldn’t expect applause because it may be a long time in coming if it ever gets there at all. If we do get applause, that’s nice, but don’t let it go to your head because it isn’t what sustains you in the long run.
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