The Only Motivation
The concept of rewards is one idea every parent needs to understand clearly.
Rewards are the positive things we receive – material gifts, praise, recognition – for the constructive things we do and this “doing and receiving” idea can be expressed in many different ways.
Let me share a few with you:
- “No deserving deed should be done for nothing.”
- Or “Every decent action should receive an appropriate reward.”
- Which is another way of saying “No one should do anything expecting nothing in return.”
- And to say it more colloquially, with a bit more flare and in a way we can all relate to, “There ain’t no free lunch.”
We’ve all heard those or similar statements but do most people really believe that? Do they believe the idea applies to all situations equally?
I would say yes, mostly. Not always.
The majority believe this in most situations but when it comes to parenting they change the rules. Instead of teaching kids that every action involves a series of appropriate consequences and rewards they teach them to do things only because it is the right thing to do, implying they should expect nothing in return.
It’s not an uncommon idea and it has an emotionally righteous ring to it but what does it really mean?
Can that possibly be true or are some parents fiddling with the laws of nature?
Think about it. Should we really expect nothing personally rewarding for doing constructive deeds? Should kids receive an allowance without attaching it to any specific duties? Should duties be done only because they are right to do?
It makes it sound like good deeds are somehow sterile. It assumes that constructive actions can be aimed at nothing in particular and produce no after effects.
I’m not so sure.
That thinking isn’t logical. It doesn’t agree with reality.
It is a fact of life. It is the law of nature. It is reaping and sowing. What you put in, is what you get out and when you put something in you should expect something in return.
It makes sense for parents to buy into this idea and teach it theoretically and practically to their kids. If we don’t, it is possible they will grow up thinking little of what they do and who they are.
It engenders a slave mentality, which isn’t too far removed from an “I have a job” mentality.
Use that approach and your kids may grow up with the wrong idea:
I don’t expect much for what I do, if anything, because I’m not worth much.
Is that the message we are sending? Is it the right one to send?
Even Altruism Has A Reward
Let’s change gears for a moment and talk about altruism. “Altrusim” is defined as:
Unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.
In other words, doing good things at your own expense for no apparent gain and for a greater cause is altruistic but that is not the same thing as “doing the right thing only because it is right to do.”
Altruism is motivated by a greater cause, a distant focus, an eventual outcome, all of which translate into some kind of reward. In other words, altruism is doing something for a reason. That reason may be the thing that makes a course of action the right thing to do but it needs articulation.
We altruistically make personal sacrifices with these rewards in view, if they’re stated.
It’s also significant to mention that these kinds of sacrifices are only done occasionally. We don’t wake up each morning thinking:
In what way should I sacrifice myself for the world today?
The world is not better off only because you sacrifice yourself or because you receive nothing for what you do.
Doing the right thing only because it is the right thing to do has no obvious definition. It could easily become “personal sacrifice for the sake of personal sacrifice.”
And my response?
What is the difference between personal sacrifice with no clear purpose in view and committing suicide. There is a difference but not much.
There may be the odd occasion when one person sacrifices his or her life for the sake of others but these are extreme, out of the ordinary cases. And this type of thing is never done for nothing. It comes with a lot of emotional backlash.
Meaningful Personal Sacrifices Produce Significant Outcomes
If you died as a result of saving my life, only because it was the right thing to do, would I ever be free of the sense that your death is my debt? Wouldn’t I live everyday thereafter thinking my life is no longer my own simply because I wouldn’t have it if you hadn’t died to save it? And could that sense of owing ever be fully satisfied?
And more to the point, wouldn’t any useful action motivated by that sense of debt be a payment in kind, a reward, credited to you, the person who made the original sacrifice?
What About Charity
Now let’s focus on charity.
Charity, the way it is done today, makes very little difference, if any. But we don’t say much about it.
Shouldn’t we explore this idea?
If we give some material thing to some desperate person shouldn’t we have an expectation attached to that? Is the aim of this kind of charity only to relieve a bit of discomfort temporarily and give us the delusion we’ve done our due or should the focus be more long term?
And . . .
If we did formulate a long term goal and actually achieve it – e.g., the upliftment of some poor guy – isn’t that a reward? If we helped more people better their lives wouldn’t there be fewer criminals creating financial burdens on society? And wouldn’t that be a material reward?
Or let me put it another way.
When you answer the question “why am I doing what I do” – “what makes what I do right” – the answer to that question will target some kind of reward! To say you’re doing something only because it is right to do is a bit short sighted. A little nebulous. Too abstract. A bit thin.
If you want your kids to be generous, kind, compassionate, considerate, supportive, helpful and more – and you should want your kids to have these qualities – you need to do more than just say do the right thing because it is right to do. You need to put a little philosophical meat on the bones of that statement.
Go here for Part 2.