Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Good question

Kenju asked in a comment to yesterday’s post, “A good deed is not lessened by an ulterior motive, is it?”

Well, is it?

Mother Theresa was known for her selflessness. One could argue that she lived her life of poverty and service to others out of the hope and belief that she was accumulating a reward in heaven. Thus even she had an ulterior motive.

I don’t know.

In today’s world we are usually taught to seek out the “win-win” situation where both parties gain in an exchange. That’s what our capitalistic society teaches us.

For example, my company pays me money (something I want) in exchange for my willingness to perform “Human Resources” services. We both give something we’re willing to give in exchange for something we want.

The failure of the communist model has been ascribed to its tenet of “From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need.” What’s wrong with that? Well, if I want something, it doesn’t matter how hard I work for it. I won’t get it until “society” perceives that I have a need for it.

So to get what I want, I have to be needy. And even THAT depends on someone else’s perception of what I need. I may think I need a new central heating system, but someone else may perceive that I just need an extra couple of blankets to wrap up in.

But to get back to Kenju’s question, I think a good deed may be lessened in the eyes of those who view it by their perception of the motive of the deed-doer. Human nature seems to dictate that we do things that provide us with the greatest benefit. Thus some feel that the thief who steals to eat is less despicable that the thief who steals to sell the stolen item.

Motives matter. So I think the answer to her question is, “yes it does.”

What do you think? (A shameless attempt to entice you to make a comment. Is my motive selfish — more hits on my hit counter — or is it selfless in trying to get you to examine your own perceptions and be a better person for it?)

(I’ll never tell!)


Anonymous said...

I think you are right.. Motives matter.
I'll use this as an example although its not a good one or something I should probably use as an example..

Anytime my husband does something for me.. My first thought is "Oh goodness what does he want now" or "what did he break this time"

Reason being. His motives. He only does something good or nice when he has either done something wrong or wants/expects something in return.. Motives certainly matter..

Anonymous said...

This is a question I'll have to cheat on and pose two answers.

1) Yes, it lessens what we do if we do something with an ulterior motive in mind, regardless of whether our selfishness is first and foremost the reason for the action, or just a hope or wish. And of course the greater the ulterior motive, the more the act is lessened, or cheapened. Yes, it is a slipperly slope.

2) However, it's human nature to want to do that which is self-serving. So we start talking about terms such as enlightenment and saintly when one can do for others with absolutely no hope of getting something for oneself. It does happen, but not often enough.

Anonymous said...

I ditto Hamel's comment. But I do have to say that there are many friends here in Cape Town who would do anything for each other without an ulterior motive and we simply call them random acts of kindness.

abigail said...

I don't know if you're a big Friends fan or not but your post definitely reminded me of "The one where Phoebe hates PBS" and she tries to find a selfless good deed. Come to find out, even being a surrogate mother for her brother wasn't a totally selfless good deed, lol...eh oh well. Doing something good for someone is still good even if you get something out of it too..in my opinion *Smile*

bigwhitehat said...

The Key word here is ulterior.

The connotation of that word is something evil or unproductive.

In my opinion and in scripture the ends do not justify the means. All actions and motivations can be judged.

Go read your G.B. Shaw. He did a few stories about this.

Duke_of_Earle said...

Wonderful, thoughtful comments from all of you. Thanks!

BWH, your comment sent me to the dictionary to get a better sense of the true meaning of "ulterior." Here's what I found: Lying beyond what is evident, revealed, or avowed, especially being concealed intentionally so as to deceive: an ulterior motive.

Wow. VERY negative. I was thinking more along the lines of "alternate" or "secondary" motive. "Intentional deception" is not good in anybody's book. Perhaps I should have asked the question with a different (and not so negative)adjective.

Thanks again, all!