Two Subtle, But Deadly, Motives for Being A Peaceful, Good Person

by bryan maynard

I’m just about at the end of the process of raising three kids into adulthood. My oldest daughter got engaged three weeks ago, and my son is graduating from his university in a month. As I think back over the years of parenting my kids, I tried my best to mold their hearts from the inside-out. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to know that the best gift I could give them was to tap into the interior sources of motivation for a life of peace and goodness…

…to help them desire goodness and peace from a ‘heart’ captured by the interior motivations arising from love and wisdom rather than from external motivations.

Looking back, I see that I occasionally fell into two dangerous types of motivation for peace and goodness that I call ‘external motivators.’ The problem with external motivators is that they ‘work’ in the short-term with children, and with adult employees and relationships, but not in the long-term. In fact, they guarantee bad results in the long-term.

What do I mean by external motivators?

1. I used fear of punishment too often in motivating them to ‘fall in line’ with acceptable behavior.

Punishment says, “The reason you want to stop this behavior now is…you’ll get caught! and be in trouble!” If this is used too often, children (and adults at work or in their communities) will develop a shallow approach to peaceful and good behavior. “I won’t do the things I’m not supposed to do–but really want to do–because of the negative consequences.” But, the moment the fear of getting caught is removed, what happens??

Punishment gets people to change behavior, but it doesn’t mold internal desire for kindness and peace because it is rooted in fear, not love. Fear changes people now, but leaves them cut off from lasting change because it does not develop interior freedom to enjoy all good things.

2.  I used pride as a motivator for change in behavior.

Pride as a motivator for moral reform can subtly say, “Your actions are embarrassing me, the family. What will people think of you, of us?!” These actual words might not be directly stated, but they’re there, lurking under tone of voice and body language. Pride is deadly as a motivator. It kills the chance for a life of peace and goodness because it never grounds peace and goodness in the Will, in the soul, in the internal positive desires. If I am only motivated to act in ways of peace and goodness by pride, I am conditioning my internal desires to be controlled by external forces of reputation and approval of others. This is a recipe for insecurity and building a shallow life that behaves well only because the group approves or disapproves. Pride gets people to be nice, kind, to share, but it can instill insecurity because it looks to external sources for motivation. 

In the end, I hope I guided them to know how to meet their desires for pleasure and friendship and beauty and love in a way that allowed them to develop the freedom to enjoy all good things for the sake of the enjoyment of good things and for no other motivating reason than the mere enjoyment of them. 

I sometimes marvel at how few people there are who have developed the interior freedom to be peaceful and kind from within their own restful homes called their souls. We have much to learn about how to let love and joy guide our hearts to desire the things that bring us peace and goodness…without judging others, of course.