What Motivates Us?

What Motivates Us?

Another photo from the Annual Mardi Gras Parade in Philadelphia.

Adam Smith, the "father of modern economics" argued that, "people act not out of benevolence but with regard to their own interest". That is a bold statement about human nature. We are lead to believe that human beings are motivated solely through personal reward. Unfettered capitalists of today give themselves huge bonuses claiming that is what motivates their "performance". To try explain away human nature solely as selfishness or vanity is an insult to reason and to human nature itself. Without any financial reward to speak of, why do people attempt to perfect their guitar, banjo, woodworking or photography skills? Why do people participate in street fairs? Why do people write open source software code and give it away? Why do people do volunteer work?

Any sane person would recognize that human nature is both selfish and altruistic simultaneously. We are not just one thing. As much as self-interest, we have an innate tendency to master things for the sake of mastery and to find meaning in doing things that benefit others without reward. It turns out that, recent research on "What Motivates Us" is validating what those who have been listening to their human nature already knew: "Performance" increases with reward only up to some point, after which, it is mainly autonomy, mastery and meaning that drives us.

Adam Smith's distorted premise about human nature should not be taken lightly. Our economic system and to varying degrees, education and culture is shaped by that ideology. Human nature is discovered, experienced and realized, not assumed. And, we should never ever allow so called intellectuals, governments and religions to define for us and impose what human nature is.
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