Matthew Cohen, MSW

Matthew Cohen, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Love and the Foundations of Motivation

It is a constant modern trend to explain the woeful conditions of the world on the ideas of survival and self-interest. It goes something like this, “if there was no self-interest, no motivation for advancement or profit, nothing would get done.” In this sense nothing is akin stagnation. Here we have the image of the under performing worker biding his time waiting for the whistle.This line of reasoning usually ends up in some apocalyptic collapse of civilization. This is convenient explanation of how society because it offers an alleviation of individual guilt for the conditions of the vulnerable populations of the world. Especially those with the means, but not the motivation, to do so.

I do not deny self interest. I do not deny that is a motivating factor, nor that it exists. Truly, survival instincts are some of the most powerful forces on the planet. My issue is not with the person’s understanding of the existence of survival instincts but with their interpretation of the meaning of those instincts. When asked what other forces could act in the stead of survival instincts my immediate answer is… LOVE. It’s so obvious. In fact, it deeply saddens me that the idea of love being a motivating factor doesn’t occur to people. Do we exist in a world so cold, grey, and devoid of compassion that love does not even enter the list of possible answers? If you ever discuss this subject with another human being, and love does not occur to them, stop immediately and give them a hug, they need one.

What is self-interest if not self-love? Not only is love a possible answer, but it could very well be the underlying force in all cases. Self-interest doesn’t always even mean the interest of the self, sometimes we extend its meaning to encompass our immediate family, friends, culture, religion and even our country. Self-interest is a very broad term. In all of these cases we use interest in the stead of love, but does changing the word eradicate love from the equation? This is not some antithesis to love. All that is in question is the scope. Just because the scope narrows doesn’t mean that love disappears.

Eradication of self-interest is not the issue, the problems of the world derive from the narrowing of the scope of self-interest. As that scope increases peace increase, as that scope increases understanding increases, and as that scope increases wisdom increases. There is no war to undo human instincts, but there should be significant effort to deepen them, stretch them, and extend them. It is somewhat obvious that human beings are flexible. Our identities change and our beliefs about self-interest change with our identity. Simply understanding this changes our identity. Spreading this message changes identity, because it opens up opportunities for people to make alterations in ways they never believed possible. These ideas create flexibility in culture. Even if it is self-love, acknowledging that love is the fundamental force behind human motivation can change this world. At the very least it should change the direction of the arguments about survival of the fittest.

Human beings can go on pretending that they live on islands unto themselves, but the world doesn’t work like that. We are all bound together by air, water, by food and by the very essence of our genetic makeup. There is no way to undo that except in some in our minds. Interdependence is the means by which the world comes forth. At the very heart of this process is connection. What else can the connection be but love? Ignoring love in  the world is the main cause of human suffering, it is ignored even when discussing self-love,  that is the tragedy of the modern age and the legacy of Darwinism,

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