There are several words that make my skin crawl but none quite so much as the word “motivation”. While motivation sounds like a word that would be a positive experience and sometimes it can be, it has also been used for decades to excuse and justify hate, shame, pain, guilt, hurt, pride, fear, abuse, neglect, bullying, dysfunction and the mistreatment of self and others. What is motivation? The dictionary defines motivation as “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”. Our culture is full of all types of “motivation” both positive and negative and there’s even a market for motivation specialists. If you are like me and you are alive, then I am sure your world and your life has been filled with all kinds of motivation.
Motivation by itself is not bad, when it is just basic encouragement. However, when motivation flows out of a misunderstanding of how we are designed and what it does and does not have the power to do, attacks our understanding of love, self and relationships or seeks to expose us to encourage guilt, shame and fear, then it has the capacity to do deep harm.
Growing up as an athlete and in a very religious world where performance was the only thing that mattered, motivation was thought to be a necessary tool for performance. Motivation quickly turned from something positive to something meant to expose you negatively at deep levels, when your performance wasn’t about your performance but was attached to some other person’s identity. Motivation became dark and fierce to control your performance to get the desired results and make someone else feel good about themselves. Anything goes, when your performance becomes a reflection of someone else’s identity. Threats, shame, guilt, fear and horrific things are said to kids in the care of adults who live through their performance and kids quickly learn to beat themselves up with same motivation that motivated them.
The worst of motivation comes when love and motivation mingles together to look, smell, taste, sound and feel the same. Love isn’t a gift that allows you to be known, accepted and rest. Instead, love is used to justify any type and degree of “motivation” to get you to perform better. Love is reduced to a motivator that uses “motivation” to get you to be better, do better and try harder. Love isn’t happy with who you are but who you could become and what you could do with sacrifice, hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Love doesn’t offer rest, it demands you to get busy. Pastors, coaches, parents and teachers take love out of relationships and they bring it into the classroom, on the court, into religion and into to work to demand performance/obedience in exchange for acceptance, approval and worth.
When love is reduced to a motivator, then it strips love of it’s unmeasurable power and it gives the one giving the motivation the power to determine what you need to do and who you need to be enough and do enough to be loved. Nothing is more harmful than when you are conditioned to believe love demands performance and to be loved can mean being torn to shreds when performance doesn’t measure up. When love is reduced to a motivator, it destroys truth, hope, joy trust, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in both the “motivation” giver and receiver.
Love is not a motivator. Love doesn’t change us, it was designed to consume us from the inside out, and to transform our spirits, hearts, minds, bodies and relationships. Love doesn’t care about your performance, it cares about IT being kind, true, patient, long-suffering, gentle, humble, merciful, forgiving, self-less and creating space for people to be known and accepted. See love doesn’t need motivation and it doesn’t need performance. It just wants and needs people.
We are NOT really designed to be moved by motivation. We are designed to be loved. We are designed to be encouraged by the encouragement others have been encouraged by. This means we are designed to be encouraged by other people’s stories, truth, time and talents when they are freely given to us. We fragment ourselves and others when we are reduced to a performance and/or a motivator. We destroy the potential that we have to grow ourselves, our gifts, our talents and our relationships when we try to motivate, instead of love.
Is there a place for motivation? Sure. Positive motivation can work in a positive way when love is the foundation of a relationship with one’s self and others. However, motivation is powerless when it is given where there is no relationship and it WILL ALWAYS do more harm than good when motivation attempts to expose feelings of guilt, shame, fear or pride to get performance.
Are we trying to use motivation to get someone to do better and try harder, when we should just be loving them? Is that person us? We live in a culture filled with motivation and yet we are suffering the effects of not loving and being loved well. We have great power to help people when we love them. We have great power to help ourselves when we love ourselves.
Love used to hurt people is not love. Love used to manipulate is not love. Love is a gift that can only be freely given and received with no strings and expectations attached.
I think we have given motivation a chance to change things long enough. Let’s listen to wise words from old and just try to “LOVE with all our heart, mind, spirit and strength”.