What is the primary motivating force in your life?
My observation is that people tend to cluster around one of three major motivating forces as the main focus in their life:
- Belonging — a strong desire for social connectedness, including relationships, family, community, fairness, equality, and social justice.
- Power — intensely passionate about winning, dominating, leading, setting the pace, or other ways of seeking, obtaining, retaining, and expressing power, including a sense of order.
- Truth — a willingness to sacrifice belonging and power in the name of some higher truth, including objective truth, science, subjective truths, philosophy, spirituality, and beauty or aesthetics.
Primary motivating force
This is not to say that every one of us is solely focused on only one of these motivating forces all of the time, but simply that most people tend to lean in one direction or the other at a given moment in time or most of the time.
Hybrids and balancing
Quite a few people will be hybrids, balancing between these three competing motivating forces.
That balance will tend to remain relatively stable for long periods or even permanently for many or most people, but can evolve over time for some people.
A few rare individuals may indeed be able to juggle these motivating forces at will, but this is not the norm.
Many or most people will occasionally find one of the other two motivating forces intruding or competing with their primary motivating force. They will be forced to struggle to find a way to cope with this competition, but typically the intrusion will pass and their normal balance will be restored.
A competition between the motivating forces will occasionally result in an evolution of the individual’s normal sense of balance between the motivating forces, such as in an emergency, trauma, or a shift in life circumstances, but usually the balance of a given individual’s motivating force(s) will be relatively stable.
Focus refers to the level or degree of attention that a given individual gives to a motivating force. The motivating forces themselves are abstract and neutral concepts, but the attention given to a motivating force is the issue.
A substantial fraction of individuals will have a strong split between two of the forces, relegating the third to a minor role. These combinations would be:
- Belonging and power, with truth less urgent.
- Belonging and truth, with power less urgent.
- Power and truth, with belonging less urgent.
A truly enlightened leader, the philosopher king concept from Plato’s days, would have a firm emphasis on all three motivating forces, unwilling to allow any of them to dominate overwhelmingly.
Equal secondary balance
Even for those for whom a single motivating force is especially strong, they may have a fairly significant secondary affinity for the other two forces in a relatively equal basis, such as:
- Primarily focused on belonging but with a fairly strong secondary focus on power and truth.
- Primarily focused on power, but with a fairly strong secondary focus on belonging.
- Primarily focused on truth, but with a fairly strong secondary focus on belonging and power.
Strict hierarchy of two focuses
Some may be strongly motivated by two of the motivating forces, but with one dominating over the other, and with the third not really a major factor, such as:
- Belonging first, then power, with truth not being a driving force.
- Belonging first, then truth, with power not being a driving force.
- Power first, then belonging, with truth not being a driving force.
- Power first, then truth, with belonging not being a driving force.
- Truth first, then power, with belonging not being a driving force.
- Truth first, then belonging, with power not being a driving force.
Strict hierarchy of all three focuses
Some may have a balance between the three motivating forces but with a clear primary focus and a strict hierarchical priority for the other two forces, such as:
- Belonging first, then power, then truth.
- Belonging first, then truth, then power.
- Power first, then belonging, then truth.
- Power first, then truth, then belonging.
- Truth first, then belonging, then power.
- Truth first, then power, then belonging.
Power and order
Power has two forms:
- Those who see to hold power.
- Those who seek order and are willing to support those who seek power in order that order may be achieved.
Maybe order should be yet another leg of the three-legged stool, but for now it seems sufficient to divide these two forms into either raw power or belonging as a form of order. Generally, people seeking order will tend to be seeking belonging as a very high priority as well.
It could be argued that justice should be another leg on the three-legged stool, but it can also be argued that although justice includes elements of power and truth, it is primarily focused on social cohesion and social justice, and therefore fits in nicely with belonging.
Quite a few individuals may be motivated more by fun and earthly pleasures. I’m not sure where to put them in this model, other to simply classify them as outliers. Every model will have annoying outliers.
Some people are really into their work such that it does indeed to appear to be a motivating force, but their work may simply be the vehicle by which they pursue their real motivating force, such as:
- A source of money to support their family or extended family for a stronger sense of belonging.
- The impact of the work itself on the community and even the world, again for a sense of belonging.
- A sense of power derived from the work.
- The work may pave the way for discovering truths, such as a research scientist.
A fraction of the populace is so dysfunctional as to not fit into this model, such as:
- Mentally ill
- Traumatized, abused
- Addiction and dependence
- Work as an escape from social pressures.
- Pursuit of fun and adventure as a way to escape from social pressures in their families and communities.
Source of focus and balance
Where does the focus and balance for any individual come from? Any deep analysis on that question is well beyond the immediate scope of this informal paper, but briefly:
- Some of it may be genetic, some cultural, some a matter of parenting, nurturing, schooling, and other forms of cultural conditioning, programming, or explicit selection by leaders.
- Some of it may result from role models, mentoring, or professional training.
- Some of it may be personal choice.
- It may be more of a reflection of one’s own authenticity than a choice per se.
- Primitive drives and hormones.
Which is better?
There is no implication that any of the three motivating forces is better or inferior. Some may view belonging as better than power or even truth, but that is debatable since we have no examples of truly power-less societies.
That said, it does seem like belonging should be positioned or biased a little higher and truth a little higher than power, but once again, all three are needed in most societies or social groupings.
There may indeed be moments or phases where one motivating force is more urgently needed, but some time later one of the other motivating forces may suddenly or gradually become more urgent. Rinse and repeat.
Me? I’m definitely a truth-centric guy, passionate about discovering and clinging to truth, even if it is unpopular and irregardless of whether or not it enhances social connectedness or gives me any power. Okay, I wouldn’t mind a little power, but that is more of a fantasy than an urgent motivation. And some social connectedness does have some advantages, but I’m not going to go very far out of my way or yield even one iota of truth to get it.