Ever wondered what motivates you to do good? The key word here is “motivate”. The motivation, the impetus, that adrenaline that keeps you going.
The motivation behind human behaviour has always been a topic that fascinates me. It led me to the study of “behavioural economics”, where I learnt about policymakers tweaking policies to overcome stubborn human inertia.
For instance, to “nudge” couch potatoes to run, pairing them up with a gym goer buddy will help. To “nudge” people to pay their taxes, send them reminder letters emphasising they are the minority 10% who have yet to pay their dues.
As much as behavioural economics have helped to elicit pro-social behaviour, the conundrum that behavioural economists still face is sustainability.
However, as much as behavioural economics have helped to elicit pro-social behaviour, the conundrum that behavioural economists still face is sustainability. Remove the ‘nudge’ – the letters, the gym goer buddy – and human behaviour slips back to status quo.
I can attest to this just as much. I am not a naturally sociable person and I shrink in despair at networking events. But I forced myself to do it because it was part of my job as a reporter, or in actual fact, the fear of missing out on an exclusive story.
I am also not a naturally kind person, but I feel obliged to be kind to someone I dislike in hope that he or she will repay the favour one day.
At the end of it all, it is all about utility, the utility you can get out of someone that drives me to do good. I am guilty of this.
I’ve been reflecting on this over my past year pursuing my graduate degree at Oxford University. Oxford is a most peculiar place. You meet the brightest of minds and the most creative of souls, but it can also make you feel like living in an imaginary utopia sometimes.
Take my class for example: I have peers who played a key role in political revolutions, stood alongside presidents in electoral campaigns or are living in exile because they stood for democracy in their countries.
Nevertheless, during gatherings, there was never once we recalled an individual and his or her great public speaking skills or amazing econometric capabilities. Instead, it was kindness – kindness to others was the common theme that ran through our conversations when we spoke about others who touched our lives this past year.
Kindness don’t always come intuitively to us. Pride, selfishness and a whole string of other sins stand in the way. I’m not sure what keeps my peers going but it was God’s love that eventually won me over.
I learnt to be kind not because I expect a favour in return. I learnt to seek out the lonely because God came as I was trudging through my darkest times. God’s love inspires me to keep the momentum going.
“I kept looking at ‘what’s next, what’s next’ … but all this while, I forgot to look up.”
During my second term in Oxford, I was trapped emotionally and physically. The readings kept piling up and internally, I kept fighting against an overwhelming sense of inadequacy as I continuously held myself up against my peers. I was looking for something, someone to validate my worth. It was a relentless search that trapped me a vicious cycle.
Liberation finally came through an evangelical session. I wasn’t planning to go initially due to piles of readings waiting in my room but something in me said to go for the first 15 minutes. I went and stayed on for two hours.
The passage shared was Luke 15: 3-6.
“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15: 3-6)
The speaker spoke about his law career, having worked his way up from a poor town to Oxford University and earning his name in the law fraternity by winning lawsuits after lawsuits. But then he said: “I kept looking at ‘what’s next, what’s next’ … but all this while, I forgot to look up.”
Likewise, I was looking at the next essay, next reading, next distinction, everything but up to God. Despite this, He came looking for me. I can go on telling of the multiple occasions He came looking for me – when I was down in the pits, when I slipped into sin and even when I rebel.
God’s unfailing love for an undeserving me is my motivation. His love gives me the impetus and provides me with the adrenaline to do good.
This is how I now find myself writing this piece in Kenya, where I’m currently doing my internship at an NGO dealing in children’s welfare. I strive to do good. Even when it means going out of my comfort zone or overcoming my stubborn inertia.
As Eric Liddell said: “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
When I do good, I feel God’s pleasure.