I am not a fan of pop-psychology. As a one-time student of psychology, I have always found pop-psychology banal. Something that offers simple solutions to people with simple minds in a world where complex solutions are the only ones that stand up to scrutiny.
Are you motivated by love or fear?
The fact is, human behaviour, the central focus of psychology, is a very complex thing. And simple solutions while offering comfort to those ill-equipped or too lazy to think, offer few if any real solutions in the real world. Popular magazines and social media are rarely a useful source of psychological insights.
In my experience neither are dinner parties.
A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner party trying desperately to avoid small talk when one of the other guests asked me if I was motivated by love or fear. With only limited interest in where this conversation might be taking me, I responded with, ‘I have no idea, does it have to be one or the other?’ She responded Yes!.
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My new friend went on to explain to me that all human behaviour is motivated by either love or hate. "Everything we do as human beings are ultimately motivated by either love or fear" she contended. Furthermore, the overall patterns of behaviour a human being exhibits, can with sufficient analysis be related back to an underlying motivation of either love or fear.
There it was, the evening's dose of pop-psychology, direct from Facebook or some other august scientific publication. What was I to do, ignore it or debate it?
Despite the fact that debating could be seen in some way as to validate the conversations about pop-psychology and the use of social media as a source, I decided to debate about it.
I started by drawing to my ‘friend’s’ attention to the fact that love and hate were not antonyms. And that they were not at the opposite ends of some psychometric continuum. She, of course, knew this and brushed this insight aside, simply restating her case, and highlighted her view that love and fear are not on a continuum as they can be joint motivators of the same behaviour.
She spent the next 20 minutes justifying her contention, though not citing a single research paper that supported her theory. I had heard enough, gave her a moment to feel that she had made a compelling point and changed to subject to architecture, where she had some academic foundation.
Since the time that passed, I have thought little if at all about my transitory friend. But I have thought much about her theory on the importance of love and fear in motivating human behaviour.
I have concluded, that the word ‘all’ in her articulation of the theory, is inappropriate. I cannot accept that ‘all’ human behaviour is motivated by love or fear. I would argue that most reliable sources (with the possible exception of Facebook) would agree with me. I have concluded that one or more factors can motivate individual behaviour.
Having said that, I have found growing empathy for her other contention that the overall patterns of behaviour a human being exhibits, can with sufficient analysis, be related back to an underlying motivation of either love or fear. While I am not prepared to be categorical about it, I do see some merit in this argument. As individuals, we may have exhibited patterns of behaviour that reflect an underlying feeling of love or fear. Love/fear for what will vary.
Since coming to these conclusions, I have studied the behaviour of those close to me, with a view to identifying whether they are fundamentally motivated by it. In my case, I have certainly concluded that I am motivated by fear.
Even if my friend’s theory is rubbish best left for the simple minds on Facebook. The conversation with this woman has at least helped me to understand the extent to which my behavioural patterns have been influenced by fear (although, this is often not readily apparent).
So, what am I afraid of? As it turns out, I am afraid of many things.
Most of all, I am afraid of failing to meet my own expectations, especially in terms of living by my moral code and utilising well the intellect and many other advantages that life has bestowed on me. I have had a fortunate life. I have been born with a lot compared to most of the other inhabitants of this planet. My biggest fear is that I will get to the end this very short journey without having taken full advantage of these riches.
So I ask: