Finding Our Way by Examining Our Motives
I firmly believe that in order to solve any personal problem, we need to look at it honestly and fearlessly. In 12-step programs, they refer to this as a “searching and fearless moral inventory.” Any exercise of denial leads to an incomplete solution. In my life, as I’ve tried to grow closer and closer to the Lord and more and more in line with the truths of the gospel, I’ve had to frequently ask myself, “What is my real motive?”
This is the simplest form of the question. It takes many forms as I strive to be aware, not only of my own motives, but also of what the truth is and what the Savior would do. As I’ve said before, I think that an even more important question than the old favorite, “What would Jesus do?” is the deeper, more difficult question, “What would I do if the person I’m dealing with was Jesus?”
However you ask the questions, there are some key aspects of our behavior and motives we want to examine. Here’s an incomplete list. Maybe you can think of more.
- Do I think that my motives are completely pure? If I’m thinking that I’m nothing but virtuous, then I’m not thinking hard enough. I’m human and I usually have multiple motives and they are all in flux. Self-honesty requires that I examine myself carefully enough to know all the reasons I’m doing something. If there isn’t at least some admission of selfishness in my pondering, I’m rationalizing.
- Have I considered how my actions will affect others? If I’m thinking that I’ve weighed all of the potential consequences and I haven’t come up with any negatives, I’m not looking at it truthfully. Everything we do has the potential to hurt someone’s feelings or make life for difficult for them. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do a thing, but if we’ve talked ourselves into believing that “this is going to be good for everyone”, someone is going to get hurt in unintended ways.
- Are my choices way out of the realm of what most people think of as normal? Some people think you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. There’s some truth to that, but I disagree when it comes to measuring choices. We don’t want to do things just because everyone else is, but if we are acting much differently than most people, it’s something that can’t be ignored.
- Do I think I have special knowledge? If I think that the reason I get to choose differently than others is because I’m smarter, more in tune, or that others just can’t possibly understand why I do what I do, we run the risk of completely separating ourselves from reality. In that honest look at my motives I try to do, for really important things, I ask someone else what they think. Rather than assuming I have some special knowledge, I prefer to think that I need someone else’s perspective.
- Is it someone else’s fault that things aren’t going according to my design? I often find myself thinking that I did the perfect thing and someone else ruined it. It may sometimes be true that I did everything right but it still didn’t work. That’s life. Everyone has their agency whether to cooperate with our ideas or not. I try to remind myself that I’m doing something because I feel it is right, rather than doing something because I can’t fathom how anyone could possibly disagree with me or fail to get on board.
- Do I think I operate from a higher level of spirituality? I don’t think anyone, including myself, is on a permanently higher spiritual plane. Our spirituality needs constant checking and true spirituality works on humility, not pride. There’s a pretty sure way to know whether you’re operating on a higher spiritual plane when you deal with others. If their response to our plans is to not cooperate and it knocks us off of our spiritual center, we were probably not as high and in tune as we thought.
There was a time when I asked myself none of these questions and I was always sure I was right. I found it impossible to be happy in my relationships because I was basing my happiness on how well everyone recognized how awesome I am. The truth is, doing right is often a lonely and thankless path. We may be able to get a few people to travel along with us, but it leads to nowhere.
Please, also see, When God Thinks We’re Brilliant.