Wednesday, March 23, 2016

35. QUESTION YOUR MOTIVES


The light was dim and the music divine.  I sat at a table, nursing a bottle of Perrier, singing along.  Occasionally I jumped up on stage, strapping my guitar to my chest, planting myself behind a microphone, wailing the harmony…”It was me and old Joe Brannick, sat drinkin’ corn, already drunk on cherry wiiiiii-ine….” John Hansen was center stage on that small platform at Pengilly’s Bar. A Boise fixture, lovingly known as the Godfather of acoustic flat picking music and given the title of “A Guitar Strings’ Worst Nightmare”, John had a regular gig there. People came just to hear him sing.  On lucky weekends when I had the chance to visit him in Boise, I joined him in the swirl.  I know and admire him as an artist and songwriter, but I adore him as a brother.
This particular night I sat beside Ginny Gilman, there in that bar, enjoying the music and the company; two Mormon women who don’t drink.  Ginny was Relief Society president in her local congregation in Boise.  Relief Society is the women’s organization in our church, dedicated to uplifting and embracing our sisters and providing relief to the downtrodden, which in my estimation defines all of us on some level.  At that time I was a teacher in our local Relief Society classes in Utah.  I know, discussing church lessons in a bar seems unlikely. Let’s just say we are both fans of John Hansen.
“I’m teaching a lesson on Integrity next Sunday,” I said. Not only was Ginny a Relief Society president, she is a LCSW, an experienced therapist.  I asked her if she had any insight on the concept of integrity.  She thought for a minute, then reached her arm across the table, picking up a small square paper napkin.  Digging through her purse, she commented that she thought the Kohlberg Model of Moral Development was a good way to help people understand what integrity is. Her hand emerged from her handbag with a pen.  On the napkin she drew a sketch of steps rising to the upper right hand corner of the napkin.
Then she explained that all people do what they do for different reasons. Most people are unaware of their own motives.  Becoming aware is the first step to understanding, improvement, forgiveness, and change. Ginny would know this. She added words to each of the steps. "These represent motives for behavior, and as the motives rise in maturity, so does the moral development."

Here’s a sample of what she drew:



 I am no therapist, and I certainly don’t profess to understand the science of psychology. I am grateful, however, that there are people who are willing to dive deeply into concepts, who spend lifetimes researching to come up with concepts that average women can draw on little napkins; a simplification of deeper truths. If you want to know more about Kohlberg and his theories, do a Google search, or take a class, or visit the library. My understanding of human motives is rather simplified.
With that disclaimer in place, let me try to explain what Ginny taught me in Pengilly’s Bar.
We all do what we do for different reasons, and those motivations represent progressive levels of moral maturity. I often refer to "higher level thinking" when I am discussing serious matters.  The lowest step is basically the lowest level thinking, the least mature.
Last night we drove to Heber to welcome our newest grand-nephew, Zachary Hansen, to our world.  As I cuddled him in my arms, barely an hour old, he reached his hand to his mouth, his lips instinctively sucking his newborn flesh, fresh from the womb and still wrinkled.  He is just now being introduced to the concept of pain.  Poor boy.  His foot had been poked, his skin was cold, his tummy growled with hunger.  His first instinct, when he is old enough to make choices, will be to AVOID PAIN.  He will do what he does not because anyone tells him to do it, or because it’s the law, or because it’s the right thing to do.  He will act in order to keep himself out of pain.  Soon thereafter he will understand that certain things make him feel good, so he will make choices in order to SATISFY HIS DESIRES.  Next he will want to FEEL ACCEPTED, to belong to a group; first his mom and him as a duo, then his family, his friends, his classes, and so on.  As he matures he will want APPROVAL from his parents, from his teachers, from his leaders and from his friends. Some people never get past this stage of moral development, especially if drugs and other addictive behaviors interfere in adolescence.
Eventually, as Zach grows to maturity in body and spirit, he will understand that he belongs to a society greater than his little circle of family and friends.  He will understand the need for laws that govern society, and he will recognize that there needs to be cooperation between members of that society.  He will do things out of RESPECT and because IT IS THE LAW.  For many, this is the highest moral motivation.  But for those with a sense of the eternal nature of the human soul, there is one last step.  The highest level of motivation, the most noble reason for us to do what we choose to do, is BECAUSE IT IS THE RIGHT AND THE GOOD THING TO DO, encapsulated in the word INTEGRITY. There are humans who have walked this earth who represent this kind of motivation in most of their lives: Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Jesus Christ, Buddha; they are revered because their actions seemed to have been prefaced with the question “What is the right and the good thing to do?”
Such a question is not easily answered. Often it needs the guided assistance of the Holy Ghost.

I used this simple model in my Relief Society lesson the next week.  And I have used it many times since. Thanks, Ginny.
In the ebb and flow of my life, I am reminded that I live best when I question my motives, even for the little things. I am most satisfied with who I am when I ask these things, because the most noble part of me wants to answer…”Because it is the right and the good thing to do.” Regardless of the outcome, notwithstanding the consequences, when my motives are pure, my soul is aligned with my divine creator and I am at peace.

My HOPE for myself and those whom I love is to question our personal motives, to act according to the goodness in ourselves, and to forgive ourselves and others when we revert to childish ways. Do what we do simply because it is the right and the good thing to do.

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During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day.  I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity.  This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.

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