Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Power of Positive Motivation

In various messages at the turn of the year, the sense of community was mentioned as the primary basis for society, which needs again to be promoted in order to counterbalance self-interest as the mainspring of human behavior.
When a person concentrates on his self-interest, as foreseen in the concept of human beings as homo oeconomicus, then he is mainly concerned with himself and his needs. Others very quickly become rivals. In his professional life he is motivated to use his knowledge and ability to earn as much money as possible, so as to better satisfy his own needs.  According to a popular expression, “The more he has, the more he wants.”

If, however, our understanding of human beings causes us to see our relations with others as being of primary importance, then we will carry our knowledge and ability into our relationships. In this way, knowledge and ability can be combined innovatively and developed. In this context Erich Fromm distinguishes between active and passive motivation, and emphasizes that human beings need to interact with other human beings primarily with active and not only with passive "motivation." Passive motivation focuses on controlling an interaction, for instance to protect property. The output of these interactions can be described as "having." In contrast, active motivation considers "being" as "process, activity and movement." Fromm describes motivation as an activity between two human beings as follows: "He gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness – of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him." (Fromm, E. (1956). The Art of Loving. New York, NY: Harper & Row, p.24). With respect to knowledge, Fromm offers the following examples to contrast active and passive motivation within human interaction: "Having knowledge is taking and keeping possession of available knowledge (information); knowing is functional and serves only as a means in the process of productive thinking." (Fromm, E. (1997) To Have or to Be? London: Continuum, p. 33).

In our studies of stakeholder relations in practice, we found numerous examples in which Fromm’s concept of positive motivation led to innovative, new solutions. (See chapter 7, Sachs, Rühli 2011). The basis of this motivation is the desire to respect and understand and thereby to replace going solo with a sense of community.

Sybille Sachs

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