Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Internal vs. External Motivation

What do y'all think about this CarrotMobbing thing? On some level it reminds me of when my daughter was in 2nd grade (and maybe schools still do this) and the kids would get a special treat when teachers noticed them doing something good. I'm not a huge Alfie Kohn fan, but I have to admit that this seems manipulative and sets up individuals and businesses to act in a way that may not be authentic long-term.

I have never really liked the carrot or the stick approach - where do our morals come from? Where is our internal motivation to act in accordance with our beliefs and morals. But we are externally motivated by our socialization and communion with others in a way that's inextricably intertwined. This is the question that some theists ask of humanists - how can one be moral without the dogma - without the threat of eternal punishment.

Anyway, I'd rather shop at a store whose owner chose to act responsibly and ethically without being manipulated into it.

(and yes, fellow preaching students, I'm reflecting on this during our conversation on authenticity!)


Joel Monka said...

"Anyway, I'd rather shop at a store whose owner chose to act responsibly and ethically without being manipulated into it." By whose lights? In the Carrotmob story you linked to, for example, the issue was green lighting. But suppose the business owner didn't believe in man-made global warming? (a lot of people- including many scientists- don't) He thinks he is acting responsibly by not buying compact flourescent bulbs, seeing as they are imported from China, hurting our jobs and balance of trade, and contain Mercury, making them an environmental hazard if broken. Or maybe he does believe in global warming, but thinks the problems with CF lighting are a more clear and present danger. "Responsible and ethical" is not always as clear cut a decision as it's made out to be. Or, as Ben Franklin said, "The decision is always clear- when someone else is making it." The advantage of a carrotmob approach is that since one often can't be 100% certain of what the right course is, letting the business owner know what the public thinks is enough to tilt the decision.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I *am* an Alfie Kohn fan. (Funny because I'm the author of the Carrotmob entry to which you've linked--thank you!) When it comes to raising my child, I want her to develop her own sense of internal motivation, and I want to take care not to push that motivation aside in favor of external ones. On that point I am with Kohn all the way.

When it comes to which businesses I support, I assume that they have and will continue to have a strong external motivation, if you consider the need for profitability "external." They need to make money; oftentimes, they will make more money doing something socially irresponsible than doing the right thing; I'd like to be a person who helps reverse that.

Of course it is manipulative, but the point is that to stay in business one needs to make decisions that are financially viable, and that we all influence businesses' decisions all the time by the decisions we make as consumers. Anyone planning a carrotmob needs to be very mindful of whether the behavior they're rewarding is truly desirable. It could go wrong--but just thinking about the impact of one's dollar is a huge advance over the way most of us make most of our purchasing decisions, which is simply that the cheapest, most convenient place gets our money.

Kelly KH said...

Joel -

I agree that letting the owner know what the public thinks is good - but at least half the public also thought that the Patriot Act was a good thing, for the most part ;) For me, it's more a theoretical question of systems thinking. If we teach people or businesses to act out of a desire for external rewards, in a systematic fashion, what are the long term effects?

I am in no way suggesting that there is a simple answer, just that I'm not sure that this is the best one, long term.

Kelly KH said...

I thought you might be an Alfie Kohn fan ;). And I do like much of his work, just not all of it. My issue is that a business does not in and of itself have morals. Yes, it is externally motivated by profits; however, it is run by humans, who are internally and externally motivated by a much more complex range of influences.

I think that talking with our wallets is a good thing, but for myself, I'd prefer to start out by using my money in smaller, sustainable, local shops where I feel a sense of community and commitment to the values I hold - not that I don't support change at a larger systemic level, but I have to choose where my energy goes and balance that between systematic change and "in the trenches" work. I do like the grassroots aspect of the Carrotmob approach; I'm just wary of the long term effect of that kind of approach. It's not clearcut or easy, that's for sure!