Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fear As a Motivational Technique

Fear is the lowest form of motivation that can be used for self-aware beings.  Unfortunately, it also is one of the most often used in religion - starting with fear of God and eternal punishment, visualized most vividly with the image of a fiery pit.  Thankfully, Mormon theology removes the most blatant fear-mongering aspects of traditional Christianity, but there are plenty of people even within Mormonism who use fear as the primary motivational technique. 

Why is that so - especially with regard to good, caring people? 

1) Some people just aren't "people persons" - and fear is the easy way to deal with people when you are uncomfortable doing so intimately. (For that matter, "because I'm the leader and I said so," fits that category, as well.)

2) Some people have never had "love" modeled as a form of motivation. Even when someone "knows better", it's really hard to implement a model they have never seen modeled actively - especially during their formative years. That's one reason why those who been abused tend to abuse so much - the lack of a different response mechanism even as they hate the fact that they do what they abhorred in the abuser.

Recognizing that such approaches (motivation through fear) in the Church usually are the result of either "dealing with people" weakness or being the only model that a person knows helps tremendously to be charitable AND not succumb to the tactics.


Unknown said...

Are God's IF/THEN mandates not fear/bribery? It seems to me they are. I often wonder the best way to motivate/help change, especially from a parenting perspective.

Papa D said...

Good question, Ben. I would say two things:

1) Since God speaks to people in language and terms they can understand, I'm not convinced the "if/then" statements that obviously fit into fear as a motivational technique truly came from God.

2) Many of the "if/then" statements appear to me to be nothing more than simple "cause and effect" statements - even as I know there is a fine line between that and using fear as a motivational technique. The difference is important to me, however, as I see a huge difference between, "If you do this, this is what will happen naturally as a result of you doing it," and, "If you do this, I will punish you (or withhold blessings from you) for doing it."

3) Unfortunately, some people really will act only upon fear of consequences - and most people will act out of fear if the "proper" threat is made. That's why fear is used so much: It works in many situations and is the easiest way to tackle lots of things.

Unknown said...

Understanding the difference between punishment and natural consequences is one of the most important "jobs" we have as parents. Heavenly Father is the perfect example of telling us what we should do, explaining the consequences of our choices will be, and then making sure we get the natural consequences, both good and bad.

It helped me to start with the good side of things; if we keep my commandments, then God is bound to bless us. The natural corollary is that is we disobey the commandments or make wrong choices, then God is bound to withhold those blessings.

Of course this get more complicated because are wrong choices rarely only impact us as individuals, but the mercy aspect of the Atonement is what allows for repentance, healing and grace.

Patty said...

I'm thankful for loving people (like you and Mama) who have been there to model good motivation techniques and have shown a better way than the fear tactic. :)