Why we do what we do...
Many years ago, a good friend, and great salesperson, introduced me to a handy rule of thumb. He told me that people tend to take action for only three reasons: sex, fear, and greed. We all, said he, do most everything in an attempt either to achieve or to avoid some feeling related to one of those prime movers.
Being a dutiful student, I proceeded to repeat this insight at the slightest provocation. My blissful, all-knowing state lasted at least 10-15 years. I would re-state Marty's assertion (always crediting my source, by the way). Listeners would nod their approval. Nice moment. Then one day the unthinkable happened.
I gave my speech; and one of the listeners, a distinguished college professor, asked a simple question. "What about glory?" Oops. I had to admit, quickly and humbly, that he had hit upon a big deal. Of course, people act to achieve the feelings associated with what we call glory. I suppose I could have replied that glory was just emotional greed, but that would have been my inner salesman talking.
I have given this issue a decent amount of thought over the intervening years, and now I have my own tidy little system for explaining the various manifestations of the sex, fear, greed, and glory assertion.
I find it useful to think about actions arising out of two complementary notions, Power and Purpose. To take any action, I need some set of reasons for attempting it (Purpose) and also the ability to execute it (Power).
The specific reasons that define Purpose tend to come in two flavors: me-first, and others-first. Sex, fear, and greed can be loosely attached to the me-first flavor. I now refer to them as Motivation, one of the two components of Purpose. Glory, on the other hand, is generally connected to the others-first flavor. I don't observe much glory being attached to actions that benefit only the actor - notoriety, perhaps, but not glory. It's not that the actor cannot benefit; but there seems always to be some broader payoff required to generate real glory. I now call that Meaning. Taken together, my me-first Motivation for acting and the grander, others-first, Meaning of those actions define my Purpose in taking action.
On top of that, glory usually is attached to actions that involve significant risk to the actor, not just cost, but honest-to-goodness risk. And my reading of history leans toward the conclusion that daring actors have and will risk much more for a glorious cause than they will invest in mundane personal gratifications that would fall in to the sex, fear, and greed categories. Personally, I wouldn't risk my life for money; but I might well risk it to defend another person, or a powerful spiritual belief.
So, my friendly entrepreneur, the revised rule of thumb asserts that people (including you and me) take action for a complex set of Purposes, and that the most compelling Purposes include both me-first Motivation and others-first Meaning. And - the greatest Meaning typically carries the greatest risk of sacrifice.
"When there is no peril in the fight there is no glory in the triumph."
"Dedicate some of your life to others. Your dedication will not be a sacrifice. It will be an exhilarating experience because it is an intense effort applied toward a meaningful end."
Dr. Thomas Dooley