On motive: Why do we do what we do?

I’ve said before that I am interested in why we do what we do as much as what we do. Here is my list of possible motives for everything I do on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or lifetime basis. I assume that many of my actions are motivated by two or more of these in various combinations. (At one point in thinking about this, I listed the 7 deadly sins; those sure come in handy, eh?)

Possible Motives

need, desire, fear, love, anger, envy, empathy, experience, expedience, moral belief

These could be debated for hours. And it points to the utter irrationality of some of my actions. At first I didn’t have anger up there, but in trying to make this complete, I thought about everything I’ve done in the past 24 hours and analyzed each motive. So: Why do I yell at my kids? There is absolutely no good motive for this (unless I’m fearing for their lives and they are too far away to hear me), and I’m not even sure what the motive is. Usually I’m angry when I yell. But is that a “motive”? (Or does it just show how dumb I am?).

I think if I can match good actions with good motives, I will be happy. And these motives are not always easily classifiable as good or bad. If I envy my sister who is always cheerful, that could inspire me to be more cheerful (sure, you might say I “admire” her, but really, if it’s going to make me actually change my life to be more like her, it has to be something stronger, like envy). If I have a moral belief that abortion is wrong and then do harm to anyone else in acting on that motive, that would be wrong. If I am angry that I feel flabby and that leads me to eat less brownies (anything’s possible, right?) that would be good.

Not to belabor this point, but I think hate is a motive which I hope I don’t have–but if I hated sin, that would be a good thing, right? Ok, if you think of any motives to add to this list, please let me know.

Now, to question my motives if I have a question of action, like … I don’t know…

Should I (Jane) seek to go on WIC?

Do I need more food/money than I have? maybe

Do I desire more food/money than I have? yes

Do I fear going on WIC? maybe

Would I love to be on WIC? no

Am I angry about WIC (about where the funds come from and how they’re administered)? yes

Do I envy WIC recipients? hmmm. I think so, a little bit.

Am I empathetic towards those who need to seek out WIC? yes

Do I have any experience with monthly assistance (from anyone besides family; obviously my parents supported me for about 20 years) to learn from? no

Would it be expedient for me to go on WIC? In the shortrun: yes. In the long run: probably not, because it would not fix my problem, which is having less income than expenses.

*yesterday my father asked me if I needed him to send me a set amount each month in lieu of WIC checks. it took me approximately 5 seconds to run through all that money over time in my mind and revert immediately to my present problem (less money than expenses).

Do I have moral beliefs in regards to WIC? hmmm. Do I? Do I think anyone other than me has a moral obligation to feed me? yes. I believe my husband has a moral obligation to provide for me and our children; in fact, if he were derelict in his duty (he is NOT), I would prosecute him in court.

Do I think my family or my fellow church members have a moral obligation to assist me in providing for me and my family? yes, I believe they are morally obligated to assist me after (if and when) I do all that I can. If they were unwilling to do this, would I be justified in taking from them anyway? no.

Do I think my fellow countrymen are morally obligated to assist me in providing for my family after I have done all I can, after my family and my church have assisted me, and if I still am in need? yes, I think they are morally obligated to me as Americans (and I would say that as humans we have this obligation to every other human). If they were unwilling to assist me, would I be justified in taking from them anyway? no.

So, that’s my rundown of my possible motives in this case. You already know the conclusion I came to a few months ago. After further ponderance on this issue, all I can say is thank goodness I listened to Dick at the time. I knew I married him for some reason…

On poverty: How poor am I really?

There were a lot of great comments to my self-sufficiency post, and I also got emails from some family members; I guess they just haven’t grasped the self-exhibitionism of the internet yet. But they really made me think, and their examples of self-reliance are something I want to emulate; something I especially need to emulate, because they are the people to whom I turn for monetary assistance as needed. If I take their money to help me, then I must also take the lessons they have taught. I also want to learn from them because they are happy in their self-reliance. I want that happiness for myself and my family.

My parents will be glad to know (maybe) that I mixed up my first batch of powdered milk yesterday. I mixed it with regular milk, and only fed it to the kids, but, still, it’s a step in the right direction. I also made homemade refried beans for dinner, but that is something I like a lot anyway, so maybe it doesn’t count as sacrificial use of my store of pinto beans.

My father-in-law thinks there is really something to the detrimental effect our self-perception has on our ability to gauge reality. He is an awesome example of someone who has overcome a weakness and steadily, day-by-day, faced reality. My mother-in-law is the most generous person I know. She is also a modest person. Let me just say that I am taking her example to heart.

I was born while my parents were in medical school; they joined the Navy to pay for school, and were still very poor. My parents lived in a mobile home for four years. They bought kidney because it is a nutrient-rich and cheap form of meat. As I recall, the story goes that they couldn’t stand the taste so they fed it to me. Thanks! My mom still shops at thrift stores and finds amazing things. I don’t know why I ever thought I could spend more freely than my parents do (and did). What was I thinking?

My “rich” parents wash out their disposable plastic water bottles and use them over and over until they are squashed and sunbleached beyond all recognition. The last time I was home my dad was washing them (he’s not always able to help with dishes, so I was impressed to see him doing this). He said maybe it was time to stop washing them; I agreed, after all, I buy new water bottles and just fill them up about 2-3 times and then chuck ’em (this way they’re kind of like disposable contacts; you re-use them, but not enough to have to actually wash them). But my dad, who makes a good living, followed my mom’s habit of being super-frugal.

So, I need to fix my perception of what I have and what I need to be happy. I’m making a list of everything I have that the Zabaleen in Al Mokattam do not have. Al Mokattam is “garbage city” on the outskirts of Cairo. It smells; it’s a garbage dump. The Zabaleen, Coptic Christians, gather the trash, sort the trash, recycle the trash, and live next to (or on) the trash.

A USAID report concluded that many of them would not leave their home/city even if they could because their families are in garbage city and they would not leave them. Obviously, I can learn a lot from these people. Another interesting point about them is that there are tons of beggars in Egypt. Giving alms to the poor is a tenet of Islam and is very open (which is a good thing). But when I visited garbage city, the children did not cluster around me asking for pounds.

Now, why should I compare myself to the poorest of the poor? I honestly do not think that I would be happy living as they are, because it is so foreign to what I am used to (and because I want better for my children of course). I hope that if I were put in their position (or taken to a concentration camp or some other awful thing) that I could learn to be happy or at least not miserable all the time, but it is impossible for me to contemplate right now. However, I think that an examination and enumeration of all that I do have (that I take for granted) will help me to alter my perception of reality.

Because I am not as funny as I think I am, apparently

In consultation with my blogging advisors, I’ve decided it might be helpful to label my posts “serious post” or “fun post;” other classifications might be added as needed. Of course there are often fun aspects to serious topics and serious aspects to fun topics, or serious or fun ways of looking at serious or fun topics or their serious or fun aspects, and I often appreciate humor as a way to break the solemness or sentimentality of most topics, but, I hope you get my point. If this doesn’t work, I will probably need to resort to some smiley faces or something. Though I pledge now to try to avoid too many “lol’s.”

On espionage, or, How I was recruited as a freshman by the CIA, or was I?

I’ve been craving TV for awhile. I mostly haven’t missed it since the first few weeks in January, but, every once in awhile, I get a craving for a nice, short beginning-middle-end-type show with some comic relief and cathartic, vicarious blood-letting shoot-em-up action.

I’d heard a lot about the show Alias. And Jennifer Garner was really cute in 13 Going on 30 (which is not exactly the same genre as Alias, but still). So, we rented the first disc of the first season. Wow. Riveting. Am Riveted. RIVETED. But Dick and I quickly learned that we had to stop watching an episode in the middle if we wanted to not have to watch the next episode. (So much for beginning-middle-end).

1011974600__aliasopener_l.jpgI like Alias because it stars a strong, intelligent, resourceful woman (I know, those adjectives are redundant, but I wasn’t sure we were all aware of that, even on this blog) who wears awesome (though often a bit slinky) clothes (but dang, it’s only television, and it’s not like I’m gonna run out and buy that dress for myself tomorrow — it probably wouldn’t fit me anyway). And I love her hair! Looks so natural and yet so … so shiny. And she’s smart. Did I say that already?

Man, am I glad that things have changed in the past 100 years. What would life be like without television? I mean, really! What would I do to stimulate my mind?

On self-sufficiency, or, How I almost went on WIC

A few months ago, I was feeling angry, resentful, and poor. I was angry (with myself and the housing market) that my family lives in a dangerous neighborhood. I was resentful of some friends and relatives and many other welfare program recipients in our country who were or had been on Medicaid, WIC and/or foodstamps and yet live(d) in nice(r) neighborhoods and/or houses than me. I was feeling poor because of credit card debt (for things like fence panels to fix those broken by criminals, and a digital camera to replace what was stolen), school loan debt, and the pressure of raising three kids on a one-income budget.

I know that I have much more material wealth than most people on earth. I’ve seen real poverty, and I’ve seen poor people who are happy, family-oriented, and not covetous. I also know that I don’t contribute enough in taxes to pay for my share of the roads, military protection, public schools, and other infrastructure and social programs of the United States that I take for granted. And I know that many of my friends and relatives will probably contribute, over time, much more back to society in taxes than I will and more than they ever receive(d) in assistance.

I still felt angry, resentful, and poor. Also, I was curious: how easy is it to get welfare? What does the process entail? What would it feel like? And, a few friends of mine encouraged me to check out WIC. It is so easy, they said. Why not? they said. I work hard and pay tithing and am not extravagant. Why not? I thought.

Another rationale for seeking welfare is an immoral and biased clause in the U.S. tax code, which provides financial incentive to parents to pay a third party to care for their children (see Dependent Care Tax Credit) while providing no equivalent tax break for stay-at-home mothers (if I’m mistaken on this, please let me know–I’ve got an amended tax return to file!). So, not only do I not earn money for the work I do, but, even if my husband and I were to fix this within our family by having him pay me a salary for everything I do for his children, he could not deduct those expenses from his income tax as a single father could deduct those monies paid to a nanny or daycare center.

Moral dilemma: If the income tax and welfare systems are corrupt, does that justify my getting whatever I can out of the latter?

One day I snapped. I dropped #1 off at school and took #2 & #3 to the WIC office with me. I filled out the necessary paperwork, which included questions like, “Do you or your children go to bed hungry?” “Do you worry where your next meal is coming from?” I answered these questions honestly. The only answer I gave that could have remotely given them the idea that I truly needed intervention was “it is often cheaper to buy unhealthy food rather than nutritious food.”

There was an interview with a nutritionist who was glad I was breastfeeding, but would have blithely given me formula if I’d wanted it. I should come back next month, they said, to prove my relationship to the kids and my income. In the meantime, I walked out with checks for a month’s worth of milk, eggs, cereal, peanut butter, tuna, carrots, and beans.

That night at dinner I told Dick what I had done. He was not happy. Neither was I. I carried those checks in my bag for a couple of weeks, planning which brands and quantities of the foods I would buy in which combination. I carried the checks into Publix and Walmart with me. I looked at the WIC stickers on the food cases. I thought about handing those goods and my checks over to the clerks. I bought other things, and walked out with the checks still in my bag.

My religious beliefs indicate that if, after all I can do, I cannot provide for myself and my family, I may turn to my extended family and to my church for temporary assistance. A few months ago, I didn’t ask my parents and siblings and in-laws for help, and I didn’t ask my church leaders for help, because I couldn’t see myself saying, “Yes, I have done all I can to provide for myself and my family.” That was not true, for me, at that time. When or if it ever is true, I will not hesitate to ask for help. In the meantime, those WIC checks remain at the bottom of my sock drawer. How could I ask perfect strangers to help me when I cannot ask those I love?

Makes-Me-Smile Monday: Memorial Day

picasso-flower-bouquet-logo-copy.jpg Welcome to the Memorial Day edition of Makes-Me-Smile Monday. I learned intriguing things while googling today. I wanted to write something about the mothers of soldiers, so of course I thought of Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby, which served as the inspiration for Saving Private Ryan. Apparently, only two of Mrs. Bixby’s sons died in battle. A third defected, another was honorably discharged, and it’s uncertain what happened to the fifth.

Mrs. Bixby herself burned the letter because she was a Confederate sympathizer. (Where have I been?). Possibly the letter was written by John Hay (one of Lincoln’s secretaries — what, they have speechwriters?). So that’s not such a great example of the influence mothers have on their children.

My other example was a battalion of soldiers engaged in their first combat mission. In modern terms, they had very little training, primitive weapons and body armor, and not much of a defense spending bill; their parents were (supportive) pacifists. They were courageous, young, active, valiant, strong, sober, and “true at all times.” Have you read the book (or seen the movie) Jarhead? I’m thinking basically the opposite here.

These soldiers made a vow to protect their land and to never give up their liberty. Their leader asked if they were ready to go to battle. They were: they thought more of their fathers’ liberty than their own lives. Why? Because their mothers had taught them that if they had faith, God would deliver them. After the battle, the leader of the 2000 soldiers was overjoyed to find that not one had died. The leader relates this outcome to the general, and emphasizes that it was their mothers’ teachings that gave them courage.

I love a good war movie. I just have to be prepared to remind Dick afterwards that a) the army probably doesn’t need too many technical writers, and b) it’s probably not as exciting as it looks; also, he could die. But just as I hope to live with more purpose (starting tomorrow!), it would probably be easier to face death knowing that my sacrifice would help secure the lives and freedoms of people I loved.

Memorial Day also makes me think about Aunt Jodi, but I’ll wait and see if Marcy or Suzie writes about her. I hope you?ve thought of a story (on anything remotely connected to Memorial Day; I’m flexible, really). To participate in the carnival, enter your name and (description) and post address so we can all come read it. Or leave it in a comment. If you do have a blog, link back, eh? If you need any help, please send me an email or a comment.

http://www.blenza.com/linkies/autolink.php?owner=shannonj11&postid=27May2007(I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate links).

I just wanted you to know that you’re doing something right

I got an interesting compliment at church today. Often when I get pep talks from people who aren’t chasing kids, I roll my eyes and escape. But this lady is also my favorite Sunday School teacher, and someone I admire. She was right; my kids were being pretty quiet: Spot was nursing/sleeping, Susan was snarfing Cheerios (even though I’d fed her a big bowl of cereal right before we left home), and Sally was running one of our new little cars (boy toys!) up and down a hymnal.

It had been a hectic morning getting everyone ready. I finished up my lesson preparation for Relief Society (the women’s class) around 8 am. Our late trip to Busch Gardens on Saturday paid off, though, in kids sleeping in until I was ready to deal with them. Church begins at the extremely civilized hour of 10 o’clock; I actually thought I was ready to walk out the door at 9:25, until I remembered the three bags (diaper, fun/nursery and scriptures/lesson) I needed to pack, and the small valuables I should probably gather to hide in our car since the house across the street was broken into this week.

Sis. M knows about my frustrations and feelings of inadequacy. She probably saw the grimace on my face as we walked in 5 minutes (so close! for once!) late. But she didn’t know that I somehow didn’t snap at a hard-to-console Spot this morning and I didn’t scream at Sally to HOLD STILL while I did her ponytail (or throw the hairbrush at the wall), and I didn’t yell when Susan threw 10 gallons of bathwater out of the tub. I didn’t think very mean thoughts about Dick’s laundry “technique” as I searched in vain for clothes to wear. I didn’t say any swear words — even in my head! A red-letter Sunday morning, indeed.

Sis. M leaned forward during the rest hymn and said, “Just now you remind me of the Myers’ family, kids being so good all sitting in a row; I just wanted you to know that you’re doing something right.” At the time I remembered how stressed I’d felt racing around to get out the door. And I thought, the only thing I’m doing right is that we’re here, and we’re always here. Even the most annoying children are bound to realize there’s a routine they can’t escape: they might as well sit down and enjoy (be quiet during) it.

Then I remembered part of Julie Beck’s talk that I’d studied for my lesson. Here’s an excerpt:

Ruth May Fox ? was born in England, and when she was 13, she walked almost every step to the Salt Lake Valley with a group of pioneers. Her mother died when she was a baby, so she spent the first dozen years of her life living with a number of different families. She must have been a difficult child to manage, because her grandmother called her a ?bad maid? and refused to take care of her.

Eventually, Ruth married and had 12 children. She shared her firm testimony with her children and taught gospel lessons while she worked beside them, but she admitted that her older children sometimes received harsh discipline because she had a quick temper and she did not always ?count [to] ten? when she was provoked. She worked hard to master this weakness and came to be known for her kind heart and service to others.

Sister Fox lived to be 104 years old. In her long life she experienced great joys and difficult trials, and she taught that ?life brings some hard lessons. The sturdiest plants are not grown under glass, and strength of character is not derived from the avoidance of problems.?

When she talks about her “older” children, I can only hope this refers to just numbers 1 & 2, and that by number 3 she had learned to master her temper. There’s no way I can handle 12 children in my (reluctant) quest to become kinder of heart and slower to temper. Ruth May’s motto was, “the Kingdom of God or nothing.” I bet Ruth May was a stay-at-home mom, someone who spent way too much of her time changing diapers and wiping snot. Or maybe she was like my husband, who spends way too much of his time in fruitless meetings and painstakingly solving computer glitches. Or like my kids, who spend too much time … nevermind; my kids have it good.

Life is much better when I remember that each stinky moment I encounter gracefully is bringing me one step closer to my ultimate goal. And maybe I am doing something right.