The Ultimate Why
What if there was one thing that ultimately motivated all of us? One ultimate why. Knowing that would be the key to everyone’s hearts and minds.
Let’s put the discovery of the ultimate why in perspective. It’s like the fictional future discovery of the warp drive in Star Trek. It was a breakthrough that launched humanity into the exploration of the stars. The story line is that Zefram Cochran discovered a system that created more energy than put into it, resulting in an exponential output. And this discovery launched humanity into the exploration of stars, to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”
In terms of life’s motivation, there is something that acts on humans similar to the warp drive, but it is a bit counterintuitive. It does require us to supply energy, but like Cochran’s discovery, it produces more life energy than it consumes. It’s not dilithium crystals–it is wired into our neurobiology.
So what is the ultimate why? It is one word… Love. But if this is true, why have we missed this?
Like other science fiction story lines, love is something that ancients discovered long ago and have set it aside and lost it. Moses, Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus, Jesus, Jewish sages, Buddhist dharma, Stoic philosophers– all knew its power. Many of them understood the real foundation of love as not being the passionate expression of Eros, which is fleeting and driven by lust, but a love that causes one to lay down one’s life for a friend, family, or for virtue’s sake. A loving life is built on the love of giving, service, faithfulness, virtue, value. It is this ancient wisdom that Thomas Jefferson was quoting when said we have the right to the “pursuit of happiness. ” The Greek word he was quoting from Aristotle is eudemonia –the state of being in contented harmony. The pursuit of happiness was the pursuit of virtuous living and giving, not one of selfish ambition.
Today’s line up of self help gurus singing their siren songs from the pages of New York Times best sellers all hawk the fruit of success, influence, and financial dreams come true. All you need to do is find that one thing you’re passionate about, that one dream that will consume you for the rest of your life, and rainbows and unicorns will be yours. It’s the line that’s been sold to the millennial generation, and it’s why they bounce from job to job looking for that secret sauce they’ll never find. It’s not about finding your personal existential raison d’etre. When we focus our life’s energy on our personal desire and fulfillment, we end up killing the very thing we seek to find. Victor Frankl in his famous book “Man’s search for Meaning” says that our main pursuit must be love; when love is our focus all else will ensue. We need to regain an understanding of the motivational factor that we start to live out, and it begins to pull us forward and leaves us feeling complete and full. That of love.
I recently watched the movie Collateral Beauty, about a grieving father who lost his 2 year old daughter, and can’t find himself anymore. In the movie, a character playing the personification of love, visits the father and says to him “Love is the only why.” My world stood still. This resonated with what I had been thinking about my whole life– that at the bedrock of all motivation there is love and there is no other why behind it.
Why do I love? This is the one question behind which I could not find another motivation. By definition, to love for any reason other than altruism is not love. It is the unmoved motivation. Other emotions have a cause… I get happy because of this event… but love…I just give it. It’s that simple. So when I heard that line “love is the only why”, I said “YES”.
Wired for Love
Being a follower of Jesus, I have been steeped in His words. Jesus would say that the summation of all the written wisdom of God is this… Love. So when I heard the line from the movie character, I knew it to be true. Yes, love is the truest thing I’d ever experienced. In family, in friendships, in service. I have been on a journey exploring psychology and neuroscience, and have discovered that our brains are indeed wired for love. The love described here results in the release of serotonin and oxytocin, neurotrophic substances that produce in our brains a state of being joyful, of being content, and of connection. A state of not wanting any more. An arrival into that yes, I belong here; whereas the result of the self help guru’s life solution is a hit of dopamine, a one-time pleasure, that neuroscientists say leaves us wanting more. In fact, the more you use dopamine, the more the body down-regulates it, requiring more and more to get the same feeling of pleasure, leading to the downward spiral of addiction. This is why we don’t see ambitious people as being virtuous, because in our guts we know them as junkies. It’s the true lovers that have our enduring admiration. So, the message is pursue love, and in love you will find your ultimate why.
Business and love
The problem is most of us spend our days in the work-a-day world of business. We can’t all quit our jobs and become Mother Teresa’s. So how do we pursue this ideal of love? That will be the subject of my next blog. And the answer rocked my world.