Insta-Motivation and Why We Do What We Do

Like the adage about a tree falling in the forest…if we do something kind or philanthropic and don’t get the selfie, does it still count?

With Instagram and every other image-driven platform, there has been a huge rise in performative charity. You know, the buying a meal for a homeless person only after you’ve got your camera set up or friend recording from across the street…or giving a huge tip to a server to change their life as you zoom in on their emotional reaction. How many cameras get trained on the parked car before a rescuer saves the terrified dog cowering underneath?

So, the question remains, if there is no glory, will we still be kind?

I know the shortcut and instinctive answer is “Yes. Of course,” and we quickly dismiss those attention seekers as shallow and unlike us…but is that the case? It’s not a bad thing necessarily—we can want the photo—perhaps not for social media clicks and follows, but to share an amazing story with loved ones, or as a reminder and motivator to ourselves of a special, and genuinely valuable, time and experience.

There’s some new science about this, comparing “opportunistic” do-gooders (those doing it for the posts and attention) vs. those who commit acts of kindness driven by compassion (when no one is necessarily watching). I’d venture most of us are somewhere on the spectrum between.

Data from 12,259 respondents who took an Emotional Intelligence Test with PsychTests found some differences in altruism based on motivation. For instance: 62% of opportunistic do-gooders believe the statement “the end justifies the means” (compared to 30% from the “genuine” crowd). 46% feel that you NEED to step on a few toes to get ahead while only 13% of the genuinely motivated agree. 54% of those seeking the praise of others would rather live a life of success than a life according to their own values (22% of the genuine folks) and a dispiriting 37% would encourage a depressed person to “toughen up.”

Some other things learned might increase some sense of compassion for the identified “posers” as we learn that 39% are uncomfortable actually consoling others, 50% say they lack a purpose and feel directionless, 31% feel like imposters and that they don’t deserve the success they have, 46% do not experience a sense of satisfaction after an achievement unless there is praise attached, and 43% will change themselves (beliefs, opinions, appearance, behavior) in order to please others.

I won’t suggest any motivation that gets us in action for others ought to be labeled bad or negative…just interesting. I am still happy to put all the weight behind the concept of a net gain, and that a meal served is a meal served no matter how it got to a hungry person. I don’t think we need a purity test for good deeds, but I am a fan of introspection and checking in with ourselves in every area of life. This is perhaps an invitation to gaze inward for a second, take stock, and then go out and redouble our efforts to have the positive impact we know we are supposed to have, with or without our cameras.

Hoping this finds you well, moving quickly through the sticky parts, and affirming great ways you’re going to rock our world.

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