Russell and Duenes

Motivated by Rewards

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LBJMy pastor told us awhile back that he didn’t see anything wrong with offering rewards to little children as a motivation for doing work. I guess I had always agreed with this, insofar as I thought about it. But since then, I have practiced it more regularly. So, for example, I might offer a lollipop or some kind of dessert or special activity to my boys as a motivation for cleaning up a room. I don’t offer this every time, but I find that when I do offer it, they generally put more energy and effort into their work, and it gets done without me standing over them (making cleaning into a race against the clock also gets them going, but that’s another story). Does it seem wrong to offer such rewards? Does it seem to make their obedience disingenuous? Perhaps, but I see that God, too, offers rewards to his children. St. Paul writes: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor…If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” (1 Cor. 3:7-8, 14). “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Col. 3:23-24). If God offers rewards in order to motivate our faithful labor, I don’t see why we ought not do the same for our children. 

Lyndon Johnson illustrates the George Costanza doctrine: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” Historian Robert Caro recounts Johnson saying that a man who advocated something had to believe it deeply and genuinely in his heart, or his advocacy would be weak and ineffectual. Thus, Johnson had an incredible ability to convince himself of the truth of something he wanted to pursue, even if it was wrong. No doubt we all have this ability, to one degree or another, but apparently Johnson had it in spades. This also meant that some of the erroneous things of which Johnson convinced himself turned out to be ruinous to his political career. Caro explains this when it comes to JKF. Johnson genuinely believed that Kennedy could not win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1960, and believed it deeply when so much evidence was pointing the other way. Johnson had his reasons for believing this, but it was false nonetheless, as he soon found out. I have to think Johnson also convinced himself of the rightness of what he was doing in Vietnam several years later, the results of which need no detailing. He wouldn’t back down, even in the face of all his advisors contradicting what he wanted to believe. I certainly agree with Johnson that we do well to have conviction about the truth of our positions. We will best persuade people when we have this. But we also learn a lesson from Johnson about the finitude and fickleness of our own instincts, intuitions and ability to read people and situations, no matter how keen. We must be open to the wisdom of other wise people, distrustful of our own apparent “smartness” or “brilliance,” and open to our own capacities for self-deception and self-preservation. It can be a scary thing to face, which I feel a sense of even as I write this.



Written by Michael Duenes

February 21, 2015 at 11:38 am

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