IMG_5304I had an attending in residency who in addition to his medical degree also had a Ph.D. in psychology. He always said, “Everything… every action… boils down to the desire for sex, money, or power.” His point was that even if something appears altruistic on the surface, it never really is. There is always secondary gain. This was hardly a groundbreaking statement, I suppose, but I had not thought about the world on those terms before and I have not been able to look at the world in the same way since.

Cynical? Yes.

BUT, isn’t it reassuring to know that we are all on the same playing field? We are all human. We all have the same weaknesses, struggles, core desires. 

We are all flawed.


119 thoughts on “Humanity

  1. I think there is at least one other that needs to be on the list as a motivation….Joy. when I think about the motivation behind me planting an orchard, working in it, etc. There is definitely nothing sexual, financially or power related…(heck I give away about as much as I sell),…I do it because it brings me joy..(and I’m talking 100 apple trees) (to be sure, there are other things I do that those core motivators are in play, but even when it comes to my work (which I love) the financial incentive is only partially a motivator..I genuinely love what I do because it combines several of my passions…

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  2. There was an interesting discussion on a blog I follow about whether or not there is any truly selfless act, because even when you do something for no apparent personal gain, there is still a feeling of satisfaction at helping someone. Interesting I suppose. Not something I dwell on.

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    • I thought having a baby was very similar. It changed as they got older, but it was unconditional love the moment I knew I was expecting. I took very good care of my health before and after they were born so nothing I did would cause harm. I guess that’s my power over my health, sex to procreate, and bled money. 😒 When you explain it like that I guess it is.
      Not. Going. To. Think. About. That. Today. Going to Tara. Humf! 😎 πŸ€‘ 😈

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  3. I think I would break it down even further. Just MONEY. (Assuming there’s any real difference between money and power — ultimately they’re the same to me.) Whether your heart or intentions are good or bad, whether you want health, happiness, or power… whatever you need, everything depends on having enough money to survive. Beyond mere survival, enough money makes the rest a damn sight easier.
    Ha! — Yes, it’s good to know everyone is on the same playing field. Hugs!

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  4. That an individual has advanced degrees does not mean that all utterances of are words of wisdom. The statements of that Attending is more about him (her?) than about the truth of the matter. Psychologists and Psychiatrists seem to have a need to categorize behaviors in neat little boxes that can be understood with the ‘knowledge’ in their possession. If it makes him/her feel better, go with god.

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    • This is true. In fact it is a belief that has been given a fair amount of lip service. Is it 100% true? Who knows. There is always secondary gain for actions, however, and understanding that there is motivation that is not readily apparent helps me take things less personally, if that makes sense? It also reminds me that I am not better than anyone else out there. If I really examine where my own motivation is coming from… it is not necessarily all that different from everyone else’s. We are more the same than different.

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  5. I think I could make an argument that sex and money are basically power…

    While I agree that a lot of what we do is motivated by power, sometimes power over ourselves, I don’t really believe that love is power, even over ourselves. And love is definitely a motivation. At least to me.

    Interesting to think about.

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  6. I don’t believe everything people with advanced degrees tell me. I once worked for a lawyer who also had a Ph.D. in psychology – I got tired of being psychoanalyzed every time I moved a paper clip from one side of my desk to the other. He was so bad that just before I quit, his wife called me to tell me if was his problems making him do that, not mine. Didn’t help. I quit anyway. And can you believe this? – years later, I ran into the jerk at a food court, and he had the nerve to join me at my table so we could catch up on old times. What a loony.

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  7. Wow. That is super cynical! To me there are two motivations: Love and fear, and we all have elements of both. Sex, I believe, can be an expression of love, trust, and pleasure, or it can be an expression of fear, neediness and control. Money can be an expression of love through generosity or an expression of fear in hoarding. Power can be an expression of love when used to change the world for the betterment of others, an expression of fear when used to change the world for one’s own self-interest.

    Is there self-interest in love? Certainly! Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where kindness, compassion, and joy were freely shared. What you give comes back tenfold. πŸ™‚

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  8. Where would you place spiritualism. Certainly not about money Unless you are a church….which is not what I am refereeing to. Spiritualism is NOT religion. and it is not SUPPOSE to be about sex. Is it power? It can if done for the wrong reason, like I am more spiritual than you…which negates the statement….

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  9. Changing a baby’s diaper – sex, money or power?
    Holding someone’s hair while while they are sick – sex, money or power?
    Tending a wound – sex, money or power?
    Putting your life between an attacker and another – sex, money or power?

    I’m sorry he’s so cynical, but that is in less than 1 minute of thinking. Do such things cause us to feel good? Yes, most likely (depending on the outcome).

    Can any of those be twisted for power, sex or money? Perhaps.

    To me there is quite a large difference between saying someone’s actions are not entirely altruistic versus saying ‘every action is driven by the DESIRE for sex, money or power.’

    Where is contentment, honor or peace, in there?

    Interesting tho, as always πŸ™‚

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    • Honor is power. Contentment is power. Peace is power. Changing a diaper is power… Ensuring the survival of your offspring. Holding someone’s hair while they puke is power. Tending a wound is power. Putting yourself between an attacker and someone else is power… Stealing power from someone else, in fact.


      • Wait, when do we get to the sex and money? (grin)

        In all seriousness, what is the definition of power here? Because I may be wrong, but I don’t think it falls in line with what the attending meant with his “…desire for…” triad of cynicism.

        M-W defines – power: the ability or right to control people or things
        His list appears to be based on external drives from my reading whereas honor, peace and contentment are all internal drivers.. Giving/acting on the behalf of others I guess could be internal/external, depending on the relationship between the two exchangers.

        Of course, I don’t have a PhD in anything, so maybe I’m out in left field – (wait – P(retty) h(appy) D(aughters), does that count?)

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      • I love your definition of PhD! That certainly qualifies you. πŸ™‚ Power is control. Control can be exerted internally (self) or externally (others). But then I don’t have any background in philosophy, either.

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  10. Kind of a crass simplification of Maslow’s already oversimplified pyramid, isn’t it? That’s just a dumb cliche. What people really want are what they think those things will give them — happiness. The paradox is that humans also seem to get happiness from striving for…sex, money and power. It’s the belief that once they get whatever they’re striving for their happiness will last. Some people have the opportunity (and not always a happy opportunity) that going beyond those appetite driven yearnings and doing something for someone else actually carries the reward they’ve been seeking all along.

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  11. Regardless of the motivators, if not for altruism, we’d be in a worse mess than we already are. I tend to think about things like this as being on a continuum. I hope we evolve, as a species, to be more altruistic, and less obsessed with power, sex and money.

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  12. ……And how is me trying to be a vegetarian motivated by sex, money, or power, if my reason is that I don’t want to harm animals? Going back to the continuum idea, I think there are certain behaviors and beliefs that are more altruistic, like changing a diaper, or feeding the poor, or an anonymous act of kindness, and other acts and behaviors that move toward serving only the self.

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  13. Pingback: My Article Read (10-23-2015) | My Daily Musing

  14. This post reminds me of my reading, while at university of Thomas Hobbes Leviathian. The following quote sums up his view of the world rather well,
    β€œSo that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in
    Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content
    with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more”.

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  15. I’ve heard a scientist argue that even the desire for power and money has it’s evolutionary roots in the desire to attract a mate. That seems to make sense to me, from a purely biological perspective.

    Whenever I think much about the purely scientific explanations for human behavior, especially those of hard determinists, I come away thinking that however logical they may be, I have to hope they’re not true.

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  16. I don’t like it when people walk around saying oh yes I have it all figured out and this is what life is. What a pompous ass. Maybe that’s what motivates him. No one has figured it all out yet and maybe we never will. And people are a lot more complicated than that. And I could care less that he has a PHD in Psychology. Now I will go to pontificate about what I think makes the world go around…..

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  17. Maybe. Maybe not. Actually what the resident was saying is just one thing: Power.
    Four sources of Power have been identified in the literature (see french & Raven):
    1) Reward. The highest source of Power: praise someone. Gives you power. Money is reward. It is one the main sources of power of politicians: doing public work (with our money)
    2) Punishment. You have the power to punish, fire, scold, etc. someone? Big power. (Not to mention killing)
    3) Reference: He/she who knows. Remember some of your best teachers. Not necessarily a malevolent sort of power
    4) Legitimacy. Not easily acquired. May take years sometimes. Or be obtained through peer recognition or elections.
    Having said that one has to recognize that a lot about life is about Power. Maybe not everything but a lot. Mother Theresa or Gandhi had immense power.

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  18. I totally disagree. Maybe those things are true for the masses, but there are genuine and altruistic people, or at times reasons people do things. Not every action is just for something in return. Like when I stuck a dollar in a sleeping homeless person’s cup this morning before heading on the subway. πŸ˜‰

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      • Those people obviously don’t know how valuable $1 is towards refilling a starbucks card or metrocard for a broke grad student in NYC. lol the person was sleeping, woke up with a mysterious dollar, had no clue it was from me i’m sure. …hopefully no one stole it lol

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