August 23, 2007

Why are you doing it?

Lately, I've been thinking about motivation and how it moderates and defines human action (specifically mine), and, more importantly, perhaps, how it doesn't.

For example, I've got three friends going through some tough times. Two of them haven't reached out to me beyond the initial heads-up about their situation.

The one friend who said, "I need X" is easy. I am in a place where I can provide X. I want to help. I can give and they are in need, so it works well. I feel good. They feel better. All is well.

But, the ones who don't ask for something specific that I can help with...that's more difficult. For them, I'm left in a place where I have to decide whether I should reach out to them to offer support, and if so, how, and what exactly this support should be.

After confronting the bit of adversity that's come my way, I know that so much of dealing with life's difficult stuff is a personal battle. Often, it's one you must fight alone. Truly, no one can comfort you, and it sucks, because you wish they could. In fact, often the people who offer comfort and make the biggest effort make you feel more alone, because they make you realize how alone you are in your perspective and situation.

So, I'm left in this place where I must admit that I have made it clear that I support all three of my friends. I have offered my time, my thoughts, and my idea of what might be comforting actions from me, if they want them. And two of them don't.

5 years ago, I imagine both of these friends probably would have reached out to me, and I don't know if it's how I've changed, how they've changed, or just these particular situations that made this time different. Regardless, this time, both of them have refrained from taking me up on my offers.

Part of me wants to reach out again. To try to be even more nurturing. To force my way into the support structure for the ones who won't ask for help. But this additional outreach, if I am honest with myself, is at least partly for me, not them.

And then I get to the title of this post. Why would I reach out again? Do I need to feel like my friends need me to feel valid? Do I need to feel like my friends need me to feel like my hours at the office haven't made me a worse friend? Do I need to be there for them to compensate for my other perceived shortcomings as a friend?

If any of those are the reason, then I shouldn't reach out. None of these things are unconditional love. None of these things are the highest level of compassion. None of these reasons are why I'd want someone to reach out to me.

But I also don't like the idea that people I love are in pain. I want to be involved in fixing it for their sake and I don't think that's bad. When dad was ill, he didn't ask, we all just pitched in, because he was our dad, brother, and friend. We all did what we thought was appropriate and he was very appreciative. The motivation for my behavior back then was simple -- because he's family.

But with friends, it's more difficult. The initial outreach -- that was because they were my friends. The response to the one in need who needed help -- that was also because they were my friend. But an additional gesture to people who haven't responded to offers to help? Why would I be doing it? And if I can't figure it out, maybe I just shouldn't do it?

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