Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Importance of Rewards

To keep vamping on that last post, I have also been thinking of the importance of rewards and how every key narrative (religious, economic, social, etc.) has rewards to ensure proper behavior. It's not necessarily a controlling thing; in fact, it might be a key to sustainability in any system.

If you believe you will be rewarded (whether with verbal praise, acceptance, money, or even an ego-boost of "I did the right thing"), then it makes the going easier. In fact, the whole "I did the RIGHT thing" assumes a particular exclusive view about what's right and the reward is that you stuck to the script. And counter-cultural scripts are no different. Refusing money, praise, power...these things are all given worth, depending on the community you are a part of.

Rewards are important. If there is nothing but heartbreak, why do something? (Please understand I'm being a little coarse here.) But seriously, most challenges taken on, dire situations faced, and risks taken are usually done because of some greater end that aligns with the story. Small selfless (or selfish) steps here and there to ensure the outcome is as we'd like to see it.

This goes back to the arbitrariness (word?) of stories. Rewards are arbitrary as well, and like stories, they are often communally committed to, but individually understood. But they must exist.

Ayn Rand gets at this a bit with her book THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS. The idea that all we do is prompted by what I call our "Survival Story". That is, even the ideals we create are part of our socio-mental survival.

Again, this doesn't say that doing something because you'll get a nice little ROI (whether in social, emotional, spiritual, or economic capital) is wrong or unhelpful. Just like I said with stories, it's better to choose one perhaps than not to. But they're arbitrary and the value-reward system that makes them up is as well. Interesting.

4 comments:

Micah Andrew Hasty said...

Don't you think Jesus calls us to follow Him without focusing on the rewards? It seems to me that as He calls His disciples and as He calls us for that matter He makes a point to tell us how hard it will be and how little reward will actually take place. Though small talks about eternal life come in to play, Jesus doesn't call us to a free ticket to heaven. Is that a part of following Him? It's a reward, yes. However this is not the major role of following Him. He calls us to live out the Kingdom of God in the here and now...

Just me thinking out loud again. : )

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Hey man, I'm taking off, so won't really be able to "have" this conversation. But think about what you're projecting onto my words. :)

And then think about how what you're saying is exactly what I suggested...that some people will simply receive reward (or change the word to positive confirmation) by the persecution they will receive, which inevitably leaves them with an ego boost, thinking that they're on the side of God...or some people again receive positive confirmation simply to know that they're sticking to the script.

Again, I am not saying that everything is meaningless or anything like that. On the contrary, I'm suggesting that many stories can be equally meaningful to different people at different places at different times.

Almost all values are shaped by our inner survival story and meshed with arbitrary communal goals.

That's all I'll say for now. :) Enjoy thinking!

The Misfit Toy said...

the interesting question that comes to me as i read is this.

which is better.

to train yourself to want to rewards for the activities that you think are healthy? or to learn to somehow transcend the rewaqrd/response connection.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

What would transcending the reward/response connection look like? I dig the theory, but don't think it's possible. And I actually don't think that's a bad thing.

Look, I'm not suggesting that we always do something to get something knowingly. People help complete strangers because it's a good thing to do. It makes us all feel better about our world, it connects with what we perceive our values to be. But that, in and of itself, is a reward.