Purpose and Prosocial Motivation

We went to work at a facility and we were met by a delightful member of the staff. She escorted us to an auditorium where we would be working. We had to wait for an event to finish. On the wall was a TV broadcasting discouraging headlines. As we listened to the headlines, we noted the chaos is the world. She told us that she no longer leaves her TV on at home, or listens to the radio while driving. She said, “If you do, the wrong stuff gets into your head.” Instead, she carefully selects input that will cause her to grow.

We asked her some increasingly personal questions and she openly answered them. She spoke of the state of the world and she spoke of the focus of her life, which is getting her children educated. She lives in a troubled neighborhood and has her last child in private school. Because of the costs, she and her husband often eat scant meals. As she talked, she said, “My children are my legacy, and I want to leave a positive legacy in this troubled world.”

Here was a staff person with limited resources who lives in a difficult neighborhood. She could be living a reactive life. She could be like masses of people, looking for a way to express anger. Yet she is doing the opposite. She is living a proactive life, instead of feeling like a victim or needing to express anger, she is making personal sacrifices to achieve her highest purpose. She is living with a prosocial orientation to a world of conventional self-interest, anger and violence.

Science says that people with prosocial motivation are more likely to take initiative, to persist in meaningful tasks, to be open to negative feedback, to assist others, to motivate others, to stimulate new ideas and to inspire creative actions. It seemed that this woman had all these characteristics and we were inspired by spending a few moments in her zone of influence.


What are the demographic limitations on living a purposeful life?

Why do people of higher purpose gain prosocial motivation?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?




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