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Our Many Motivations

April 2nd, 2009

The importance of decision making in corrections is clear. How we operate on the job impacts the lives of our colleagues and those housed in our institutions. And while safety inside our facilities is important, the public is also a factor. Our vocational performance can be viewed on the backdrop of public safety.

There is no escaping the fact that all of us are faced with scores of decisions every day. Therefore, it behooves us to consider how we face decisions and what really motivates us.

No two decisions are the same. All things that we do are weighted differently. For example, the route that you take in a grocery store typically is not as significant as the career path you choose. There is less consideration for when you pick up your onions versus when you attend vocational training.

This is further complicated by the fact that there are some things that one absolutely has to do. These are the obligatory tasks, things like going to work, paying taxes, and obeying the law.

Others are simply optional. For example, it is not mandatory to own a telephone or a computer. Yet, optional decisions are not free standing all of the time. They are impacted by the frameworks in which we live. One does not have to own a computer. But it is nearly mandatory to connect with the outside world through these means.

No decision, no matter how small, is formed in a vacuum. Whether we are selecting candy from a vending machine or planning our next vacation, decisions are not independent of a variety of sometimes complex interactions. Everything that we do is formed by our history, psychological baggage, stigmas, and outside forces forming it.

History – Think of things that you have done in the past. Perhaps you have always purchased gasoline at a certain station and are firmly entrenched in that habit. Or, perhaps you drive the same route to work out of habit and not necessarily out of convenience. Maybe you are a product of a home that uses a certain brand of soap. Your parents used that soap and so do you. This is where you are ruled by your history.

Psychological baggage – A bad experience can daunt you from doing certain things. Think about a bad food experience such as a poorly prepared meal that keeps you from consuming a specific type of food. Perhaps you witnessed a dog attack a person and you are nervous around animals. Maybe you have been told by your parents that certain health habits are crucial for your well-being. You follow these because of that advice from early on in your life. On the flip side of that, suppose that you witness the deterioration of the health of a loved one due to her bad habits. That can dissuade you from engaging in those habits.

Psychological addiction is also a factor in continuing decisions.

Stigma – “What will the neighbors think?” That may be something that goes through your mind when there is a exterminator’s van in your driveway. Your motivation to enlist the services of the exterminator is likely to rest on the notion of freedom from mice, roaches, rats, bugs, or other vermin. The methods that you used failed to control the pests were ineffective. Thus you made the decision to call pest control. Yet, you know that others may brand you and your house as filthy. Yet most people would put up with that stigma rather than share quarters with vermin that they were unlucky enough to acquire.

Outside forces – Have you ever heard someone proclaim that they can get whichever new car or truck that they want? It is nice to think that, of course. But that simply is not true. The selection process is tempered by use of the vehicle. Owner’s needs may dictate a larger vehicle than originally anticipated due to family size or the need to haul items. Region of the country will dictate the nature of the vehicle, such as the need for all wheel drive in snowier areas. Long distance commuters may rethink the wisdom of a larger vehicle in the face of ever-rising fuel prices. The lending market may also impact how much or how little of a car one can acquire.

Why do we do anything? It is based on our motivations and set against our history, psychological baggage, stigmas, and outside forces. It is key to remember that not all things are mandatory to do. But the consequences of not doing them may outweigh our freewill.

In conclusion, motivations and making decisions go hand in hand. You may agree that doing a certain thing is important, but that may not be enough motivation to continue with the task. In the end, though, simple decisions are often complicated with layers of other factors.

These are the opinions of Joseph Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy.

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