Daniel Pink's latest book is about what motivates us.
Once again, the Sages of the Mishna give sound advice (Pirkei Avot 4:1): “Who is rich? The person who is content with his lot.” What we are coming to realize post-economic meltdown, is that that lot doesn’t necessary have to be a lot. Our acquisitiveness, greed, and over-consumption of cheap goods in the last decades has made us forget what is important in life. No one, including the Rabbis, is going to begrudge a person for being financially successful, but it is starting to finally dawn on American society that being rich beyond being able to pay for a comfortable (and by comfortable, I do not mean multiple manorial homes, a yacht and monthly jaunts to St. Barts) life, a good education for your kids, and high quality healthcare is not necessarily a virtue.
It is not surprising, then, that as the Obama administration struggles to get the country back on course, as this realization about what is important in life has begun to finally sink in, people are producing books and films that reflect this ostensibly newfound insight. Daniel Pink, author of the popular book on why right-brainers rule, A Whole New Mind, has just come out with a new work called Drive (a one-word title surely inspired by Malcolm Gladwell ). This tome, subtitled “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” debunks the long and widely held theory that workers are motivated by extrinsic rewards like raises and bonuses. In other words, by money. Instead, he posits after researching the subject, that people in today’s world are far more motivated by intrinsic things like mastery, autonomy and purpose. People want to make a difference, for their contributions to have an impact on others and not only serve to enrich themselves.
William Damon's message is similar to Pink's, but he writes about teenagers rather than adults workers.
Dr. William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford University, has written a book recently with a similar thesis, but in relation to adolescents, rather than employed adults. He had originally wanted to call this book, “The Age of Purpose”, but his publisher went with The Path to Purpose, to more accurately reflect that it is about helping children find their calling in life. Damon liked his own suggestion better, with its dual meaning referring both to adolescence as the time of identity and outlook formation and the post-what’s-in-it-for-me era we are entering. The book summarizes Damon’s research into what makes exceptionally successful adolescents tick, which turns out not to be the drive for a 4.0 GPA and admission to Harvard with a direct pipeline to Wall Street, but instead a desire to make a difference in the world and help others.
The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel
Writer, activist and academic, Raj Patel, has borrowed part of a quote from Oscar Wilde for the title of his latest book. Wilde said, “Nowadays, people know the price of everything but the value of nothing,” and Patel uses the final four words here to convey his thesis – that to our detriment, we have allowed market prices to set the value for everything in our world, and that to save our global system and collective sanity, we will need to make fundamental philosophical and political changes to our economies and financial systems. This book is meant to be a wake up call to the billions of us who have never really considered the true costs to our popular cultures and materialistic societies – and even our humanity – of the cheap goods that have enabled us to live so high off the hog for so long. (Click here to view the British version of the promotional film for The Value of Nothing, which is predictably more in-depth and less slick than the American version. If you are more in the mood for something slick, click here.)
If we are considering the question of who is really rich, then filmmaker Megumi Sasaki’s 2008 documentary on Herb and Dorothy Vogel provides an answer. Unless you are a New York art world aficionado, then you likely have not heard of this elderly Jewish couple living in a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan. Herb & Dorothy tells the story of how these two art lovers managed to amass a huge and very significant collection (more than 4000 pieces) of contemporary art on their public librarian and postal worker salaries. It is undeniable that the Vogels were acquisitive, and that they were supreme hoarders, which in and of themselves are arguably not the most laudable of traits. But what makes this forgivable, let alone fascinating, is that they collected all this minimalist and conceptual art simply for the love of it and to support the efforts of those who were making it.
Continuing to live simply in their old age with their pets, in their tiny, crowded apartment, the Vogels are very happy. The feel they are rich, because they have been enriched by the art and the relationships and experiences that have gone along with it. Herb and Dorothy never sold a single acquisition. They never made a penny off their collection. Instead, they donated it to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and to the American people and the world.
Whether it was the the art itself or the fortune they could have made by selling it, the Vogels, as wise as the Sages, knew they would not be able, as they say, to take it with them. Or, perhaps they were more familiar with the Yiddish maxim, “Burial shrouds have no pockets,” which means the very same thing.
© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.