On Motivation and Choice

On Motivation and Choice

If you haven’t come across Taylor Mali’s words yet you are missing out. In 2007 he performed spoken word poetry that went viral on YouTube. In it he criticizes his generation for speaking in question marks and failing to commit to anything. He ends by saying “it is not enough these days to simply question authority, you have to speak with it to.”

What has changed since then? For any of us that have children or work with young people it may seem they are as disengaged as ever. They stare at their screens, still speak in riddles and grunts and spend their time using social media we don’t always seem to understand. But just because it is not always apparent how they connect it does not mean they are not doing it.

Some of our young people have mobilized and fought for change in the last few years. Technology has made it easier to get behind a cause, organize, spread information (and misinformation) and join a movement. The best example of a teen-led movement has been March for Our Lives, founded after the tragic shooting in Parkland, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to address gun violence. According to their website:

Millions came together for the largest global protest in history to remind the world that young people have the power to drive real change. Every day since March 24th, 2018, we have been expanding our coalitions and working with new advocates in order to create a movement that ends the violence and elects morally just leaders into office. We will not stop our advocacy until we see the change we demand.

In many colleges today students are bombarded by causes to stand for and injustice to fight. Our world is full of beauty but also needs a lot of mending. So how do they choose? Well many don’t. It has become so easy to like a post or share a photo that activism has been reduced for many to something that is now called ‘Slacktivism’. This is a pejorative term for showing support for a cause in the most convenient way with actions that have little effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed. To be less cynical, maybe it is difficult to have an impact when there are so many paths to choose from. To truly make a mark you must choose one thing and stick to it. This can be an excruciating choice in a world that is constantly showing us more and more things we should care about. How do you know you are investing in the right path?


Avram Alpert recently wrote an article titled “The Good Enough Life” putting a spotlight on the notion that making a choice might be more important than making the best choice. It is about living with contradictions and ambiguity. He makes the case that if we ever achieve a balance with each other and with the natural world “it will not be because we have achieved greatness, but because we have recognized that none of them are achievable until greatness itself is forgotten.”

In the many discussion gap students have here at Glen Brook it is all too easy to get lost in thought. What is the ‘right way’ to preserve the natural world? What is the ‘best’ system for living together and engaging with each other? Teens love exploring possibilities but like many of us have trouble making concrete statements about their core values and belief. Everything is important, everyone has all the rights and all of the world must be in harmony, animals, nature and human.

It is in living together in a house, sharing meals, planning together, cleaning, cooking, snoring at night where they learn to make ‘good enough’ choices. Choosing personal projects or an apprenticeship, making choices in the moment when camping or hiking forces them to develop the important skill of making a choice and sticking to it. Having to make real life choices, confront each other and the world in genuine ways, helps us develop the ability to navigate the grey areas and choose. Not to make the best choice, but to make a ‘good enough’ choice and to see it through.


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