Sunday, June 20, 2010


Part One in my series on Curiosity.

Why do we do anything?

I ate three hot dogs this week. I bought a Phoenix record. I ran twice. I got up early to watch the World Cup. I drank beer. I called my mom. I read about “Bloody Sunday.” I graded papers. I ignored a phone call. I DVR'ed the President and Glee. I watched one but not the other. I remembered a lost friend.

Why did I do any of this stuff? Seriously. What is the engine that drives human movement?

And how did I eat three hot dogs? Yikes.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be exploring why people do what they do. I'm interested in what moves us. I'll be examining myself and, if you freaky readers are into it, I'll be examining you.

I'll start this week with a list of concepts I'm playing with. Get in here if you've got ideas that I'm overlooking. Get in here!

I Blog America's Taxonomy of
“Why People Do Stuff”

The concept of INCENTIVE.
We love this one in our country. INCENTIVE is the prime mover. Desire + work = action. People don't do things altruistically. People do things to get something for themselves-- and all of us want things for ourselves. It's natural, baby. It's Adam Smith's economic psychology blended neatly with Thomas Aquinas' theological credibility; The Wealth of Nations' manifesto and the Quinque viae's undeniable elegance. All movement begins as the same force: to serve one's needs or desires.

The concept of SURVIVAL.
Here is Charles Darwin's contribution to the conversation. Not entirely distinct from the INCENTIVE argument, SURVIVAL boils things down to eating, reproducing, and running from danger/neutralizing danger. Keep the species, the relationships, the family, the business, the town, the country-- keep things going. Help things thrive and kill things that present danger. During a riveting episode of the BBC's Planet Earth, my tatooed, bearded, and reflective friend Brian eloquently observed that all of life is about four interjections: EAT! SCREW! RUN! KILL!

The concept of GUILT and SHAME.
Ok, I don't want to go to deeply into spirituality, religion, or psychology here. I have tremendous respect for all three and I recognize that the politics of these kind of conversations can often overshadow everything. And it's not to say that religion or psychology can be reduced to guilt or shame. But I would be remiss if I skipped the idea that we do things in order to avoid GUILT and SHAME. Here, we care less about what we want and more about avoiding what we don't want. We act in order to not feel bad.

Finally, my favorite concept of CURIOSITY.
Curiosity offers no unified theory. It's a messy idea, really. The CURIOSITY argument seems pretty easy to deny, actually: 1) the reason to do anything comes from curiosity and 2) people are curious because they want to understand the unknown. The deniability of CURIOSITY rests in the idea that, after childhood, our curiosity atrophies. I'm not sure we do very much to satiate our curiosity throughout the day. We don't investigate much, we don't explore much, we don't leave our comfort zones much.

We're not, actually, all that curious.

I mean, sure, we watch our celebrities or our politicians, we watch our children and our parents-- we are “curious” about some things. We want to know what's happening next door when the cops show up. We want to know what our best friend is doing at the hospital. We want to know what you will get me for my birthday in November. November 3rd-- just a heads up, people.

But we are not curious when we are eating three hot dogs. We are not curious when we call our moms. We are not even that curious when we are watching Glee or the President. We are not all that interested in understanding the unknown here. We're basically just being amused. Or irritated. But we're not being curious.

So why do I add it to the list of 'Why We Do Stuff?'

Because I suspect, in any effort to improve anything, CURIOSITY might be one of the most important and useful reasons to do act.


  1. Testing for comment problems. 'Cause people are having problems with this freakin' eblogger. Sorry for that.

    If you have trouble commenting because eblogger is making you crazy, then I suggest the following actions:
    1) yell at computer. it doesn't do anything but it can be fun to yell.
    2) have a drink. I suggest a white sangria. use a decent chard, cut up some oranges, peaches, and strawberries, add a splash of triple sec, and pour over ice.
    3) email me at or contact me at my facebook page: Michael Kleba

  2. If you mix all the above mess together; incentive, survival,guilt,shame and curiosity and add the absence of just might come up with self-awareness! In my opinion, human beings are motivated by their own baggage, life experiences, need to seek approval, guilt, shame, incentive and curiosity! Motivation evolves as we age. What motivated me at 30 is not the least bit important to me as I approach 60. In fact, my motivation is deeper, more spiritual and altruistic at this point in my life. I do not have the fear of rejection, disapproval or the need for acceptance that I had in my 30's. I have learned, through my life experiences to be "independent of the good opinion of other people." It's actually quite liberating not to work at approval.
    It seems true to me that people interpret their life experiences according to their core beliefs about life and the emotions that arise from those core beliefs. For example, feelings of disappointment relate directly to one's own feelings of guilt and inadequacy. All experience happens for only one reason: to expand awareness. My thought is it's not that people are not curious, they are fear-based. Fear is truly the absence of love and restricts us from achieving our true potential in life.

    One can approach life from two avenues:
    resistance or surrender. Resistance leads to suffering and surrender leads to bliss...resistance is rejecting our life experiences, they are our teachers and our guides. Surrender is acceptance of a bigger plan that urges each of us to act as a part of the whole. LEARN (it's a process!) to love ourselves before we can even attempt to love each other!

  3. Aside from curiosity we also let our imaginations get away from us as well. Adults don't really have the means or motivation to be creative and outgoing, I feel that it's society's fault for making everyone "grow up", fi childish acts and creative thoughts weren't frowned upon then we all might be alittle happier and the world might a more interesting place to live. I mean wouldn't it be fun if every friday the world would just stop working for an hour and everyone go out into the streets and just had a giant water balloon fight? or a giant slip-n-slide? I think that by doing this it would reduce stress, and by reducing stress people would be alittle healthier and happier. I mentioned somthing like this in my responses of course but I'm sticking by it.

  4. @Judith Herman (not to insult your intelligence in any way, I don't know who you are) Simply put, Maslow's Hierarchy of needs is what comes to my mind with your comment. You're getting older and are achieving greater levels in his pyramid

    @Kleba I might be nit-picking on semantics but I think your taxonomy can be summarized by your first point, incentive. Or is that what you mean to say with survival, guilt and shame, and curiosity as sub-headings. If the latter was your approach then disregard this. If not, please read on (though I know you'd do it anyway)

    Survival is an incentive. If we don't survive then we can't EAT! SCREW! RUN! KILL!.

    Guilt and shame... I perceived you writing this from the connotative perspective and what those connotations mean to people in terms of religion, spirituality, and/or psychology. I say eff that and avoid all the politically correct side-stepping by approaching it from the denotative perspective. Guilt seems to be a feeling similar to shame... the difference being is that guilt can be felt without anyone else knowing what you did wrong, where as shame comes from an outside source. Looking at these words in THIS way makes them excellent "incentivators" (I just made that up, how do you like it?) You don't want to make YOURSELF feel bad so you don't do the wrong thing. And you don't want other people making you feel bad so you don't do the wrong thing. (Which ties in with Geert Hofstede on a major level in terms of culture individual/community) Gosh my head is just gushing right now sorry... Where was I... Oh yes...

    Curiosity. Awesome incentive. Learning, doing something you've never done before, figuring something out for yourself... and the satisfaction that comes along with all of that. Great incentive.
    Without curiosity I probably wouldn't read this blog. There might be some guilt/shame. But it certainly wouldn't appeal to me as a means of survival.

    You ate three hot dogs not for survival but because they are delicious and you are a man who eats effing meat. Don't question. Just enjoy and devour.

    P.S. I don't get vegans. They make no sense to me.

  5. Also I just want you to know I don't wake up this early... I just haven't gone to bed so I apologize for the diarrhea of words and especially if they don't make sense.