Motivated by guilt or by love?


Recently I was talking with someone about the heavy sense of burden they feel to take care of others. Like many of us, this person was overwhelmed by the many things they "had" to do, and the many demands of people they "had" to care for, to please, or to prioritize above their own needs.  Our sense of duty and obligation as members of a family and/or a community can be extremely strong, and are a part of being human.

When I ask people what motivates acts of duty or obligation, many times their answer is "guilt."  Inevitably, when guilt is the main motivator for duty, we feel resistant and resentful - and in the end this separates us from the person or community we care for. 

I like to encourage people to examine their motivation before taking a dutiful or obligatory action.  If we are being motivated by guilt, then I believe we ought to take the time to consider why we feel guilty. Are we being manipulated to care for someone else?  Are we feeling that we are not good enough unless we are constantly caring for and taking responsibility for others? Are we being pressured to do things we don't want to do at the expense of our own needs?  If our answer to any of those questions is "yes", then reconsider taking that action. 

By no means am I saying we should never have to do something we don't really want to do, or take action out of obligation or duty.  A meaningful life with intimate and loving relationships is going to include many actions of obligation.  What I am aiming for is to encourage people to base their sense of duty within a place of love. When we are dutiful within the framework of love I don't believe we have the same sense of burden. We may be tired, or even exhausted by taking care of our own needs and then the needs of others.  But, when we are motivated by love, we don't carry a sense of resentment or bitterness.  There is instead, a sense of freedom, fulfillment, and maybe even joy.