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Motivation v Inspiration

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According to the founder of the Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in a recent lecture in Jakarta on ethics and business, there is a fundamental difference between motivation and inspiration. And the best way for corporate leaders to practice business ethics is not to motivate the employees but rather to inspire them. Because motivation relies on external factors (such as the promise of rewards and the incentive of personal gain) as such, it is short lived and unsustainable.

The motivation once fulfilled will be replaced by another form of dissatisfaction and so on in a never-ending cycle of want. The company ends up with a bunch employees that are almost always unhappy and certainly rarely giving their one hundred per cent.

Inspiration on the other hand comes from within - the desire to put one’s heart and soul into the company not because of greed or what one could get out of it while still employed there, but because one has a sense of belonging to the place and a sense of achievement when the company succeeds. Inspiration therefore, is key to the company’s lasting success.

This difference between motivation and inspiration interests me because the failure to practice good ethics in this country (from the top leaders all the way down to all levels of Indonesian society) is I feel precisely due to our over reliance on externalities to shape our ethical values and determine our actions. We do not act. We react. Leaders do not inspire. They blame. The majority of our people are over sensitive and easy to offend. They are not secure in their values and, like the high-maintenance spouse or employee, in constant need of reassurance, recognition and acknowledgment.

How does this over reliance on externalities affect the state of our ethics or lack of? Ethics are the moral principles that guide our behaviour. If our leaders and figures of influence display faulty ethics then we, the society as a whole will suffer and worse, be dragged into sharing the same view. We become an unethical nation. And our democracy is nothing more than the democratization of bad ethics.

Hence the plethora of uninspired rules and regulations and irrational reactions that we healthy-minded citizens have to put up with in this country. The examples are so many and ludicrous that they would be hilarious if only they remained a joke. For instance, in the Batu regency in a pathetic attempt to minimize prostitution, female masseuses are now required to put padlocks on their trousers so they cannot be tempted to offer their sexual services. This reflects a way of (Medieval) thinking that puts the blame on external factors for an inherent weakness - in this case prostitution is caused by female temptresses and their easy-access clothing.

Banning the religious sect Ahmadiyah as heretical (again reminiscent of the Inquisition and persecution of old), in other words in suppressing the minority by the majority, far from inspiring the faithful, what we have is a manifestation of fear, narrow mindedness and insecurity that ill become a religion that has the greatest following. It is a case of blaming others for one’s own lack of faith.

This desire to control (whether by closing down You tube and other attempts to censor the internet and public opinion), preventing musicians from singing songs critical of corruptors, suing the media and intimidating others, far from displaying power is merely a reflection of powerlessness borne of a lack of ethics. What after all are ethics if not the moral compass inherent in individuals with sound mind and good judgment - the compass that has nothing to do with religion and piety but has everything to do with wisdom and self-knowledge. And the understanding that real power comes not from the ability to control others, but to control the self.

That this country is rich in religion and yet poor in ethics is one of the reasons why our development as a nation is difficult to achieve and sustain. It is because of this that this country is cursed with a dearth of inspiring leaders, an overdose of lawmakers motivated by greed and religious leaders motivated by fear. When blame is still the way we strengthen our faith and greed or suspicion the source of our motivation, then our values rest on a very fragile foundation indeed. For it is a foundation based on ignorance and unless we lighten up as a nation (literally and in the sense of getting enlightened) we will find ourselves dragged back into the middle ages where women wore chastity belts and heretics burned at the stake.