The following is a free-flowing essay I wrote in May of 2009 after reading a post from a friend of mine on facebook which included a discussion on the effects of motivation. It turned out to be about a lot more. While I've thought about the topic very much since writing this piece perhaps it is of some use to stimulate thought and discussion. (The original post is here).
The question you raise about motivation is interesting. It seems to me that there are cases in which motivation has actual consequences, and they are particularly evident when the sphere of action is complex. Giving to a charity is an extremely simple form of action that one can engage in. And in today’s world of reducing everything to commodities the question is unfortunately rarely raised as to where/how the money came from/about. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we somehow ‘track’ motivations to money and only accept those which pass some kind of ‘test’. It just seems to me that even at this simple level, however, the motivation has a spiritual effect on the one who performs the deed and on society (e.g. directly or indirectly reinforcing particular motivations and/or contributing to the casting aside of sacredness). This idea requires further elaboration and thought.
In more complex forms of action, motivation can have more tangible, short-term effects. For example, a teacher who is motivated solely by their paycheck will likely teach differently than one who is motivated to engage students in an individually and socially transformative process. My discussion assumes that the purpose of education is more along the lines of the latter. Unfortunately, neoliberalistic approaches to solving problems reduce everything to the paycheck and depend on “getting the incentive structure right.” But how do you get the incentive structure right for an inherently creative and transformative process?