When I was a high school teacher, I was very concerned with internal motivation:
I wanted my students to be internally motivated to agree to the choices I was giving them!
At the time, I didn’t see the irony. In fact, I saw myself as a progressive, compassionate teacher. A “cool” teacher. I placed my students’ interests first…as long as their interests fit with the choices I made for them, and could be measured according to the assessments I was forced to give.
Our students aren’t blind to this deception. The student who appears to the teacher as unmotivated, disruptive, unable to focus? That one is saying, “I will not be coerced to want what you want.”
And so, it is appropriate that the first key to unlocking your empathic intelligence takes this deception head on. For while the words “motivation and intention” appear rather benign and straight forward, they are actually subversive and revolutionary in the context of the dominant culture of learning and education. The question is not, “what are you being told to do?” The question is: “What is your motivation? What is your intention?”
The question is: what do you want, and why do you want it?
Because we are talking about empathy here, this question is not answered in the usual way. Empathy is about connection and relationship, and this question invites that connection with yourself. The way to hold this question is as a friend who asks and then patiently waits for an honest response.
Why are motivation & intention important? Two reasons.
First: the act of asking and listening to this question is an act of empathy.
Second: the kind of empathic intelligence I teach requires that a person have awareness of their motivations and intentions. When you are empathically self-aware, you will naturally orient away from externally motivated actions and towards your internal “yes!”
Motivation & Intention Practice:
As you go through your day today, ask yourself: “In this moment, what is motivating me? In this moment, what is my intention?” Like a good friend, after you ask the question, be patient and allow an honest response to arise. It is helpful to ask it a few times, moving from a more surface response to one that is closer to the heart.
As you become aware of your motivations and intentions through the day, there is no need to change anything or to make different choices, simply become aware of your response to these questions.
Enjoy cultivating this awareness of yourself. This is the practice of empathy.