Positive or Negative Motivations
So I often am trying to get this point across to Evangelicals who want to discuss Mormonism. “Your motivations and manner of presentation matters.” I’d like to provide some evidence. I’m including an excerpt from a book forwarded to me.
Do you remember the puzzle books that we got when we were children? There might be connect-the-dots puzzles and find-the-differences puzzles. No doubt whoever was looking after us at the time hoped it would take many quiet hours for us to join the dots or find the differences between the two almost identical pictures. Sometimes, there’d be a maze—a labyrinth—and our task would be to draw a way out without taking the pencil off the page.
Some years ago, psychologists used a similar maze puzzle in an intriguing experiment with college students. A cartoon mouse was shown trapped inside a picture of a maze, and the task was to help the mouse find the way out. There were two different versions of the task. One was positive approach-oriented; the other was negative or avoidance-oriented. In the positive condition, there was a piece of Swiss cheese lying outside the maze, in front of a mouse hole. In the negative condition, the maze was exactly the same, but instead of the Swiss cheese feast at the finish, an owl hovered above the maze, ready to swoop down and capture the mouse in its talons at any moment.
The maze takes less than two minutes to complete, and all the students who took part in the experiment solved their maze. But the contrast in the aftereffects of working on different versions of the maze was striking. When the participants later took a test of creativity, those who had helped their mouse avoid the owl turned in scores that were fifty percent lower than the scores of students who had helped their mouse find the cheese. The state of mind elicited by attending to the owl had resulted in a lingering sense of caution, avoidance, and vigilance for things going wrong. This mind-state in turn weakened creativity, closed down options, and reduced the student’s flexibility in responding to the next task.
This experiment tells us something very important: the same actions (even something as slight as solving a simple maze puzzle) has different consequences depending on whether it is done to move toward something we welcome (activating the brain’s approach system) or to avoid something negative (activating the brain’s avoidance system). In the maze experiment, aversion was triggered by something as minor as the sight of a cartoon owl. It led to reductions in exploratory, creative behaviors. This is dramatic evidence that the avoidance system can narrow the focus of our lives, even when triggered by a purely symbolic threat. Moreover, this experiment points to the critical importance of the kind of motivation that we bring to the cultivation of mindfulness in our practice. If we can infuse our attention to our bodily experience with the approach qualities of interest, curiosity, warmth, and goodwill, then not only will we be in greater touch with sensations and feelings in each moment, we also will be directly countering any effects of aversion and avoidance that may be present.
The reason I think I would want some of my Evangelical friends to learn this, is because they often lack a viewpoint of “Holy Envy”, the term described by the late Krister Stendahl, of anything other than their own interpretation of the Bible. I have no problem with Evangelicals coming to, thinking the whole time, and leaving the discussion with the firm conviction that their interpretation is the best and the right one. It would just be nice, if when they approach our viewpoints, they at least try and find some positive, instead of only emphasizing the negative.