Motivation and Excellence

In our post-Freudian world view, it is conventional to assume that a person’s actions and obsessions today play out motives that were seeded years ago, in his childhood or adolescence.  So when we seek to understand a person’s behavior, especially when we find it alarming or simply unfriendly to ourselves, we speculate about his relationship to his father or her early experiences with loss.  And even when the behavior is harmless, such as a scientist’s obsession with finding a link between a gene and a disease or a friend’s obsession with bird-watching or growing African violets, we ask what childhood episode explains the current behavior.  Thus we reduce magnificence to manageable triviality; Monet is not a great impressionist who rethought the basic premises of art but a man who was merely nearsighted; Dickinson was not a great poet who dedicated her life to rethinking the forms and subjects of poetry but an agoraphobic spinster who was disappointed in love.  The crudity of such explanations is a symptom of our own obsessions rather than of hers.

Go to the Motivation and Excellence page for the full essay.

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