I have a clear recollection that when I was younger, I was really troubled by the possibility of doing good but with motives that were not themselves clearly good.
“What if part of the reason I’m being kind to others is because I like being seen as kind? Is that still good?”
“What if part of the reason why I’m praying before bed is because I know it helps me fall asleep? Isn’t that terrible?”
Can we ever know that our motivations are pure? I’m sure these perplexities came from a commendable desire to be authentic or something of the sort, but I have reached a place now where these aren’t so concerning to me.
I think it is worth it to accept the mixed motivations that can help carry us down the path to becoming the people we want to be.
Let’s focus on the people we’re becoming and the ways we want to spend our time. It’s hard enough to develop those virtuous habits. Why worry about the motivations when in the end, motivation will fall away and all that will be left is the habit.
Even some motivations that might seem a bit awful could have a place on the road to virtue.
“I’ll show him! Next time it won’t go the same way, I can tell you that.”
“Oh, if I can do this they are going to hate it, they’ll be so jealous, and they’ll have to stop saying those things about me.”
“You know what, not only would this make me look more impressive, it could save me some money too!”
There’s a place for mixed motivations. Let’s just make sure we have at least a small amount of good motivation mixed in with the more shameful reasons.
Without some real desire for virtue mixed in, we probably won’t become actually more virtuous. We also aren’t as likely to succeed, if my experience is any guide.