Rewards and incentives

28 09 2015

The incentive theory of motivation suggests that we are motivated to engage in behaviors in order to gain rewards (Source: While rewards can be intrinsic and extrinsic, the most obvious way to motivate others is through offering extrinsic rewards. It doesn’t matter even if we are doing only the usual, ordinary things that we are anyways expected to do i.e. our duties,  the performance of which of course will have significant returns that we are interested in and care for – salary/wages for the work done, good job for the grades we get, facilities and protection for the taxes we pay,  better surroundings for the civic sense we display etc. These returns are usually long-term benefits, the value of which we can easily take for granted.  We need that quick gratification and encouragement – an occasional pat on the back, an appreciation for our work or good behavior, recognition for our achievements etc. to motivate us to keep doing all those things and in a better way. That’s how everything works. At workplace, managers and leaders routinely appreciate good work of the subordinates and recognize individual/group achievements through both monetary and non-monetary rewards. At school, teachers encourage good behavior, class participation and academic performance of students by giving badges, stars, and other forms appreciation and recognition. We crave and revel in them.

But what if we expect such extrinsic rewards for each and every deed of ours? What if we are addicted to them and are too needy? The result of such excessive reliance on extrinsic rewards is a condition called “codependency” (ill-effects: dampening of internal drive, always trying to meet others’ expectations), which obviously is very detrimental to one’s personal growth and happiness.

Now coming to the reason why I got onto this topic in the first place. My son. I expect him to spend some time – not much: could be as less as 15 minutes daily to start with (he is in 3rd grade) – regularly on his academics, but of course he resists and thinks that I’m overbearing. We have a difference of opinion there. I think that it’s the least he can do and one of his duties as a student. He obviously disagrees. One day, he advises me to offer him lots of rewards in order to motivate him to do his 10 minute study. Well, I was speechless.

I have a fundamental issue with this attitude. I believe that one doesn’t have a right to talk about or demand “their rights” unless they fulfill their duties. Duty precedes rights/rewards. Moreover, this goes against one of the basic tenets of The Gita – do not  focus or attach yourself to the results but rather to your deeds/efforts/duties. I strongly believe in this philosophy. While I understand that it’s not easy to completely ignore or detach oneself from the results, excessive focus on results will be ineffective and spoils the fun.

And then I heard Steven D. Levitt, one of the Freakonomics authors, pitching us to bribe our kids to try on tests in their new book – When to Rob a Bank, a collection of blogposts. His point is – kids can’t really be expected to be motivated by the long term benefits of education/academic performance. According to him, it would be more fruitful to offer them money before a test and take it back or not after the test based on their performance on the test. This way, the students would more likely to do well on their tests. And he genuinely puzzles over the criticism this brilliant idea of his generally garners. It works, doesn’t it??

We know extrinsic rewards work. We all need them – in one form or the other. But what is the tipping point, where its intended positive effects start to turn sour?? Well, do we even realize that there’s a flip-side to it, in the first place? Like everything in life, the reward system needs a balance. The society should understand this fact and promote a more balanced and healthy motivation system as part of its culture.


Anna Karenina

16 04 2013

It is a story of love and adultery. This masterpiece of Leo Tolstoy depicts upper class Russian lifestyle. Besides portraying the nuances of day to day life, it also captures internal monologue of various characters. It is with conscious effort and cajoling that I took up this bulky classic. Though I took much longer than I expected to finish the book, I must say that it’s an extraordinary read.

Anna Karenina is a remarkable woman, who falls in love with a young officer outside her marriage. Their saga of love and adultery continues in the midst of the conservative 19th century Russian society. The discrimination and scorn of the society at large coupled with her imaginative disloyalty of her lover finally gets to her and she commits suicide.

Adultery is a popular theme in literature (may be in life too ūüėČ ) and every time I come across it, I wonder. However much those involved in the affair condone it in the name of love or incorrigible conditions of their married lives, adultery can never be justified in the eyes of the society and is always judged harshly. (Of course, usually the woman is judged more harshly than the man.) It may be possible in certain cases that even a theft or a murder can be made allowances for, but I feel that adultery is always a source of intense shame (for those not insensitive enough) and beyond any excuses in the eyes of one and all. Does this signify that sanctity of marriage still holds big time or is it just a case of eccentric hypocrisy?

A few pearls of wisdom I noted down, towards the end of the book:

If goodness has causes, it is not goodness; if it has effects, a reward, it is not goodness either. So goodness is outside the chain of cause and effect.

In infinite time, in infinite matter, in infinite space, is formed a bubble organism, and that bubble lasts a while and bursts, and that bubble is Me.

Reason discovered the struggle for existence and the law that requires us to oppress all who hinder the satisfaction of our desires. That is the deduction of reason. But loving one’s neighbor reason could never discover, because it’s irrational.


18 04 2012

I’ve been coming across this issue on the Net and newspapers for quite a while now. Lots of discussions and heated arguments are being made on this and as I went through them, the issue seemed more and more intriguing.

As per my understanding, the term ‘Slutwalk’ was coined in Canada last year, where a police officer had commented that women could avoid sexual assaults by not dressing like sluts. Agitated women immediately held protest walks with attention grabbing title ‘slutwalk’ in Canada and then US. Marches in many other countries followed, including India. The issue gained instant popularity and controversy owing to its title and people all over the world indulged in discussing the issue. And incidentally, a similar kind of comment was made in India recently by two prominent people – a DGP and also a state minister. This ensued similar outrage in India.

When I first encountered this issue and read through various articles, I was convinced that slutwalk makes much sense. I even endorsed the need for it and tried to defend it in my arguments with people¬† both offline and online. But as I thought about it more and more and read different perceptions of people, I’m not so sure right now.

Basically, there are two different opinions about it:

  • Those comments make perfect sense and women should be careful about their dressing so as not to invite trouble. People who believe so argue that doing so doesn’t take away the blame from the offender or rapist. It merely advises women to be more careful. Analogies are also brought in, comparing women with revealing or provocative clothes to people exposing Rolex watch and full wallet in a dark alley, both¬† cases drawing unwanted attention resulting in possible crime.
  • Such comments take the onus of responsibility away from the offender and unfairly blames the victims.

I believe that the society (media, people at large, general collective psyche) by blaming the victim for rape is not considering rape as a serious offence unless severe physical injury is done. When the first question in a rape case is about the dress or morals of the victim, the rapist doesn’t feel guilty..

Some argue that talking about victim’s dressing doesn’t slight the offence. But I feel that that is not so. The prevalent notion is present no where in the spoken or written word, but still one can feel its vibe undercurrent if one cares.

Kalpana Sharma, in her article, states that “The current approach shall only result in giving potential rapists¬†the signal that they are excused from all responsibility¬†since it is for the victims to take care of themselves and ensure that they do not get raped.”

While I agree that not all rapes are done as a consequence of dressing provocatively ( as is evident by rapes of minors, old women, burqa clad women and the like), being the weaker sex (unable to defend oneself at times of sexual assault), women better be on the safer side.

But here comes the question – what does one mean by dressing provocatively? It’s highly subjective and may be the buqra covering from head to toe is the only plausible solution. Not that it would guarantee no rape or sexual assault incidents, but may be in that case, the blame will be shifted from the victims and rightly be placed on the perpetrators. But is it happening that way in the countries which impose burqa on its women?

The fact that rape happens even in cases where no provocation in any manner is involved, isn’t a very reasonable and logical argument for dressing less modestly, in my opinion.¬† But I feel the reason why the proponents of slutwalk make this point is not because they encourage women to be careless and invite trouble but because, all this dressing issue has deeper¬† implications and nuances.

An  interesting and stimulating discussion on Facebook reveals much about the opposing views: 

In particular, I felt that the following made much sense:

“Rape obviously, is much more violent, and a much greater degree of malice and ill intentions attributed to it. Why does that amount of malice get generated? Why does such an evil intent get formed so easily? It’s because of the psychology of rape, that it is permissible. The psychological causes of robbery and mugging can be easily traced, the cause of sexual assault, not so. It is only something that happens so easily because of the permissiveness attached to the concept of rape. Once men understand that it is NEVER okay to rape, then the issue of precautions does not arise.¬†

¬†“We’re still talking about whether it is right¬†or wrong to look primarily at the people sexually assaulting other people, instead of the people being assaulted. This prevention approach ALWAYS takes focus away from rapists. It has been doing so for years. Which is one of the reasons we need to switch lenses. FIRST look at why that man felt he could/why he wanted to force himself on someone and what you can do to change that. Then look at ways of helping women fight back while everyone works to make this an easier place to live in. Don’t ever say that it was her responsibility to ensure that she wasn’t sexually assaulted, because it isn’t. It is our responsibility as a society to bring kids up not to think that women are objects to penetrate and dominate at will, but people you never touch without consent.¬†You know why I think no one even talks about why men rape? Because its something everyone takes for granted as a regular part of our lives. Women get raped, its a fact of life, so all you can do is prevent it from happening to you. That won’t cut it, sorry. For as long as people’s reaction is “who asked her to get into a dangerous profession/drive her car late at night/wear skimpy clothes/drink at a bar” I have a problem. Call it what you want.”¬†

“What we rebel against is the idea, that women, because they are women, should somehow be expected to be on red alert all the time. Say that, and you are effectively saying that such men, are who they are, live with it. We cannot accept that. More importantly, we cannot allow that excuse for anyone. Maybe, on our own, we can choose to be more careful. But when we say it’s a responsibility, we’re offering a way out for those responsible for enforcing the rules. We’re splitting responsibility, and allowing a host of stupid notions to enter, and that is dangerous. Can we choose to be careful? Yes. Is it our bounden duty to be? No. It’s a fine distinction.

It is also a well known statistic that most sexual assaults happen not from strangers but from men in and around the family or social circle. And almost always, rape is not an impulsive act, it is usually planned well ahead. And in most cases, rape is more about power and domination rather than about sex. Quoting Kalpana Sharma again, “Those who commit such acts do not do it out of any form of compulsion or sudden provocation caused by the victim’s attire, but are in fact, motivated by their own perverse thought process. This thought process is bolstered by societal sanction and acceptance of sexual assault as routine, especially against ‚Äúimmoral‚ÄĚ women.¬†”

Coming to the analogy to mugging, say some valuables are stolen as a result of “provocatively” flashing them. The thief here and the rapist – are they treated the same way by the society in terms of blame put on them ( and not in terms of the seriousness of the offence, of which obviously the one committed by latter is¬† graver)?

But on the face of it, it’s sad and unfortunate that the victim has to prove her innocence (by not having dressed provocatively or not being with loose morals) before the offender can take the blame.

A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.

HENRIK¬†IBSEN,¬†From Ibsen’s Workshop¬†