Monthly Blog - April 2017

The Four Legs of the Table: The Central Motive Driving All Human Behavior

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“If you are more fortunate than others,
it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”

The Central Motive Driving All Human Behavior


April is upon us! Nature is giving way to greener pastures and the hardy plants are peeking their way through the cool soil here in the Midwestern U.S.

With spring now on the calendar, we look forward to wonderful outdoor activities with family and friends, enjoying all of the beauty nature has given us.

Over the past four months, this blog has discussed information formulating the symbolic legs of the table.

The four legs of the table symbolize the four principles of good manners.

The four legs are Trust, Respect, Love and Honor. It takes all four legs of the table to live a principled, well-mannered life. If one of the “legs” is missing or lacking, then our persona will be off-balance, just as a four-legged table with only three legs would be unbalanced.

This month, let’s discuss the surface of our symbolic table.
The surface of the table represents the one force driving all of human behavior.

In order to understand this powerful force, we look to Bertrand Russell.

A Most Lucid and Luminous Mind

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate.
At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist but he also admitted that he had “never been any of these things, in any profound sense”. He was born in Monmouthshire into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in the United Kingdom.

Russell presents the notion of the central motive driving all human behavior:

All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know only, or principally, their materials circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.

Human beings differ from other mammals in a few important ways: we have a thinking, analytical brain and we stand upright. Through our working brain, we have desires which are infinite, and which can never be fully gratified. For this reason, human beings may even be restless in heaven.

On the other hand, the boa constrictor, when it has had an adequate meal, will go to sleep and will not wake until he needs another meal.

Human beings, as far as one can tell, are not like this.

Jobs, families, cutting the lawn, etc. all get in the way.

Russell examines four infinite pieces contained within this complex trait known as desire.

The Four Parts of Desire: Acquisitiveness, Rivalry, Vanity, Love of Power

  1. Acquisitiveness: the wish to acquire as possible…goods or titles to goods. This may be a motive rooted in evolutionary psychology. Having or owning things gives us the false assurance that we are safe and sound in the world, that nothing will harm us. We will continue on in perpetuity because the things that surround us (home, auto, family) give us a sense of well-being and comfort.Whom among us has not suffered from a devastating illness or loss of a job, abandonment of a family member, death of a loved one? These life experiences shake our world and change us in ways we cannot imagine. Yet our material things do not prevent difficult life issues from happening.However much you may acquire, one will always wish to acquire more. The condition of being completely and wholly gratified is a dream which may always elude you.
  2. Rivalry: Competition, the state or character of emulation, to be a competitor [1605]. Russell describes this elemental driver known as our propensity for rivalry.The world would be a happier place than it is if acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry. But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete ruin for their rivals.
  3. Vanity: Rivalry, according to Russell, is only upstaged by human narcissism.  He remarks:Vanity is a motive of immense potency. Anyone who has much to do with children knows how they are constantly performing some antic, and saying “Look at me.” “Look at me” is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart. It can take innumerable forms, from buffoonery to the pursuit of posthumous fame.In today’s world, vanity can be viewed daily through electronic media platforms. People tweet and text outrageous messages in an effort to keep their bucket of vanity full.

    It is scarcely possible to overestimate the toxic influence of vanity throughout the range of human life, from the child of eight who scratches her fingernails on the table, to the grownup, whose frown and mean rhetoric makes the world tremble.

  4. Love of PowerLove of Power could well be the most potent of the four impulses, according to Russell.Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power…some people prefer glory to power, but on the whole these people have less effect upon the course of events that those who prefer power to glory…. Power, like vanity, is insatiable.

    …Even complete omnipotence [can’t] satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed…the strongest motive in the lives of important men.

    The love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to…[monarchs, rulers and leaders].

    Russell was a thinker of exceptional sensitivity and consciousness to the dichotomies of life. While love of power can be a potent negative driver, it can also be the springboard to discovery of knowledge and scientific advancement.

This powerful force called desire is a human trait that our brain constantly assimilates, no matter our position in life. We have a tendency to always desire more or better or different. The human condition is imperfect and complex.

In “Reflections on My Eightieth Birthday” (“Postscript” in his Autobiography), Russell wrote: “I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social. Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is gentle; to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times. Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created, where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I believe, and the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken”.

How are your desires impacting your life?

Are you using acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity and love of power for good? Honest goodness for you, goodness for your family, goodness for your co-workers, your neighbors?


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Remember: Share your goodness, far and wide, as much as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, with as much respect as you can.

Ready, Set…Time to Say Please and Thank You again.

COMING NEXT: The Anatomy of Truth and how it Relates to Manners