I saw one of those motivational memes on Facebook the other day — you know the type, a series of Venn circles intersecting neatly (don’t get me started on the misuse of Venn diagrams) to inform me that my Purpose lies at the intersection of what I love, what I’m great at, what I get paid for and what the world needs. Nice. I couldn’t resist — the wag that I am — asking what if none of those separate sets intersect. It, of course, elicited a little lecture about how I could make it happen.


Then it struck me — what if they did intersect but in the wrong way? Suppose what I really love to do is kill people and I’m really good at it. I can certainly get paid to do it (millions do) and the latter fact implies the world needs it. I could insist it does even if the world proves reluctant. Parts of the world seem to need it all the time.

There you go. My purpose in life is to be a contract killer, a mercenary or , wait, a soldier. A fine purpose it is.

This may seems like a cynical little game to play with something that was undoubtedly meant to motivate me into working hard and being happy — maybe even being a creative life-affirming person. But motivation cuts both ways.

It is motivational lectures, exhortations, tricks that are used to recruit fighters to go and kill people in foreign wars. Maybe these fighters are called marines (best of the best of the best, sir!) going off to fight for the good guys (that’s us, in case the results aren’t always clear to you) or they could be called terrorists (that is, them and by them I mean IS who behead people on TV — as opposed to the Saudis (also us) who behead people in public but not on TV).  The point is: the tactics of motivation and subsequently the honing of PURPOSE into an honorable thing is a dangerous tool in anyone’s hands.

That’s why decisions to go to war should not be made behind closed doors — at least not in a democracy. This should not be matter of executive fiat or closed door Cabinet decision making. We are sending men and women into danger, we are sending them to do dangerous things, things that in the end may be — from a distance or from a different perspective — no different than the things we are sending them to stop.

War is not always avoidable; conflict with those determined to harm us or our way of life (even if some of us thing that way of life needs radical revision) is sometimes necessary. But it should be done with reason in command not with the rah-rah –rah of motivational speakers.

War should not be conducted by people who are better suited to run pyramid sales schemes — helping people see their purpose, when they should be helping them to see the greater purpose.

Who knew Venn diagrams could be so dangerous?

But that’s ten minutes.


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