On one hand, the thought of consequences can be enough to deter me from acting poorly. On the other, if I fail to “feel” the potential consequences, how can they really deter me from anything? The same can be said about positive consequences. An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work is appealing, in theory. If I do a good job at what I do, then I will be appropriately compensated. However, if I cannot discern between a hard day’s work and a shoddy day’s work both leading toward a paycheck, how can I be sufficiently motivated to put more than the minimal effort required to maintain a job? Thus, I am often skirting the line in all of my daily functions; I put in the minimal amount of effort, or restraint, needed to achieve a pleasant outcome. This can be dangerous as I am always teetering on the boundary between reward and punishment.
There are many reasons to behave in a pro-social manner. Some do it because they believe in a cohesive body that extends beyond their own. Some may find benefit, such as financial success through entrepreneurship, by appealing to others with their acceptable behavior. Some, like me, are more inclined to act pro-socially as the alternative is to face some sort of negative consequence. This can be extraordinarily difficult at times. I intellectually realize that such consequences would be detrimental, but I have not experienced them, in general, so how can I attach that intellectual knowledge to a vigilant mental state? If I can constantly avoid important family matters or obligations to friends, yet they still stick around and give me the support and resources that I want, then what use is the intellectual knowledge that they could abandon me? What I don’t perceive firsthand does not affect me in the moment, so why would I waste my energy in acting pro-socially versus apathetically?
It could be more than apathy, though. Can I not save energy and escape negative consequence? Sure, I could go to that engagement that I agreed to, but I could also sleep in and craft an excuse regarding my absence. If there is no punishment and the weak-willed around me continue to avoid giving such punishment, then what motivation is there to fear such consequences, even if I realize that they, theoretically, can exist? An honest day’s work guarantees pay. However, if a dishonest day’s work nets me pay as well, then what point is there is going over the top?
I restrain myself out of fear of negative consequence, but in the absence of the realization of such consequence, I restrain myself less than I could. Eventually this could burn me. What has no teeth may still be hiding a knife.
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