Here's a help in understanding people

Some time ago I wondered aloud to a wise friend about what makes each of us--and our kids--tick?

Blog. Old woman. 8.22Her "Mayberry" answer came quickly. "Well, nobody does nuthin' for nuthin'--even kids."

Was that poor grammar? Sure, but don't miss the truth of it.  Every one of us, no matter our age, always has a reason for what we do--even when we don't admit it to ourselves:

We expect to get some kind of payoff

If you want to see that principle lived out, simply observe a young child in action.   

Nobody has to teach youngsters how to go after what they want. They're experts at it. After all, they have lots of time to study the grownups around them and figure out what works. 

I watched one skilled practitioner in The Art of Getting What I Want the day I was stuck in the returns line of a local store behind a mom and her daughter, age 4 or 5.

The bored little girl announced she wanted a toy perched atop the "Put Back" cart.

Mommy says "No," so the child begs and gets refused each time. Then she throws a classic hissy fit. 

Mommy stands firm: "No! You heard me. No!"

Little Darling screams, "But I WANT it!"

Mommy refuses to budge, so out come the tears and wails. Still no results.

Then comes the charm blitz. Sobbing, the preschooler sidles up to her mother and hangs on to her leg. "P-l-e-a-s-e, Mommy, Darling? Pretty please with sugar on it?" 

Mommy sighs, then says to the clerk in a resigned tone, "Just add it to the other stuff. Okay?"

Turning to her daughter, she says, "Now this is absolutely the last time! Do you hear me?"

At which this small master manipulator flashes a big grin to all of us, then skips around in circles until Mommy finishes.   

Tactics become more subtle by adolescence and adulthood 

Over the years we become more careful and diplomatic but we still do what we do for some kind of reward:

  • To get what we want--or to get our own way
  • Because we like the feeling of "winning"
  • To make us look good in someone's eyes
  • Because we hope it will strengthen a relationship
  • We believe in what we're doing. Whatever the cost, we think the end result will be worth what we put into it  

Motivation toward a goal or benefit is not wrong, it's just part of being human. To keep this principle in the back of our minds helps us to understand ourselves and others. 

If this sounds new and strange to you just let it simmer in the back of your mind. Some time later you may replay recent interactions with other people. You may have an aha moment and gain new clarity into an interaction that puzzled you. 

Self-honesty is hard, I know, but take it to the bank: Always, always, always, there is some kind of benefit in what we do--even if it's just self-satisfaction.  

For some, a negative payoff can feel "right" 

Perhaps you worry about someone who over and over seems to fall for a person who doesn't treat them well. You and everyone who cares remain baffled as to why.

Or you may know an individual who repeatedly starts afresh and seems on the way to succeeding. Then this person messes up and has to start over, again and again and again.


Counselors say it often traces back to messages they picked up as children such as: "You're no good." "You'll never make anything of yourself. You're a loser." "You're such a disappointment to me."  

These individuals may unconsciously sabotage their efforts in order to make those predictions work. For them failure feels like a kind of success because it reinforces what they've always "known" about themselves. "A-ha! I always knew I was a loser and didn't deserve to be happy."

Once again they settle back into familiar territory. It's what they've always known of themselves and feels somehow comfortable.  

What about the rest of us?

It's not childish to want and need some kind of reward, but we don't always get it. Then what do we do? 

  • Ever thrown a pity party for yourself and decided comfort could be found in a hot fudge sundae, even though you were on a diet? 
  • Ever nursed the feeling you do everything for everybody, but no one even notices? One day you come home with shopping bags--for yourself--and wonder why.
  • Ever picked a fight with your husband (or wife) just to get some kind of attention because you were tired of them being wrapped up in their stuff and ignoring you?  

We're more like kids than we want to admit.  

Finding a better way

We human beings never will have absolutely pure motives. As the Bible tells us, we are sinners, flawed and imperfect: 

As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one;   Romans 3:10

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  1 John 1:8

But God didn't leave us there.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   2 Corinthians 5:21

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.   Romans 5:1-2

We remain fully human and we fail even ourselves, but we don't have to drag around a load of guilt. Because we're forgiven in Jesus we can leave our messes at His cross and be free of old, negative patterns. Because we belong to Jesus we are secure in God's love.

Now that's somethin' that really means somethin'!

Rejoicing with you,


March 10, 2021


  • Thanks for stopping by. Hope you'll find a bit of a heart-lift here and be blessed.
My Photo

To E-mail Lenore

  • Write me at [email protected]
    Please identify yourself. Write, "A Woman's View reader" on the subject line. (I delete mail from unknown senders.)

About "Godly Moms: Strength from the Inside Out"

  • Order my book, "Godly Moms"
    I packed this book with pointers drawn from life as a mother of four. Short, down-to-earth pieces that flow from life as a Christian mother of four. An easy, quick read anytime that will leave you stoked for your calling.