It’s Ulterior!

June 14, 2023

“There are always two reasons for doing a thing: One is a good reason, and the other is the real reason.”  --Mrs. Walter Helm, quoted in “Ulterior Motives” by Dr. Iskra Fileva in Psychology Today

 Ah, would that it were a black and white world, with pure, singular motivations for doing what we do!! It’d be so simple to know that Dr. Evil is always up to no good, right? And Paula Perfect eternally acts in others’ best interests just because she cares?

But alas, this is reality, guys. And, more often than not, we humans operate on several levels, in our thoughts and our actions too. Of course I offer my sweet-toothed grandson Peter the last brownie, ONLY because I want him to be happy! It has NOTHING to do with the fact that I want to get that chocolatey temptation off my own plate! 

See what I mean?

The same goes for my writing career. Do I write for the money? Yes, and no. I will say that it is not my primary motivator. I write a decent amount for little to no compensation, especially when it’s in service to a cause I believe in. Indeed, if it were just all about the Benjamins, I’d be a neurosurgeon instead! Or a barista!

Do we dress up for a special date in a four-star restaurant because we are eager to flaunt our fancy outfit? Or do we do it because we want to show our appreciation for the treat? Both? Do we help that little old lady across the street because, as my Mom would say, “we’ll get our crown in Heaven”? Is it because we realize that our fate is to BE that little old lady someday, and we hope some kind younger soul will guide US across Roosevelt Boulevard in the future? Or is it that she’s walking so darned slowly in front of you that you’re going to be late for work if you don’t speed her along?

It's complicated.

The French phrase for ulterior motive, arrière pensée, can be literally translated as “behind thought.” Like many French phrases, using the literal translation in English makes you sound weird. “Avoir le cafard” means “being down in the dumps”, but you’re really saying you’re “having the cockroach.”

I digress.

Having hidden intentions, ulterior motives, is normal, and not necessarily nefarious. I would argue that very few of us are always, and solely, acting from a rarefied place of total selflessness and loving kindness. Deeeeep down, we are often asking “What’s in it for me?” This is why the Nature Conservancy sends us sheets of address labels with pretty bluebirds on them, absolutely free. Yes, they’re a fabulous organization, but they also hope we’ll use one of those snazzy labels to mail them a hefty donation!  

I want to believe you’re reading my blog right now because you love my writing, NOT because you’re procrastinating about emptying the dishwasher. I know better—but hey! I’ll take it!


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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