Sunday, July 08, 2007


I just finished watching House, last episode actually (so if you don't want spoilers, don't read this.)

The final conversation between House and Foreman struck me (I identify with Foreman.)
    Foreman stops by to say goodbye to House.

    FOREMAN: Well, this is it. I appreciate the opportunity you gave me.

    HOUSE: Didn't do it for you. Thought you were the best guy for the job.

    FOREMAN: Thanks. I guess.

    HOUSE: Which is why I want you to stay. [takes a deep breath] You're an important part of the team, I need you.

    FOREMAN: I know. But I don't need you, and I definitely don't want to be you — You're miserable.

    HOUSE: I just solved a case by predicting a never-before-seen heart defect. Case you couldn't solve. Case you gave up on. I couldn't be happier.

    FOREMAN: For two minutes maybe, until the next case comes along, until you're jonesing for your next fix. This woman talks while in full cardiac arrest and you're more excited about the talking than the heart dying.

    HOUSE: The two were connected.

    FOREMAN: I don't want to solve cases, I want to save lives.

    HOUSE: Do you think she cares? Do you think the husband cares? Do you think the children she can now have because of me are going to care why I saved her?

    FOREMAN: I care.

    HOUSE: About yourself. About your own ego! ...You're the selfish bastard, not me.
And here's what I was thinking- I've always thought that people need to care. That their motives should be somewhat pure (amusing, I just reread this and thought, who am I to decide caring equals a pure motive? How judgemental and subjective!) But say you're someone like House, who likes puzzles and solving them, who believes that "nice tries don't count," only solutions do. He gets the job done. He doesn't give a damn, but he helps. He's right when he says Foreman has his own ulterior motive. Foreman wants that nice feeling that he's helped somebody; he cares but of course he wants appreciation from the patient in return for that care. So who is Foreman to judge House? How can Foreman see himself as superior? Perhaps it is only the results that matter. Can that be possible?

It's the same question I've asked myself when it comes to the musical Wicked.
    One question haunts and hurts
    Too much, too much to mention:
    Was I really seeking good
    Or just seeking attention?
    Is that all good deeds are
    When looked at with an ice-cold eye?
    If that's all good deeds are
    Maybe that's the reason why

    No good deed goes unpunished
At least for me, I know my motives are usually not pure. I like attention (you know that by now.) I like praise, I like compliments, I like flattery, although in truth, you could compliment me till you're blue in the face and it won't matter; it won't make an impression- the only words I really crave are from the people I respect the most. I believe this is true of most of us- we work for praise from the people we admire and respect. That's what matters to us...

But here's the thing: suppose I do the good I do for these ulterior motives, for the reward, per se. Who can claim I ought to work toward doing them selflessly, for no reward and for no gain? Perhaps God can say this. But man? Who am I to judge? And who is another to judge me?

If House likes his puzzles and helps people that way, and Foreman has to feel a personal, caring connection to the patient and helps people that way- perhaps they can both be right.

Don't get me wrong; I really hate this idea. I'd like to be proven wrong. I'd like someone to prove to me that people must and ought to care. But after that scene, I don't think it's fair for me to hold others to that supposedly higher standard (and again, I suddenly realize it's only higher in my mind!) So long as he arrives at the results and helps out, who is to judge? I might prefer House to care. But can I say he ought to; it's his obligation?

Unfortunately not.

And the truth is, Foreman has his ulterior motive, too, within his caring; it's simply nicer and prettier than House's. He wants the high of having solved the case to help the patient; he wants the reward of feeling he's helped somehow.

How sad these realizations are for me; strangely, I felt House was yelling at me and telling me I was the selfish bastard and I realized he was right and couldn't defend myself.

What are your thoughts on motives?


    Ezzie said...

    I think you could guess my answers, but perhaps not. I think I'm a bit of both: All the wonderful motives in the world often don't matter if it isn't done right; while doing it right loses a lot of its effect if the motives are wrong.

    These ideas are important in just about every facet of life, so keep them in mind. :) Just remember that different situations call for different balances...

    Irina Tsukerman said...

    Obviously, the BEST thing if it's done RIGHT for the RIGHT reasons... but I'd rather see things done RIGHT for the WRONG reasons, than all the good intentions ending up in a disasters. (And as they say, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" - probably because all too often people think they know what's for the best and assume that what's best for THEM is also best for other people).

    Rebecca said...

    I agree with Irina. And I'll add this: I believe that it's a certain madreiga that people must have to act selflessly. I also think that this is something that comes with age--as life goes on, we grow older and realize that the world does not revolve around us. When we are not recognized for a certain good we do, do we continue to do good anyway? Or do we wallow in self-pity until someone encourages us to continue? This is the ultimate level of chessed--doing something and expecting nothing in return. But like I said, it's a madreiga that comes with age. Age because age teaches us how we are all part of a whole, and not individual peices. Age because age teaches us that recognition is not necessary to do good in the long run. But who am I to talk? I'm just a college student with b'ezras Hashem many years in front of me and much more "age" to acquire. Is it really age? I'd like to say yes, because ultimately the wisest people (note my choice of words) are older than the young. Perhaps, Chana, you can throw a quote in for me from Tanach to support my point :-).

    But above age, I don't think that good deeds come automatically to us, particularly when they are devoid of appropriate praise. It takes time, patience, and a lot of humbleness (not only age!) to achieve such a level. I know I'm not there yet.

    But in the meantime, I agree with Irina. Better to do good with wrong intentions than do to bad with good intentions. And here is a quote from Chazal to support that:

    "Mitoch shelo ba lishma, ba lishma."

    Hopefully, dear Chana, we will achieve that wonderful level where we can do good simply for the sake of doing good. B'ezras Hashem :-).

    Miri said...

    I'd like to focus on your subjectivity point; that is to say, who says that Foreman's motive is any more pure than House's motive? Because in the end, helping people out, even for the sake of doing good, should not be done for the sake of the warm mushy feeling you get. It should be done because it's the right thing to do. If something is the right thing to do, and two people recognize that from two different and perhaps equally selfish motivations, than the point is that the thing gets done, not why they wanted to do it. Honestly? You may prefer Foreman, but I'd put my fate in House's hands any day.

    Mordy said...

    I agree with Miri. I actually think that House does things because it is the *right* thing to do. Frequently, even when it isn't about "solving the case" he still demands that the *right* thing be done. And it's because he has an innate sense of right and wrong. Not because he wants to feel warm and fuzzy. Or because he thinks it makes him look good.

    There's some episode that proves this definitively, but I can't recall it at the moment. But I do remember watching an episode and thinking - wow. He's one of the good guys.

    Stubborn and Strong said...

    I could promise you, when you enter into chesed project i mean big one like Foreman's job, praise and mushy feeling won't make you commmited to that job. It is all up to you at the end of the day. Here is my opinion: Foreman is NOT selfish because he said he did not want to be like House who don't "care" the patient, Foreman don't like the idea to be cold to the patient, he may thinks that patients may want doctors to invovled in thier lives not separated like House. I think when House says to Foreman that Foreman is selfish, because House wants to cover up on his weakness which is actually dealing with patients meaning human emotion. Remember House have a huge ego, pride so by showing weakness to other people will kill his ego. He have to insult to other people to cover up his weakness.

    Chana said...

    My dear people, you are sentimentalizing what Foreman feels when he saves a patient. It is not "warm mushiness." It is deserved pleasure in having helped.

    House is sometimes one of the good guys, and sometimes he's completely cold. It alternates..

    Chana said...


    But who determines what these supposedly "right" reasons are?

    That's my whole problem... there are no "right" reasons. What makes selflessness right? I don't think of it as a goal...

    Chana said...

    In fact, my comment re: Irina applies to Miri and Mordy as well- where are you getting this "right" and "wrong" terminology from?

    I'm finding that it's simply not applicable anymore.

    Tobie said...

    Well, where do we get all this "ought to" talk, for that matter? What exactly do you mean "ought" House to care? House, who seemingly denies all talk of morality in the conversation is simply offering a different definition- morality is results. You have a moral obligation to save as many lives as possible. In that sense, House does care- deeply cares- just not about any personality-related aspect. How is that a less morality-based opinion?

    Of course, House may be interested only in the intellectual thrill and simply be throwing the results argument at Forman to win the argument. Would not put it past him. But his general behavior seems to indicate that he is not in the game simply for kicks.

    But of course, your real question is 'what if he were just doing it for the thrill? Is that still moral?' And my answer would probably be that it indicates that he is not a particularly good person, because he cares only about his own intellectual stimulation. However, there's no reason to assume that most people are all that much more moral- working for money, warm fuzzies, whatever isn't that much better. In fact, probably the most moral motive is the one that I think House really has: results.

    Wow, reading that over I note that it was disorganized, repetitive, and unhelpful. But it took too much time to just delete, so I'm going to post it anyway, with apologies in advance.

    Rafi G. said...

    everybody has reasons for doing what they do. there is always a bit of selfishness in what we do. If not, we would not do most of the things we do. We need to feel a sense of satisfaction. It keeps us going.

    Rare is the deed that is purely altruistic.

    The chachomim destroyed the desire for idol worship. they wanted to destroy the desire for "arayos" as well. they decided not to because they realized that without having the desire, the world would go to waste, as people would stop having relations and stop having children. If there is no personal satisfaction, most things would not be done.

    Irina Tsukerman said...

    Well, in the context of the post, the "right" reasons are pure and altruistic, while the wrong reasons are entirely selfish. Unfortunately, in historical context, you can find that quite often the most unselfish of motivations - to make life better for the less fortunate and disenfranchised - has often led to disastrous results, while actions often motivated by self-interest have frequently resulted in progress in many areas.

    Chana said...

    Exactly- that's my point- there really is no "right" or "wrong" reason. Why should it be right to be selfless?

    Who made that "right?"

    Religion, perhaps...

    (Oh, I'm being so Randian now. I love her; it's amusing to apply her.)

    Irina Tsukerman said...

    Perhaps religion, and perhaps it's something less profound, like culture and social values, which do change... I have to wonder sometimes, whether that feeling of guilt for not being selfless in one's motives comes from other religions, perhaps. After all, in Judaism, there's so much more emphasis on action than on thought.

    Chana said...

    Oooh, I disagree there- thought and intention is huge in Judaism- that's the whole idea of an ir Miklat; what was your intention when you murdered the man- intentional or an accident? And that is the only difference made, but it is an important one...

    Nevertheless, you have a point, where do you find selflessness in Judaism? Not in the Torah itself, which certainly lists rewards and punishments for one's actions, even if those are mere motivators and not the end goal.

    I determined long ago that I shan't feel guilty for not being selfless; it happens to be that I work for certain things, say attention; if so, let me channel this positively and it'll all work out well.

    I almost wonder whether I believe in selflessness- what kind of person are you if you can work for absolutely no reward? If something is the "right thing" in your mind, then you are still working for the goal of doing the right thing and the happiness and satisfaction that will ensue mentally; if you work for nothing at all, you're a mere automaton, aren't you?

    And surely no one wishes to grow up to be a machine.

    Anonymous said...

    Much as I dislike analyzing ficticous personalities, there is a new comic so...

    It seems to me that the difference between approaches is not a matter of one being better/nicer/righter than the other but more of one being safer than the other.

    The approach taken by House has a built in dark side that if not held in check could prove highly detrimental to both himself and his patients.

    Could be that is why his character has chosen to surround himself with people like Foreman, they present a voice that he knows is not present in his own mind but can be neccesary from time to time.

    Anonymous said...

    "where do you find selflessness in Judaism?"


    Chana said...

    Yibum: that's debatable, I think. After all, chalitzah is attached for precisely that reason; one needn't go through yibum- so the Torah does not demand selflessness.

    Also, who says that someone who does actually go through with yibum is selfless? If he goes through with it, maybe-

    1. He loves his brother's wife (well, we hope)

    2. He wants everyone to think he's a good person and a good Jew

    3. He's forced into it because he can't deal with the public shame of chalitzah (for whatever reason)

    4. He loved his brother very much and will endure this marriage simply to build up his progeny (in which case, he's doing this for himself, because of his own desire to somehow connect to his brother)

    Yes, ideally Yibum is selfless and one does it for one's brother, but practically is it really selfless? And would we want it to be? Who would want the man to marry the woman if he doesn't love her? Who would want this awful marriage?

    (On another note, I like your personality idea re: House)

    Anonymous said...

    Yibum: that's debatable, I think.


    Chana said...

    You know, your sarcasm is unappreciated.

    Anonymous said...

    1. He loves his brother's wife (well, we hope)

    --I have to look this up but I believe that if this is suspected then Yibum is not an option, it must be done l'shma.

    2. He wants everyone to think he's a good person and a good Jew

    --Possible but not likely given the weight of the responsibility. That is alot to do just to look good.

    3. He's forced into it because he can't deal with the public shame of chalitzah (for whatever reason)

    --See 2.

    4. He loved his brother very much and will endure this marriage simply to build up his progeny (in which case, he's doing this for himself, because of his own desire to somehow connect to his brother)

    --Fair point.

    I still believe that all of the above are case specific and do not reflect on the textbook definition of Yibum, which seems to be highly selfless when taken as a stand alone law. Anything can be made into a selfish act (both positive and negative), that is not up for debate. The question if there is anything that if done strictly by the book has no selfish component to it.
    --in some cases Kibud Av/Em may fit, however not as a general rule.

    Anonymous said...

    You know, your sarcasm is unappreciated.

    Uh-Oh...**door slams***, ***engine turns over***, ***tires squeel***

    Irina Tsukerman said...

    Hmm, I think of criminal motives as a separate category, almost... although sometimes even motives that intend to help lead to crimes and serious crimes being committed. However, when someone is deliberately planning a crime, that's unacceptable from the start... which is why I was thinking more in terms of the reward/punishment category you mentioned.

    Chana said...

    So let me get this right-if you're correct-

    God said that a man should marry a woman he doesn't love and (I'm assuming?) he isn't supposed to be attracted to simply in order to build up his brother's progeny?

    This seems deeply illogical given the way in which God also says that one cannot hate one's wife/ if one does hate one's wife, one cannot show it and must treat her the same as he would a wife he loved/ how could God ever sanction/ command that one must take a wife one does not love to begin with?

    I'm confused. Where does it say the man has to marry this woman only lishma?

    Anonymous said...

    I'm confused. Where does it say the man has to marry this woman only lishma?

    I do not currently have access to required readings on the topic. The net seem sto have limited info, I'll look into this.

    Anonymous said...

    My own thoughts:

    "God said that a man should marry a woman he doesn't love and (I'm assuming?) he isn't supposed to be attracted to simply in order to build up his brother's progeny?"

    Correct, hence the selfless part.

    "This seems deeply illogical given the way in which God also says that one cannot hate one's wife/ if one does hate one's wife, one cannot show it and must treat her the same as he would a wife he loved/ how could God ever sanction/ command that one must take a wife one does not love to begin with?"

    There is a large gap between "not love" and "hate". If the case is one of the man hating his brother's wife there is the built in exit of chalitza, if it is a case of him not loving her then he will do as stated above and "not show it and...treat her the same as he would a wife he loved".
    Again, my own thoughts until I can track down sources who actually know what they are talking about.

    Tobie said...

    So the yibum thing recently came up in daf (yevamot 39b) and there was a machloket there. The majority opinion seemed to have been that it's alright to marry her for whatever reasons you may have (specifically beauty or to sleep with her) and it's not a problem, although one opinion was very against marrying her for anything other than the mitzva- so much that he said that he's almost call the kids mamzerim. Love of the woman didn't, of course, come up as a motive, and I think we have to acknowledge that it's a wee bit anachronistic. I mean, presumably he's allowed to become fond of her after marrying her, and it's not like they had a long relationship before that to form any attachment on the basis of.

    Anonymous said...

    Amazing, I recently saw Wicked and House, and I made a similar connection.

    The difference being, is that the connection I made, was that the media and modern culture is constantly trying to get people to question what is the right thing to do, and trying to prove to everybody that they are selfish people. (aka Dawkins)

    It is a shame we are so influenced by these stories we hear.

    Chana said...

    Last Anonymous,

    Oh, but I don't mind being supposedly selfish. That's the Randian side to me- as she writes, "Wherever there are sacrifices, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings." So one must choose what and to whom one sacrifices.

    I'm not selfless, no. But does that make me bad? I certainly don't think so...Does that make me arrogant (in that I don't think it makes me bad?) Perhaps it does. If so, however, I hope it's the arrogance of Roark, whose character I admire, the absolute egoism of a creator. Tempered, of course, because absolute Rand is never good.

    I actually love the media, though, no matter its form- television, internet, movies- because it all makes me think. I like being made to think. This idea would not have occurred to me without my having watched House. And I like this idea- that the motives may not matter- because the conclusion I can draw from it allows me to understand many more people and to judge fewer.

    And it's a very good thing when I am able to judge favorably. That is helpful.

    So in the end, for me at least, it all works out well.

    (Incidentally, I am Elphaba- but God knows I'd be Elphaba any day over Galinda or the Wizard. Galinda helps them destroy Elphaba by pointing them to Nessarose: classic betrayal, our Judas remade, even though she doesn't mean them to kill the girl. The Wizard is a sell-out, someone who is wholly ruled by power and fame, who justifies lying to people by claiming they want him to, they "need something to believe in." Elphaba is an idealist- and she begs Galinda to join her, but Galinda won't, she's unable to, she doesn't have the power to turn down the glory, love and admiration that can be hers- so she joins the opposite side. That is so very sad. Elphaba, on the other hand, is the victim of a smear campain- now she is so evil that "even pure water will melt her." Elphaba has to suffer because she stood up for what she believes in, saving the Animals- if I'm in my judging mood, Galinda does not suffer at all, pitiful and pathetic creature- if I'm not in my judging mood I can feel sorry for Glinda- but it's difficult. Fiyero is redeemed; initially Glinda-esque, he realizes his mistake.

    The truly selfish one in "Wicked" is Nessarose- again, understandably so, but what she does to Boq is extremely cruel. And when Elphaba saves him, she instead accuses her of being the cause of the cruelty.

    So no- in truth, everyone is selfish but Elphaba- all Elphaba wants is acceptance and understanding. Elphaba only wants to save the Animals- unfortunately, for telling the truth and for sticking to her beliefs, she must suffer.

    I hate the ending of "Wicked"- in my version, Elphaba shouldn't forgive Glinda. I understand why she does, but she shouldn't, because friends don't turn on friends, friends don't betray friends, friends do not tell Madame Morrible how to hurt other friends, no matter how angry or upset they are.

    That's me in judgmental mode again. I know I would never forgive Glinda. There would be no "Because I Knew You." There would be the very quiet understanding that Glinda didn't have the power to resist the glamour and glitter of all that is cruel and evil and not only that, she betrayed her friend. Did Elphaba "steal" Fiyero? It was not her choice- it was his. So what does Elphaba have to be forgiven for?

    Well, this has turned into a long rambling explication of "Wicked..." Interesting.)