If someone is said to have an ulterior motive for something they say or do, it means that they have a hidden agenda. What they say or do is not the real reason for sharing it; there is some other motivation that is connected and which will reveal itself in due time.
Ulterior motive is a term which combines two words:
- Ulterior, which comes from the Latin for “beyond” or “farther”
- Motive, which comes from Middle English, for “to move”
You can see that the combination of these two words fits well into a term which means “to move beyond” the obvious.
We get this all the time from those mysterious phone calls that were supposedly blocked on our telephones. The person on the other line answers (usually after an electronic gap of time) and tells us that they don’t want to sell us anything, they just want to talk about crime in our neighborhood.
We may have had a burglary or car broken into recently in our area, so it gets our attention. We stay on the phone (the first time,anyway) and listen to statistics that don’t sound exactly like those we know to be associated with our local crime scene. If we are gullible, we begin to get anxious and concerned that there is something wrong, and we have been targeted for a break-in.
It’s just about then that the speaker on the other reveals to us that a home security company is in our town right now (I live in a city where this company is always “in town”) and has a special deal for us. They would like to come right over to demonstrate the reasons we want to purchase their security system.
The point is that the speaker had an ulterior motive for the phone call. His goal was to:
- get our attention
- raise our anxiety
- convince us that we are in trouble
- sell us the company’s product.
In reality it was the last item that motivated the call. He could care less about our safety or our vulnerability. He just wants to make money as a result of our fears.
Ulterior motives are not always this transparent. And they aren’t always connected to a scam phone call. They happen in the friendliest of places and may be promoted by the nicest of people.
- the member of an organization who wants to be elected president
- the neighbor who wants help in doing a physical task at her house
- one of our children who is uncharacteristically sweet and helpful and just wants to go to an event
- a spouse who wants to make a case for a specific birthday gift
- a clergyperson who is looking for a Sunday School teacher
- a police officer who believes that there is pot in the trunk of the car
The list could go on forever. And maybe it’s not always someone else doing something to us. We may be the perpetrator of the ulterior motive. Oh, come on, none of us is free from the conditions that lead to a hidden agenda. Think about it.
Photo Credit: Costa Rica