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Feeling Loved, or Feeling Punished and Threatened
From Quito, Ecuador 2004
Today at a school here the director happened to come in while the teacher and I were discussing values with the class. I asked him to join us and asked what his highest values were for the school. The first thing he said was "love". Then he talked about this for a while. While he was talking he said something like, "If I get angry and punish you, it is because I love you."
When he was done talking, I smiled and asked the students if they felt loved. They laughed but no one answered either yes or no. Had he left the room for a minute I would have asked them how much they felt loved by him from 0 to 10.
I wanted to tell him that what was important was how the students actually felt, not just what his beliefs about love were. I suspect that he added the part about punishment being an act of love because he felt guilty and defensive about punishing them and possibly also about getting angry at and punishing his own children.
I believe young people know the difference between when they feel punished and when they feel loved. I believe feeling punished is not healthy for them, but feeling loved is. I believe feeling punished hurts their self-esteem and self-confidence, but feeling loved helps it.
When a parent, teacher or school director punishes a child or teenager they may sincerely believe they are doing it for the good of the other person. But I believe it is more important how the young person feels than what the adult believes or intends.
This reminds me of a story told to me by a mother. One time the mother asked her four year old daughter how she felt when her mother hit her. The daughter replied, "I feel like you don't love me." This mother felt extremely guilty and sad to hear this and she realized how true it was. So she apologized and promised her daughter she would never hit or threaten her again. (See story on nospank.net or eqi)
I am not sure if this mother ever did hit her daughter again. But I did still see her later threaten, punish and use physical force on her when she disobeyed. At the time I didn't suggest to the mother to ask the daughter how she felt when the mother threatens her, or how she feels when she uses physical force on her. The mother was feeling too defensive for me to ask this question. But I think it is fair to say that the daughter would not say, "I feel loved."
Nor would she be likely to say, "I feel understood, cared about and respected."
If the concept of emotional intelligence is going to have any true meaning for humanity, we must place a higher value on the real feelings of children and teenagers. They know how they feel. And we know how we want them to feel. We don't want them to feel afraid of us. But that is exactly one of the things they do feel when we punish them or threaten them.
Rather than feeling afraid of us, we want them to feel loved, cared about, understood and respected. But we must not assume that our actions are producing these feelings. Nor can we keep ignoring their feelings or trying to talk them out of their true feelings, or trying to convince them they should feel differently than they actually do.
Instead, we must remember to ask them how they really feel. And we must constantly strive to create and maintain an environment where they feel safe to give us an emotionally honest answer.
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