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Caring, Regret, Change

Part 3 (Part 1, Part 2)

How do we get one person to change their behavior? Let's say to "voluntarily" change their behavior? Of course even the word voluntary is subject to interpretations. When a person is tortured, do they eventually decide to "voluntarily" answer questions? After all, can you really force someone to answer questions against their will? I think of the book "Atlas Shrugged" by Aynn Rand. The hero of the story absolutely refused to let anyone control or manipulate him.

I think of the article I wrote years ago about
freedom and choice. I said that all we really "have to do" is die. Everything else is a choice.

But if we don't get caught up in semantics, and we think of voluntary behavior as something someone does in the absence of pain, bribery, threats, external rewards, coercion etc, then I can continue with my original thought.

That thought involved how we can get someone to change their behavior, or to behave in a way we want them to. It would be naive to say that adults don't spend a lot of their time and money trying to get children, teens and other adults to do change their behavior, so let's just be honest about it and discuss the different ways this can be done.

In what are called modern societies much behavior is controlled, or at least motivated by, the prospect of external rewards, the two most universal being grades for students and money for employees. The best grades and salaries go to those who do what the schools, the businesses or the society wants of them.

Attempts to control the unwanted behavior, for example, what is called criminal behavior, are obviously based on the fear of punishment. Of course this fear exists within the walls of most schools also, but it is typically more subtle and less readily apparent. Teachers in most countries these days don't keep sticks on their desks as they so often did in the past. (See pics of students, teachers with sticks in Peru)

All of the above methods do get some of the desired results. Most people are undeniably motivated by punishment and reward schemes. Alfie Kohn, among others, though, argues convincingly that neither rewards nor punishment are the ideal motivators. I, too, would argue that both are likely to produce short term rather than lasting changes or results. Psychologists often call such types of motivators "extrinsic".

The "intrinsic" motivators, then, are our own feelings which come from within us. In my case, (see Parts 1 and 2) it is my caring for the other person which motivates me to change my learned behavior, in other words to stop the teasing of others as a way of compensating for my own childhood feelings of inferiority.

Even though I admittedly felt a little defensive, I was and am able to feel sincere empathy for the person I was teasing because she did not attack me with her words. She just told me how she felt. (I must now admit that at times I believe she has been able to apply more of my own ideas about how to communicate feelings than I am.)

This brings to mind my realization from many years ago that feeling defensive and feeling empathy are mutually exclusive. (See this article) So if you want someone to feel empathy for you, don't verbally attack them or put them on the defensive. Their true empathy is the best path to sincere regret and an authentic voluntary motivation to change their behavior.


2012 Note - I see that I did not mention the idea of Heaven and Hell as another way of trying to get people to do what we want them to, so I am adding now. The idea of karma is not a lot different, in my opinion. Both ideas are based on beliefs (or "make-believe") about what happens when we die. I was almost going to say that these kinds of stories might be good for children.... but then I realized I don't even believe they are good for children. I believe children can handle the ideas presented on this website - in other words ideas such as the belief in nature and the belief that when you die you simply die. There are no more electo-chemical reactions. Just like a car battery or a flashlight batter or a watch battery that runs off of elecro-chemical reactions for a while then the process simply stops.

I also have a very positive view of children and nature in the sense I believe the children are born with the instincts needed for survival of the species, and these include feeling good when they do things which help our survival and they feel when they do the opposite. If adults simply used the natural instincts of children and met their natural needs, we'd all be a lot better off. No man-made beliefs about what happens before or after death seem at all necessary to me.


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