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Punished for asking questions

Understanding and Punishment

Here is something I would like to see us teach all students, future parents, lawyers, judges, politicians and police:

You will never understand a person by punishing them.

Feeling Deserving of Punishment vs. Feeling Deserving of Love

It seems to me that if you feel deserving of punishment you won't feel deserving of love. The two seem to be mutually exclusive feelings. If you repeatedly teach a child that he or she deserves to be punished, they are likely to feel unworthy of love later in life. This will have serious consequences for their romantic relationships.

Practical Problems with Punishment

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.- Plato

One of the serious practical problems with punishment is that the fear of it often makes people afraid to tell the truth. In other words, using punishment encourages dishonesty rather than honesty. Obviously, when someone is on trial and accused of something for which they could be punished, there is a big incentive to lie.

Here is a summary of several practical problems with punishment

- It encourages people to lie - both to protect themselves and to protect others

- It does not teach someone what to do instead

- It hurts a person's sense of self-worth

- It does not produce restitution

These are discussed in more detail below, starting with some examples. The first example was inspired by aconversation I had with a self-harming teen who told me something very similar to this actually happened.

Imagine a high school student, Sarah, who starts to visit her English teacher at his house. At first it is just to talk. He is a good listener, unlike her father who is often drunk or stoned. Her mother has died of drug complications. The teacher and Sarah start to hug as friends. She feels comfortable with all of this because she feels safe, secure and cared about with the man. These are feelings she does not get at home so she has been in need of them for a long time. Then one night the teacher talks her into sex. She was not ready for this and she feels hurt and used. She is also afraid he will do this to other girls. But she does not report the incident because she is afraid he will lose his job.

Now what if Sarah knew that instead of punishment, her teacher would get counseling? And what if she knew she could also get counseling without anyone being punished. What if both she and the teacher were helped to speak honestly about their respective needs and feelings? Wouldn't Sarah and others be much more likely to talk about it? Then others could help her and the teacher see what the possible natural consequences of their relationship could be. And they could be helped in finding ways to fill their own needs in a healthier way. Possibly, a good counselor could help the teenager get the love, security and understanding she needs and also help the teacher see that girls like Sarah might agree to something but then feel bad about it after they do it, which is not good for their self-esteem. While I am sure that there are some teachers who really don't care how the girl might feel, I am equally sure there are others who would care if they knew the truth.

In another case of being afraid to tell the truth, I once had someone tell me that her father was physically abusive. Her mother was aware of it but her mother told her that if she reported it her father would go to jail, lose his job and they would lose their house.

Here is another scenario to imagine:

A girl gets raped by three other teens from wealthy families. She refuses to report it. She says she is afraid they will hurt her or kill her if she reports it. She also says she is also afraid she would not be believed. She is afraid they would hire lawyers and defend themselves and attack her character by calling her a liar, saying she is promiscuous etc.

In this case there would be less need for defense and physical or character attacks if the teens who raped her were not so afraid of punishment. If you take fear of punishment out of the equation you will get much more honesty and cooperation, not to mention empathy from those responsible.

Next is a true story, to the best of my knowledge.

Several adolescents come to me and tell me that they and others are being sexually harassed by a teacher. They are afraid he will lose his job if they tell anyone. They tell me that he has a wife and children. They tell me that his wife doesn't make very much money and won't be able to support the family if he loses his job. They tell me that his children did nothing to deserve going without food. In this case I was able to persuade them to tell me who the teacher was and to agree to let me tell the appropriate people, but for weeks they had been keeping this inside themselves. Had I not happened to give a talk on abuse that day they may never have reported anything. The teacher might have moved from sexually harassing to actual sexual abuse. I tried to assure them that the teacher needs help, not punishment, but they know how the system currently works and how many people would pressure the school to have him removed if they knew the truth.

2016 Update - I will give a few more details to this story now. This happened in South Africa about 10 years ago. The teacher had been their phys ed teacher and he was touching the girls in ways they were uncomfortable with during their swim classes while they had their swimsuits on. The school director took the accusations seriously but unfortunately in the end it seems the girls were pressured to say that they had made up the story for attention. I personally still believe the girls

Here is another true story, I read from the newspapers in South Africa when I was traveling there.

A girl is raped by several members of a gang in South Africa. She reports it to the police. A trial date is set. Before the trial she is killed. It is suspected that the gang killed her to prevent her from testifying in court. This girl would be alive today if it were not for rapists' fear of punishment.

There are many examples like this. In homes everyday children are taught to lie in order to protect themselves from being hurt and punished. Children are not born liars. Liars are created by the fear of punishment. "Johnny, do you know where all the cookies went?" "No, Mommy." The emotionally intelligent child will lie more quickly in the face of possible punishment. The emotionally intelligent child will see the signs of his mother's disapproval, he will hear it in her tone of voice. He will quickly process all the information he knows about her, for example, whether she has punished him or others in the past. He will make a decision based on his own survival instinct. If it were not for the fear of punishment, this child would have no reason to lie.

In the above examples we see two categories of problems. One is lying to protect oneself. The other is lying, or withholding the truth, to protect someone else.

Here is another practical problem with punishment. There are two boys in school who don't get along. Boy A provokes Boy B. Boy B expresses his feelings by using the "F" word. Boy A knows that the school punishes people for saying this particular word. Boy A reports the incident, so Boy B will be punished. Boy A has figured out how to use the system to his advantage in hurting someone. (See http://eqi.org/puni2.htm)

Another, more general problem with punishment is that it tends to diminish one's sense of self-worth. A person who is convinced they are worthy of punishment finds it difficult or impossible to feel worthy of love and caring. People who have been excessively punished while growing up have been groomed to be victims of abuse later in life. They lack the self-esteem to assert themselves and set healthy boundaries. They feel deserving of the abuse, just as they felt deserving of the punishment when they were young.

One more problem with punishment is that it does not teach any preferable behavior. For example, forcing a child to write "I will hit people" does not tell the child what to do instead of hitting.

A final problem with punishment is that it does not produce restitution. Restitution rebuilds a person's sense of self-worth and self-esteem, where as punishment diminishes it.

(See Norma Spurlock page for discussion on restitution.)

See more on understanding and punishment  
From http://www.explorelifeblog.com/blog/2009/6/19/the-land-of-punishment.html

Joseph Bernard, Ph.D.

The Land of Punishment

Why are Americans so set on dishing out punishment and so little interested in helping those who need help to break from their unhealthy behavior? As I have mentioned before America is a nation full of prisoners.

NPR had a program yesterday about a young man who stole some of those bright orange constructions barrels and made a huge roadside sculpture that landing him in trouble with the law. The construction company isn’t pressing charges but the jurisdictional government is prosecuting him. Our government is about punishing people by putting them in jail.

Does jail really straighten people out? My experience working with addicts says no it only makes them worse. The more you jail people, the more you try to shame them and make them feel guilty. Does shame and guilt change behavior? No it makes them feel bad about themselves and therefore they often get worse and serve more time.

Most people in prison have trauma and pain from their childhood. Many have been physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually abused as children and are punishing them for their dysfunctional ways is just further abuse to those with already fragile mental and emotional health.

Many parents primary intervention is punishment. Punishment is also the themes of school discipline and a guiding force of most religious philosophy. The idea I suppose is to punish them until they act the way we want them too or until they learn to act appropriately. These parents and our institutions seem driven by control and lack the compassion necessary for to assist troubled people towards health.

People who have trauma as children often turn to acting out as a way to be in the world. Adults often act out because others acted out on them as children. They have no models for healthy interactions in their community. These trouble people understand the harsh world they grew up in and they figured out how to survive. They use their survival mentality to scrap for life in ways most of us will never understand.

How can we change our thinking from punishment to nurturing, from prison to compassionate care? My sense is, we need more people with open hearts who have compassion and are willing to act with kindness and caring towards those in need.


From Joe Brummer

I mediate with groups of kids more often than I would like, who have been arrested in their schools for fighting, even all out brawls of kids fighting.  They get arrested, expelled from schools so they won’t get educations and the bloodlines of poverty continue. When these young adults come to me, they carry in charges like assault or breech of peace.  Many are in hearings to be expelled from school.   In most of the cases I have done, the fights come from petty he said/she said arguments that kids just haven’t been taught to manage.  We fail our kids for each day that goes by and we don’t teach them the skills they need to manage conflict with others. We fail them even further when we punish them for our failures rather than restoring them and the community by teaching them, counseling them and giving them the tools they needs to succeed.

All punishment is arbitary

I had written about this before but I can't find the file now so I copying something I found online which was said by Janet Reno, a former top lawyer for the US government.

In the following quote Reno said "all punishment is arbitrary' - and I agree.

l'm personaly o
pposed to the death penalty because \i
think that all humant life is sacred and
to take human life for taking it is

Secondly, most people
argue that they support the death
penalty because its a deterent, but
in all the studies l have seen l have
never seen a study that supoorted
that conclusion.

Third. all punishment
is arbitrary ... Once you carry out
the death penalty you can not correct
for arbitrary punishment. I think the
any reason for the death penalty is









Back up

Commands - Is There a Better Way to Communicate?

By Jayne Major
Expert Author Jayne Major

Dad is following 7-year-old Kenny to the shower. Kenny is dragging his towel on the carpet. Dad says, "Pick up your towel!" Kenny turns around and sees that the towel is on the floor. He picks it up and walks to the bathroom.

Is there anything wrong with this exchange? Actually, there is. If you stop and think about Dad's parenting style maybe you could figure it out. Is he being authoritarian, permissive or a breakthrough parent? How would you improve on dad's communication skills?

You aren't sure? Well, let's look at the situation more carefully. If you believe the adage - when people know better they do better - let's apply it here. What is wrong with dragging a bath towel on the floor? It gets dirty. People like to dry off with a clean towel. It's more hygienic that way.

Dad uses commands to structure his son's behavior. "Stop teasing the dog." "Put your toys away." "Take your bath." "Do your homework." "Turnoff the TV." "Do this - don't do that!" Maybe there are a thousand or more commands that parents use to guide their children, but commands are the hallmark of the authoritarian parent. Such parents make orders and their child is expected to do as they have been commanded. The subordinate (in our case - Kenny) isn't expected to do any thinking for himself. Dad just tells him what to do.

What if dad changed his communication style to statement sentences? What difference would that make? "Kenny, your towel is dragging on the floor." Dad states a fact. Once Kenny's awareness is stimulated he can choose himself to either pick up the towel or continue dragging it.

If he solves the problem by picking it up - Dad might say good choice or nothing because Kenny solved the problem and doesn't need reinforcement.

If Kenny looks perplexed, like "What is the big deal if I drag my towel on the floor?" Dad might say, "I don't think you would want to dry off with a dirty towel after you get clean in the shower." Now Kenny has more information than he had. He can choose himself to pick up his towel.

If you avoid doing children's thinking for them, they are more likely to increase their critical thinking skills and their IQ. When parents expect children to analyze information and come to a reasonable and rational solution to problems, you are likely to be surprised at how many times they will do it.

By not using commands continuously - you can save them for when they will have the greatest impact. Stop! No! Don't do that! These commands have a special meaning - especially when a child is on a perilous path.In these cases after the urgency stops, explain why you ordered them the way you did - so that they can understand why - which further develops their thinking skills.