Punishment and Teaching

When you have something important to say, some important lesson to impart – say it nicely.

When you’re giving a lesson, give it nicely.

I mean, if you want someone to listen to you, if you want your pearls of wisdom to be accepted, then you want to be someone to listen to, you want your students, your children, to respect you, and the more subtle, complex, counter-intuitive or difficult the lesson may be, the more you need to be a loved and respected teacher.

This itself may sound either mind-numbingly obvious or counter-intuitive, depending on a number of things, but things can sometimes be made infinitely clearer by turning them over, so lets look at this upside down and backwards:

The more subtle, complex, counter-intuitive or difficult the lesson is, the easier it becomes for your student, or especially your kids, to find a way out of getting it. Threaten them, hurt or belittle them, and they have a reason not to believe you. We should tread lightly; any abuse of our power is all the excuse a person needs to reject what we say, no matter how true, necessary and wise the lesson may have been.

A few kitchen sink sort of examples:

1. I for one, as a child, had heard so much stupid and contradictory crap from the adults in my life that they were no longer credible sources if they said the sky was blue or water wet. I didn’t believe the adults when they told me I would need to complete my school, get some skills, and that I would have to work to support myself. In hindsight, of course this is obvious, and should have been to anyone, even a person as dreamily clueless as me, but at that point – I was 15 – if they said it, it could only be wrong. Of course, in adulthood we learn that there is more to life than the structures of our nuclear family – even I got that, eventually – but that I didn’t see that then, and this blame belongs with the adults in my life. It is they who establish the rules, and the game itself. It was they who made the power structure of the family all that mattered. That was their game, and at 15, that was still the world to me.

So I didn’t get the skills, and I dropped out of school and out of life, because that would teach them.

It was quite a few years later when I picked up where I had left off, and made a very late start on living my adult life.

2. My wife doesn’t always agree with everything I say. I don’t know why, I must have lost a lottery or something. But when I am trying to make a point of some sort with her, sometimes I will try once, twice, three times, and if I’m not getting any traction, and if I deem the point an important one (child-rearing things are the worst of these memories), I may try making my point by talking louder, some times I may shout. I’m human, I’m a man . . . I’m sorry. Most of these incidents are in the past, when the kids were young and life was busy and stressful . . . 

but the point here is, if I got angry, or sometimes if I got loud, even if I was consciously trying to turn up the volume without being angry, if my wife heard anger – then my point would be lost forever. The last thing she would ever do is agree with an angry man, no matter if I may have been correct. I have learned that getting mad only makes it worse, and now I have a formula to follow: what is more important to me here – that I vent my frustration (and that is frustrating, believe me. Just when something is wrong enough to anger me, that is when nothing I say or do will be heard or acted upon. Unimportant stuff, something I don’r care about is fine – but something I’m passionate about – that I can just swallow and hold down forever) or that I retain some small hope of winning my point?

It’s a point of pride for me that I more often choose the second option, but even when I choose to vent, that doesn’t feel as bad as it did in the past, because now I know what’s happening. Being conscious always feels better. Looking back on something and knowing I was unconscious, running on some sort of programmed script, that is what has always felt the worst.



Now, these examples were subtle, nuanced versions of what I’m really after.

If I’ve made any case there about people taking a moral stance as an excuse or a reason not to hear you, imagine the more blatant scenario of punishing. Do we take life coaching from someone who thinks it’s OK to hurt us when we are children? Do we take a whooping, or a grounding, or the confiscation of a loved object from someone and then open our minds to them? Do we remotely want to share in the wisdom of those who are punishing us?

Not me.

Probably not your kids either.

5 thoughts on “Punishment and Teaching

  1. Scarlet February 24, 2014 / 3:34 pm

    I went to an expensive school, but to stay there you needed to perform, there was a waiting list so long that parents book their daughters in when they are born. No one ever hit us, that’s illegal here, in fact if we ever hit each other that was immediate expulsion, but that didn’t cover bitchiness funnily enough.

    But there was threat, you play up, fall behind or otherwise fail to perform they would invite your parents in and ‘suggest’ alternative school. This meant humiliation with your peers, I saw a few girls vanish that way and they immediately dropped off the radar, far too embarrassed to face their former clique.

    This works in some ways but, I will say this, I loved my science, English and maths teachers and in those subjects I utterly slew everyone else, I devoured science, and I couldn’t get enough. The encouragement made me work fanatically and that stayed with me all my life, find another 23 year old who has read Moby Dick, can explain the Higgs-Boson particle and Pull in several grand a night :p


    • neighsayer February 24, 2014 / 5:19 pm

      Objection, relevance!
      If you wanna tell your life story, git your own damn blog. 😉

      I’m currently reading that “David and Goliath” book – Malcolm Gladwell. There’s a chapter in there about great schools. Basically the upshot was, unless you’re really the best of the best, you’re better off to be a great student in a good school than a good student in a great one. Marks count for more than the school they came from. But the story starts with a girl whose marks got her into any school she wanted, and when she chose Brown, she was doing great until she couldn’t stay at the top of the class in one subject, organic chemistry, not even important to her degree, and her confidence suffered, and she ended up changing directions, never got her science degree.
      He says your confidence is safer when you’re a big fish in a smaller pond, plus, your grades are better. (Where the very top schools are too big a pond for all but the top .001%.)


      • Scarlet February 24, 2014 / 9:41 pm

        Aww shut up you love me 😛

        All things being fair, but it’s not fair, I got to uni – what school did you go to, same for when you go for a job, er – so my peers tell me, its also been useful as a hooker, school ties open doors.

        They used to push hard for grades, if you slipped you would get tutored, I’m not saying its right and it may be different in your neck of the woods but here that’s how it rolls.


    • neighsayer February 24, 2014 / 9:24 pm

      thanks. I’ll check that out, hopefully tomorrow.


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