Punishment is for Animals

Although I’m sure Temple Grandin will disagree.

But it’s definitely not for people. People – adults, anyway – can communicate. Even without a common language, people can communicate well enough that they shouldn’t have to resort to just hitting one another, or confiscating each other’s possessions, to make a point.

Punishment is a last resort, or it should be. Punishing a human being is the end of communication, it’s where we say ‘I’m done talking to you, have THIS instead.’ The implicit breach of personal trust and caring that comes with every act of punishment creates the situation for the next one. Once we’ve abandoned communication and resorted to physical aversives or “non-physical” aversives that are supported and facilitated by either physical means or intimidation, we’ve lost the better options.

When talking fails and we punish, trust and love are then horribly compromised, and non-communicative means are all that’s left. Punishing destroys trust and communication. Punishing is a self-perpetuating cycle that once begun, becomes nearly impossible to stop.

People think it stops, we think that our non-physical punishments are working. Children do respond to the training, and it does become possible to control them with verbal commands, but this is based in the physical, non-verbal methods used previously; non-physical punishment is really only “previously physical” punishment. It relies on past experience of physical means. It relies on intimidation. I think there is the very real danger that the actual physical training occurs in private, when we’re home alone with our babies and toddlers, and then we get to later parade our well-behaved children about in public, displaying our non-physical mastery of them, and we all get to pretend that we have good, communicative relationships with our kids. It all looks very civilized – as did dinner with the Queen and her court, back in the days of the British empire, but empire is not achieved by good manners, and neither are well trained children.

Of course, we are not fooling ourselves and everyone around us on an individual level. This farce is inter-generational; the blindness we bring to our non-physical punishing is not conscious, it is repressed. It is blindness forced upon us as children and not acted out so much as re-played when we are adults. No-one is to blame.

If you can get past our feelings shouting this idea down, if you can look at it dispassionately, and focus on the logic, you’ll see I’m right.

Punishment helps to teach kids right from wrong – not.

. . . everyone thinks that normal stuff. It’s a silly myth if anyone thinks there is some huge group of people out there who thinks “aw, screw it, I’m just gonna let my kids do whatever the hell they want.” Most people believe what you’re saying, that we need to use some kind of disincentives, to teach right from wrong – and still, this is the world we get. A world where we all seem to perceive ourselves as evil, naturally bad, and requiring some force or control to whip us into line, a world where high school kids torment one another to the point of suicide. A world where even the good people of the world seem to feel killing “bad” people is OK.

Bullying as Punishment

the world runs on authority, on force. The army, the police, schools, corporate hierarchies, parenting, parenting, parenting. Family structure. Punishment and discipline is a system by where we control unwanted behaviour by force, and punishment, which, punishment is defined as dishing out unpleasantness to the misbehavers in order to motivate them to change their ways.

This is pretty much a definition of bullying. The bully punishes the victim. The bully justifies this punishment by listing the victims’ misbehaviours, or the victims’ family’s, or race’s, or faith’s misbehaviours.

This is punishing behaviour, this is bullies doing what their parents did, doing what the police do, I mean the bully’s behavior is VERY CLOSE to that, closer than any of us would like to think. I’m saying the bully feels he is doing what he sees around him, that in the parlance of some schools of psychology, the bully is getting his power back, after some authority figure has taken his power from him.

So, parents, schools going to the bully kids and telling them to stop is a joke to these kids. They see it as just more ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ So do I, for that matter. I, for one, would love to see someone ask the kids if I’m right about that. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the kids.

Parents don’t think they are bullying. We have a consensus about what is acceptable punishing behavior, and we really cannot seem to draw parallels with our legitimate punishments and other similar behaviours. If we can’t, if we won’t see how bullying is an extension, an extrapolation of our punishing ways, then there is very little hope that any of our conversation about bullying, any of our attempts to combat it will get any traction, very little hope of our ever solving a problem if we refuse to understand it in the first place. Surely, someone has noticed that speeches that don’t acknowledge this difficult truth have not had any dramatic effect on the bullying phenomenon? I think any approach that doesn’t include this idea would be considered empty and hopeless, at least to any group that lives under threat or reality of punishment – like our kids.

Long and short, if we don’t stop ‘bullying’ our kids at home, we will never stop their bullying, that should be obvious. I don’t know why it isn’t.

Many nations have outlawed corporal punishment, in Canada, we are in the process of outlawing it, and I can see the next step, that we will someday realize that the damage caused by punishing behaviours generally outweigh any benefit, and when we all stop anything like bullying, so will our kids. Until then, we will fight this bullying thing in vain, fighting it in the schools, and causing it at home.

So now, there are programs, task forces, plans and research, all government money spent to figure out this embarrassing problem, and if we don’t try to stop people from the use of punishment – corporal and otherwise – on our kids at home, we are wasting all those resources. And that is a sad, cruel joke, one that the parents don’t understand, and only our kids are laughing about. Not in a good way.