by Patrick Quanten
Did you have to pay a fine recently? Have you been punished for a late payment? Or maybe you have been threatened with court action for not sticking to the rules? As I am getting older I have a growing sense of living in a nanny state. I must confess, I don't like it!
Indeed, I do understand we have to adhere to a number of rules in order to be able to live together in an orderly fashion. Although I sometimes wonder if the only reason why we assume it would turn into chaos without the rules is the belief that human beings will not, cannot, behave properly and respectfully towards each other when left to their own devices. If you believe that, then it makes sense you would want rules for everything and you would want people to stick to them. However, if people indeed do not care about anything or anybody else it may be that they do not care about the rules either. At the same time, some people may have experienced the rules to be unfair or unjust and they might adopt a behaviour set against adhering to the rules. Therefore, if you want and need the rules you will also require enforcement of the rules. You will need to force people to adhere to rules, because you believe that otherwise your world will turn into chaos.
So, as the authority, you now provide the population with the rules you have decided are good for them and you put an enforcement policy in place that will ensure compliance. He, who breaks the rules, deserves punishment! This establishes a clear divide between the authority, who decides on the rules and who gives itself the right to judge and to execute punishment, and the rest of the population who simply has to accept the rules and adhere to them in order to escape any punishment. The authority and their subjects, two entities separated as ruler and ruled.
This reminds me of my school days when all we had to do was to obey, or else we were punished. Teachers were in charge of our lives and we had to be silent and obedient. School is out now and I still have to be silent and obedient. But luckily this is a free country with freedom of speech. I can say what I want, as long as I stick to the rules. Oh, by the way, when you want to say what you want to say, make sure it is politically correct, not deemed to be racist, sexist, ageist, extremist, homophobic, xenophobic, or advocating conspiracy theories, protectionism, separatism, or exposing fake news, governments deceit. Stick to the rules that say you are not allowed to step on anybody's toe and you are free to say whatever you want to say. You can make us believe in whatever freedom means to you, but real freedom comes close to Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. ("Me and Bobby Mcgee" - Janis Joplin) Is there something like fake freedom?
The government relates to the adult population in the way teachers are the authority figures to the students and the parents the authority to small children. I understand that there always will be and that there needs to be authority, but I believe that their function relates to coaching and facilitating the learning process of the subjects, like the teachers to students and the parents to children. Maybe we need to take a closer look at how this is recommended to work in a school and home environment, so we can get a clearer picture of how our authority, our government, scores in their endeavour to educate me into a proper well-behaved human being.
Apparently one of the most important things a parent should learn is to understand the child. It is said that that would be very effective in guiding and nurturing the child in the process of becoming a mature human being. Experts tell us that we need to bear in mind that the child has a unique personality trait that remains consistent throughout life. It is this unique person that we need to guide in their development towards a unique human being. Self-esteem is a major key to success in life and a positive self-concept is crucial to the happiness of children. A supportive parent-child relationship provides the framework for a child to develop a healthy respect for the self.
How are we doing so far? The government doesn't even know me. Stronger still, the government doesn't want to know me. The government only wants me to join the herd, to do as others do, to not be myself. It is disastrous for any authority if every subject becomes a separate entity. From an authority's point of view that means chaos. Every subject doing their own thing, living the life they need to live, means that from the top down no rules can be made or implemented to suit every subject in every aspect of life. That is true chaos. From an individual's point of view it is called freedom. Being able to be myself. Being able to pay attention to the Self. A good self-concept is essential to happiness, which means that chaos for the government allows growth potential for the individual which can actually result in happiness. Not much chance of that being allowed!
Hence, we need to "educate" the population in a specific direction. We need to teach them what type of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. And since we already know that each unique individual will have a different experience of what is required to be supporting the self and to be happy, we are obliged to use discipline. Discipline teaches the subject to follow rules; not to follow their own requirements. Effective discipline, as psychology teaches us, uses many different tools like positive reinforcement, modelling and a loving and supportive environment. Sometimes, so we are told, punishment is also an effective tool but good discipline certainly is not simply about punishment. The most effective form of parenting allows for flexibility and collaborative problem solving when dealing with behavioural challenges. So it appears as if the authority can forget the most effective form of educating the population because it certainly is not prepared to provide a loving and supportive environment, nor does it stand up as a role model. Not to worry though, we still have punishment!
Luckily for our authority there are several less disastrous discipline techniques it can employ. Let's take you through those as they are mentioned in educational psychology.
Ø Reward good behaviour - Acknowledging good behaviour is the best way to encourage a subject to continue it. Where is my reward for not speeding 98% of my driving time? What do I get for paying my tax on time? I get no punishment!
Ø Natural consequences - Let the subject experience the result of the behaviour. There is no need for a lecture or retribution. When the subject is not heeding the warnings let him/her feel the consequences. When am I allowed to feel the consequences of me speeding? What if there aren't any? Do I need to be punished when there are no detrimental natural consequences?
Ø Logical consequences - These are consequences that the authority attaches to the inappropriate behaviour, such as if I leave my car in an inappropriate place it will be removed. Logical consequences only apply to behaviour that has serious real measurable negative effects on the community. Choosing not to vaccinate my children isn't one of them. Making personal decisions for the individual isn't one of them. The detrimental effects on the community need to be clear for anyone to see, not to be demonstrated by the authority as they want everybody to see it. When the authority does it this way the subject will not be able to understand the reason for the punishment.
Ø Taking away privileges - Here the authority decides that, in spite of there not being natural or logical consequences, the behaviour deserves a punishment anyway and a privilege is consequently removed for a set period of time. This works best if the privilege is somehow related to the behaviour and has a value to the subject. Taking away someone's driving licence for drink-driving without the person having displayed inappropriate behaviour towards the community, doesn't fall into this category. As you don't remove someone's bus pass because he failed to keep an appointment or because he was singing on the bus. An authority becoming irritated and annoyed with the behaviour of a subject can motivate any attitude or conduct it prefers, disconnected from its consequences. This might be very difficult for the subject to understand and to accept. Educating adults in this way is treating them like children as the authority indicates that the adult is incapable of judging the consequences of his/her actions.
Ø Time outs - Time outs work well if the authority needs a break from the subject. It is recommended that it is a quiet place and a boring place. This only works with subjects that do understand the purpose of the time out. It works best for those who see the separation as a deprivation. Putting me in jail for not paying my taxes is unlikely to change my behaviour as I don't see the purpose of my time out.
Ø Be consistent - Any technique will fail if you don't follow through on threats. Don't break the discipline rules by giving in to pressure or to the subjects demands. Same rules for all subjects. No immunity for anybody. Same rules, no matter what the circumstances are or who the person is that needs disciplining.
It is stressed in psychology that before any disciplining takes place one should check that the child did comprehend the rules. besides the non-comprehension of the rules, it is also possible that something was asked of a subject that was impossible for that person to comply with. And last but not least, not knowing the law is currently no excuse for a misdemeanour and your non-compliant behaviour remains a punishable offence. I don't know I was breaking the law, not sticking to the rules, but apparently I still need to be punished and chastised for my behaviour. The authority finds it easier to simply assume that I am doing it on purpose and to insist that I should have known the rules. In this respect, I find it intriguing that when I ask advise of a law expert, a lawyer, it turns out that the rules are not that straightforward. Worse still, studying the law for several years does not even guarantee a knowledge substantial enough for me to know exactly what the authority requires me to do. Hence, all the legal disputes that lawyers fight about in court. In terms of education it is a well-established fact that subjects require time and understanding to "grow into" what is asked of them and flexibility and guidance to learn new rules is required. Time a government is not prepared to give!
From an authority point of view it is a great help if one understands the "why" behind the behaviour. Everything in life has a reason, whether we connect to it or not and whether we like it or not. These reasons are not excuses for the behaviour but if the authority is unable to comprehend the reasons behind patterns of behaviour it will never be able to change that behaviour, not even through severe punishment. As long as the reason remains in place the behaviour will always lurk in the background. This leads to a battle of wills between subject and authority whereby on either side of the divide the intensity will increase. An explosion becomes inevitable. It is simply a matter of time.
Any community will have to set certain rules that will streamline the interactions between the members of that community. Those rules are deemed appropriate behaviour. Now you may be wondering how a subject will learn not to behave inappropriately if you have no way of disciplining that person. Now you are assuming that you need to punish a subject in order to "teach a lesson". But being punished erodes the parent-child relationship, the authority-subject relationship, and subjects no longer want to follow the authorities lead. It creates anger and subjects become defensive. They quickly forget bad behaviour that led to the punishment as they are too busy trying to defend themselves and justify their behaviour. They quickly learn to lie in an effort not to get caught. Punishment makes the subject move away from the authority, avoid contact with the authority, so the authority is then left with less influence on the subject. Psychology shows us that punishment teaches all the wrong lessons and yet retribution and sanctions are the only tools government uses to implement and enforce their rules on their subjects. In education psychology it is said this authoritative approach only creates unruly children.
If, instead, we can stay kind and connected while we are setting limits, we create less drama and more love and comprehension. By being listened to, respected and appreciated subjects will learn to take responsibility for their own behaviour as the authority is providing the example of what is deemed appropriate. Why should anyone tell the truth if the government doesn't have to? Why can't I cut down a tree that is in my way when the authority can? Why can't I drive my car and pollute the air when the authority is allowed to pollute freely? Set the example and I will follow.
Punishment should not be the first and only retribution in education and as long as authorities are adhering to that strategy it will carry on creating resentment and hatred.
Give us our freedom to be who we are and we will be happy and contented, and have no further need to misbehave.