The Most Effective Form of Discipline: Punishment or Empathy?

Have you ever broken the rules? If you’re answering honestly, no doubt, your answer should almost certainly be yes. If you drive, you’ve probably rolled a stop sign once or twice in your life. Or, you’ve probably at least barely gone over the speed limit, even if you were trying to maintain a speed below the limit. There’s always jaywalking. That is, you’ve probably crossed the street when you weren’t in the crosswalk when the walk sign was on the cross. What about taking office supplies from work? You may feel justified in doing so, but I bet if you read your contract or the rules/regulations of your organization, it’s not something that’s endorsed. There are probably plenty of other examples where you’ve broken a rule (accidentally or intentionally!), but there may only be a few (one?) where you’ve had an experience that changed your life.

I don’t necessarily mean that it changed your life in some profound way (although it may have). I’m speaking more towards those experiences that you’ll always remember. The lesson(s) you learned from the experience(s) was/were just what you needed at the time. Do you have one of those experiences? Now that you’re thinking of that experience, I wonder: did you receive a punishment for breaking the rules or did you get off with a warning?

I’d hazard a guess that if I polled those of you reading this article, the majority of you would say that the experience where you were left off with a warning was the one that stuck with you. And why is this? Empathy. Compassion. Kindness.

These are human expressions that tend to touch us in ways that the antithesis of these expressions don’t. It’s a tired sentiment, but the news is filled with negativity. As a result, experiences that show us the opposite of this negativity tend to shock us. This surprise tends to stick with us and the experience can teach us something we weren’t expecting.

I’d like to share an example that I think accentuates my point. I came across an answer on Quora to a question asking about people’s best experiences with police. This particular answerer, Andrew Bosworth, was 16 years old and on his way home from Sacramento to the Bay Area. He was really tired and knew he was driving somewhat erratically. He’d glance down at the odometer and he’d be just as likely to be going 20 mph over the speed limit as he would be going 20 mph under the speed limit. Eventually, he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol:

Instead of giving me a ticket, he pointed down the offramp to a place I could get some coffee and rest. He asked if I had enough money to get some coffee and offered to give me some if I didn’t. He said if I really couldn’t get back to an alert state that I should call a friend or my parents and get a ride because what I was doing wasn’t safe for myself or other drivers.

Honestly, I can’t imagine that getting a ticket would have had nearly as big an impact on my driving as the short, compassionate conversation that officer had with me that night.

While there are certainly times where some form of punishment may be more appropriate, I’d like to believe that in many cases, compassion and empathy can be just as, if not more, effective.

 

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One response to “The Most Effective Form of Discipline: Punishment or Empathy?

  1. Pingback: Struggle Does Not Mean Bad: Choices and Illusions, Part 3 | Jeremiah Stanghini

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