Tag Archives: Rules

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.

 

When Is It OK to Bend the Rules?

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 11.58.14 PMA couple of days ago I shared a link on Facebook to a video of a contestant (a young contestant) on Jeopardy!. The post sparked a bit of conversation, so I thought I’d give it a bit more attention. The long and short of it is that the contestant incorrectly spelled the Final Jeopardy! question. As a result of this misspelling, he was scored as having answered the question wrong, even though everyone in the building and watching at home knew that he “answered” the question correctly. It seems that because of the rules that the judges had previously set forth, they couldn’t give the kid the benefit of the doubt, even though the misspelling only included one extra ‘T’ in two words that totaled 23 letters.

To put a bit more detail on this situation: the clue (or “answer,” as it’s known in Jeopardy!), was trying to get the contestants to write down: Emancipation Proclamation. This one particularly contestant wrote down: EmancipTation Proclamation. Now, d’you think that this is close enough to give the contestant the benefit of the doubt?

Based on Alex Trebek‘s (the host) reaction to what the contestant had written down, I think that he thinks the kid should have gotten the benefit of the doubt. You can hear him stalling for time in the video as the judges make their decision. After Trebek relays the decision to the contestant (and the audience), he tries to offer a bit of reasoning for this decision. It sounds like the “closeness” of an answer is determined in advance of the show for which the questions will be used. Meaning, even though the ages of the contestants on the show are between 10 and 12, the severity with which the judges were scoring the questions could have been as if adults were playing. Is this fair? Is it fair to adjust the rules?

As I reflected on this and some of the reaction that it precipitated on Facebook, I wondered how folks would react if the scenario weren’t a game show. What if this scenario were in a school setting? If the student incorrectly misspells the word, they’ll likely get it wrong — on a spelling test. But what if the test has short answers? Do they then get points because the professor/teacher knew what they were talking about? Do they get full credit? Does the professor/teacher take off a fraction of a point?

I don’t have a definitive answer for any of these questions, but it’s certainly something to think about when we reflect on when we think it’s okay to bend the rules.