Over my life-time we have been steadily learning that punishment is not nearly as effective (if it is effective AT ALL) as a combination of positive reinforcement and natural consequences. We’ve learned that beating on children, for example, does not improve behavior, but teaches kids to be bullies themselves. We’ve learned that natural consequences (you break a toy and then you no longer have it. You are mean to a friend and you lose that friendship. You spill and you have to clean it up yourself) have a much bigger impact on all of us. We learn when there are consequences for our actions that are natural. What children and all of us learn when we are “punished” for things we’ve done wrong is more to hate, distrust, fear and seek revenge towards the ones who have punished us. We’ve learned this, and in many ways we are beginning to live that out more and more fully. But in other ways, we continue to use these archaic and ineffective ways of dealing with “mistakes”.
With children, for example, we still use some truly ineffective punishments. I read an article yesterday that went into detail about something I had long ago suspected: that suspensions and expulsions just teach kids to act out more: they get out of school, the school has made it clear that they don’t want the kids there, often the child gets to be home alone while their parents are working, and what kids have learned from this is that no one listens, cares, or really values them as human beings. They are being sent away because they aren’t wanted. No one has taken the time to work with them on what went wrong or how to do things differently, they’ve just dismissed the child. What child will work harder for those who just dismiss them? What child will change their behavior when it is clear that they get rewarded with time off when they act out? It makes no sense. And studies are finally catching up and showing this to be true.
I’ve also mentioned before that studies also show (see previous posts) that our entire retributive justice system just creates the criminals we are somehow hoping to change by these punitive responses to crimes. Restorative justice, in contrast, which focuses on natural consequences, healing for the victims and for the perpetrators, restoration of relationships and reconciliation, in great contrast creates MUCH lower recidivism rates and actually makes a difference to all involved.
But while I’ve talked about both of the above in great detail in the past, I’ve been thinking about the other ways in which we continue to live out the mistaken thinking that judging, condemning and punishing others is the way to get others to change to be the ways we want them to be.
For example, employee evaluations have, historically, been simply opportunities for anonymous people to slam someone else. Historically, they have not offered helpful criticisms that allow for growth and change. And the anonymity of them means that the person receiving the critique can not follow through or ask questions that would allow for further clarity or growth. Additionally, the anonymity of these critiques also encourages normally sane people to take advantage of their “hidden” status to express opinionated and often judgmental ideas without recourse or consequences. Often these are simply the expression of likes and dislikes rather than genuine helpful feedback that would encourage growth. My own experience with these kinds of evaluations has also been that I’ll get one person saying “don’t talk so loud!” and another saying “You need to speak up!” or one saying, “Speak more slowly and calmly!” while another says, “You need to be more animated!” and I’m left without any real way to address these opposing complaints.
But even more basic to our current lives is the “dislike” buttons on all social media platforms. What does “dislike” communicate after all? It says absolutely nothing that is helpful. It does not say WHY a person dislikes something. It doesn’t communicate if there was something specific that was not appreciated or if it was the entire thing. Often people cannot even see on these platforms who it is that said they “disliked” whatever it was. And more and more I wonder why we have this option. I have been listening to some incredible music on YouTube lately. But I always see in these posts a number of “dislikes”. Why do people listen to it if they don’t like that kind of music? Why do people bother to be critical and judging at all of a post that may not have been meaningful to them, but which could be so meaningful to so many others? How are these snap and unclear and blanket “dislikes” in any way productive, or helpful, or meaningful?
We are struggling as a country with increased divisions. I think part of this is a simple failure to communicate with one another. But a bigger part is that we make quick and full judgments that we don’t explain, don’t think through and which do not serve those we judge or ourselves either for that matter.
There is a reason Jesus said, “do not judge lest ye be judged.” When a society is more focused on judging than on understanding, on condemnation instead of compassion, on tearing one another down, punishing, hurting, seeking revenge, rather than working to build up, communicate, create bridges of reconciliation and healing, then we are doomed to continue these divides that will tear us all apart.
Bottom line? We are far too judgmental. And we are far too quick to “punish” rather than to heal. Until we get this, until we change, we are heading down a very dangerous path. God save us all!