Friday, January 22, 2016

Reward and Punishment: The Good Cop/Bad Cop of the Control World

In our society today, it’s obvious that we have a deep belief in the benefits of the stick and carrot.  We have been taught from a young age that it is our duty to punish people who do things wrong and reward people for doing things right.  In most cases “wrong” is something we simply don’t want others to do while “right” aligns with our beliefs of what should be.  So how did we learn our version of right and wrong? 

The real question is from whom.  As I said, from an early age, we learned this concept from members of our society who were in positions of authority.  Parents, teachers, police officers, government agents and clergy – each taught us a set of rules that if we followed them we would be rewarded and if we disobeyed them we would be punished.  And each of them learned this method from people in authority who came before them and so on.  Problem is, we carry this belief in the power of reward and punishment into all of our relationships moving forward.  We reward and punish our children, our spouses or significant others, our co-workers and our friends.  And we never stop to think of the consequences of this behavior.  We don’t realize that these methods of control only breed resentment and conditions of worth. 

Think about your own childhood.  You no doubt loved your parents, but when they punished you for at least a short time you felt resentment toward them yes?  You felt the sting of their disappointment.  You were labeled “bad.”  Conversely, when you did well in school maybe you got some money or a new toy.  When you were a star player on a team, you got a trophy or ribbon or the game ball.  When you paid attention in class, you got a star on the board.  You were “good.”  Think about Christmas and Santa Claus who rewards the “good” kids with presents and punishes the “bad” kids with coal. 

Now I can bet some of you are thinking, what’s wrong with a little punishment when someone misbehaves?  What’s wrong with rewarding good behavior?  The problem is, it is another method in which we rob other people of control over their own lives.  And we teach each other that our worth is based on external praise and accomplishments.  It breeds the low self-esteem that people in my office ask me to help them reverse every day. 

Because in our society, when we punish, we REALLY punish.  And we don’t apply rewards consistently or evenly.  And we don’t allow others the chance to choose for themselves.  And we damage our relationships with the people that matter the most to us. 

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