If you think about it, from the day you are born, everyone around you tells you what is right and what is wrong. In previous generations, parents used “the carrot and the stick” to teach kids about right and wrong. Anger and punishment were the stick and smiles and rewards were the carrots. Some parents, following the example of their own parents, even used real sticks, belts and denying of physical touch as punishment, while using physical gestures like a hug and a kiss to say, “You’ve made me proud”.
For school-age children, especially as physical expressions became less and less acceptable, teachers used the form of verbal and written sticks and carrots. If you did the right thing, you got an “A”. If you did the wrong thing, you got an “F”.
Unfortunately, growing up within “carrot and stick” systems at home, school and work, people form irrational rule of living #4, which states:
People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be blamed and punished
I guess the difficulty in living with such a rule is assuming there is such a thing as “the right thing” or believing there is a “right way” of doing things, making all other options “wrong”.
Whenever I talk to people about right and wrong, I say to them that the difference between right and wrong can only be foretold by those who can read the future.
What is the difference between courage and recklessness?
What is the difference between persistence and stubbornness?
What is the difference between being careful and being a coward?
The difference between them is the outcome!
If you climb Mount Everest and come back down alive, you are courageous, but if you fail and die on your way, you are reckless.
If you come up with a working light bulb after 1499 attempts, you are the master of persistence, but until then you are stubborn and you just do not know when to give up.
If you decide not to buy a house, because you estimate it will drop in value, people call you a careful investor, but if house prices go up, people call you a coward.
People can never be sure they are doing the right thing, because they are not fortunetellers. They estimate everything they do is the best they can do at the time. I do not know anyone who, when making a choice, says, “Here are my options, let will pick the worst one”…
Believing there is a right way of doing thing is characteristic of a perfectionist. Read about irrational rule of living #2 about self worth to find out what perfectionism will do to your self worth.
Carrots are better than sticks
Irrational rule #4 claims that punishment is the way to shift people’s behavior from doing what is wrong to doing what is right.
Many parents think this is a valid claim and use punishment as a motivator. These parents raise children who also think that punishment and blame are the right way to live.
However, punishment is external and creates fear. It makes people spend their life running away from things they are not happy about, hiding any evidence, stressing about being found out and avoiding action, instead of going towards something we want in life.
What can you do to teach your kids a more rational rule to live by?
- Let them listen to or read the song “hands” by Jewel – one way is to watch us hugging people on the street on Youtube and listening to the song in the background.
- When your kids do things you perceive as wrong, avoid labeling them and tell them what you think might be a better thing to do. Remember, you are not a fortuneteller and no, not all kids that do that, will end up in the same place.
- When your kids do things you perceive as wrong, do not punish them because this will draw attention to the behavior you do not want (pink elephant!). Find the opposite desirable behavior and when they do it, reward them for it. Instead of saying, “You should not play with your food”, wait for them to eat the way you expect them to and say, “It is wonderful to see you eating so nicely”. Whenever you are upset about your kids’ behavior, remember that carrots are better than sticks.
- Imagine that each person is a ship. Each time the person accepts blame for something, it is like throwing an anchor overboard – it slows them down and makes it harder for them to keep going, and if they throw too many of them, they will get stuck. Teach your kids to take responsibility. No one makes you do anything. It is always your choice not to give in to pressure.
- Change your perception about obnoxious behavior, because it is always a cry for help. Listen carefully when kids behave like this and lend them a hand. Punishing a child who behaves obnoxiously is like hitting them for having the courage to ask for help. Instead, offer them words to describe their feelings.
- Change your perception about fairness and selfishness. The world is not fair and there is no global fairness committee. People always do what they think is good for them and they cannot take care of their interests at the same time as taking care of the entire world’s interests. Teach your kids that they are the most important people in their world and they should never ever compromise their interests to gain anyone else’s love, affection or approval. Yes, I know, it might make it a bit harder to parent them but they are going to communicate with thousands of people throughout their life and many more years than being at home, so give up this illusion of control for their own sake.
Life without this rule is much simpler.
Join me tomorrow in the 5th irrational rule of living – my way or the highway.
Happiness and wisdom,
This post is part of the series Irrational Rules of Living:
- Irrational Rules of Living – External Approval
- Irrational Rules of Living – Self Worth
- Irrational Rules of Living – Problem Solving
- Irrational Rules of Living – Right and Wrong
- Irrational Rules of Living – My Way or the Highway
- Irrational Rules of Living – Disempowerment
- Irrational Rules of Living – Anxiety
- Irrational Rules of Living – Avoidance
- Irrational Rules of Living – Dependency
- Irrational Rules of Living – The Power of the Past
- Irrational Rules of Living – Sympathy
- Irrational Rules of Living – Discomfort and pain