The Power of Not Using Imposed Punishments

Self-punishment is the worst type and the most severe. Unfortunately, imposed punishment is too often used for those who don’t need it. These children will respond without punitive action. Kahlil Gibran makes the point when he asks, “And how shall you punish those whose remorse is already greater than their misdeeds?”

All too often, the assumption is made that punishment is the only successful course of action to immediately halt inappropriate behavior. The paradox is that noncoercion can be far more effective than coercion. This point is brought home when we expect punishment but do not receive it. In such cases, we often remember the experience more than if we had been punished.

For example, a friend related a childhood incident. He and his brother expected some dire consequence when their father found out they had turned off the lights in the local restaurant as they ran out the door. Rather than meting out punishment, their father—knowing that his sons knew that he knew what they had done—did not resort to punishment. To this day, my friend remembers his own inappropriate behavior and the impact of his father’s knowing of it and not punishing him. The fact that the father was disappointed by my friend’s action was much more powerful than a transitory punishment would have been.