Saturday, 10 June 2017

Six of the best

Does punishment ever work? Does it teach someone a lesson, does it make them behave better, or does it just breed rage and resentment and a sense of unfairness and victimisation?

I suppose in some cases punishment does prompt someone to reconsider their actions and change their behaviour, but in many other cases it must be counter-productive, aggravating a situation rather than improving it.

When I think of the various punishments I've had imposed on me, none of them had the desired effect.

At prep school, I was twice given six of the best for forgetting the dates of English kings and queens. But I still forgot them, simply because they didn't seem important.

At my boarding school I was given extra homework after skipping an obligatory religious service. It didn't make me any keener on religion. I just felt increasingly resentful at the compulsion.

At a bookshop I worked for, I was dragged through a disciplinary hearing for being an hour late to work for no good reason. It was pointless as I was usually punctual and that one slip-up was totally untypical.

I was once fined a hefty sum for speeding in a 30 mph zone. It didn't stop me speeding, as I simply drive at a speed I think suitable for the road and traffic conditions.

If someone has done something offensive, surely the best response is to encourage them to behave more sensibly, not to impose some arbitrary, unrelated punishment.

A lot of punishments are obviously futile. Like fines imposed on prostitutes, who then turn a few extra tricks to pay the fine. Or fines given to shoplifters who're forced to steal things they can't afford, and will probably carry on doing so.

A society based on punishment isn't a happy one.

27 comments:

Ursula said...

"Does punishment ever work?". No. It doesn't. All it does (for children), as you say, is breed contempt (in me), resentment (in most other people I know). Being given detention or - more likely - extra home work caused me nothing but hilarity. My Latin teacher (I adored him) giving me the task, as punishment, to learn the first page of De Bello Gallico by heart and reciting it in front of class the next day? Great. Learning things by heart (say, poems) used to be a passion of mine. Nothing to it.

I have never been subjected to physical punishment. In fact, the one time a teacher hit me (it was an accident - he actually meat to hit someone else but I was in the firing line) - my parents withdrew me from school. It was awful - for the teacher (headteacher at that), old man, being made to apologize to me. My heart went out to him. After all, he just landed his hand on the wrong cheek. Did he deserve that humiliation? No. Still, my parents drew a very clear line with all teachers when it came to disciplining.

Yes, humiliation. And I think you, Nick, will agree, that being humiliated (in front of others) is possibly the worst of all punishments. It's never happened to me but have witnessed it on many occasions and - Angel that I am - got myself into deep fat trouble standing up for the humiliated.

However, there is a form of punishment I do believe needs to be applied. In the adult world. To put it another way: If I weren't so shit scared of prison (it's my worst case scenario ever, next to being buried alive) I'd rob a bank.

U

Bijoux said...

I felt the most resentment when teachers punished the whole class for the act of one individual. It disturbed me, even as a child, because it seemed to promote turning on your fellow classmate.

I've had one speeding ticket, many years ago, and it still makes me driver slower on that road.

John Gray said...

In general i would say no, but as a former nurse manager, there were always staff that would take the piss and push things like behaviour,msickness etc to the limit.....you need disciplinary rules for them....and of course the normal staff are subject tomthe same rules!

Nick said...

Ursula: I was never told to memorise anything. And six-of-the-best is the only physical punishment I've ever had. Withdrawing you from school sounds rather extreme in the circumstances you describe.

I've never been publicly humiliated, luckily. Like you, I've seen it happening to others, and it's appalling. Dressing someone down in the middle of an office rather than somewhere private is despicable. But it goes on all the time.

I'll join in the bank robbery. What's our target? Would a million be enough?

Nick said...

Bijoux: I agree, punishing a whole class for the actions of one pupil is grossly unjust. What have they got to do with it?

John: Employees who persistently take the piss are a problem. Disciplinary rules are fair enough, there has to be some sort of sanction. But that's different from punishment for the sake of it.

Rummuser said...

When I was a boy, even up to my mid teens, I was at the receiving end of severe punishment from my father who believed that punishing young boys was the best way to make them into strong men. Apart from physical punishment other humiliating punishments were also part of the routine and I can aver with total conviction that I am totally against any kind of punishment for children.

I had my share of the best of sixes in school which was different altogether and also the milirary punishments during my time in the National Cadet Corps which too was different and acceptable.

I did not punish my son the way that my father did me, and he has grown into a fine man and I share my story with all young parents who are confused about this aspect of bringing up children.

Nick said...

Ramana: Good for you, rejecting your father's punishment regime and deciding to bring up your own son quite differently. It doesn't surprise me that he has grown into a fine adult.

Wisewebwoman said...

I concurrently see the wrong people being punished. Two examples should it be the Johns and pimps arrested for buying rape privileges?

And here recently an Inuit was arrested and thrown into a male prison (they ran out of space in the female prison) for protesting the mercury poisoning of sacred lands by a bigger than god corporation.

My father was savage and brutal and cruel and extreme in his punishments. I was terrorized. No child should ever suffer beatings and deprivations and banishment.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: Absolutely, it should be the customers and pimps who're arrested, not the long-suffering women. And how on earth can you justify imprisonment for protesting mercury poisoning? Absurd.

Your father was clearly ten times worse than my own. My father had terrible rages but at least he never physically punished me. Many children are still treated appallingly.

tammy j said...

we moved so much that I was always the new kid. old news.
but in 3rd grade... I was 8 years old. school had just started and I didn't know anybody.
the teacher called me to the chalkboard and had me put a math problem on it. then when I couldn't do it she came behind me and slapped my bare legs with a ruler. she told me that nobody got to go to recess until I solved the math problem. I heard all the groans from the other kids. I stood there in a panic. my mind a blank and all I could think of was how much they would all hate me and they didn't even know me yet! so all her punishment did was give me a lifelong fear of math. to this day I just freeze up when faced with it on a test.

Ursula said...

"What's our target?". Nick, the sky will be our limit to make our carefully planned effort worth its while. See you behind bars. Actually, come to think of it: Are prisoners allowed to visit each other at visiting times?

U

Nick said...

Tammy: That's dreadful. And it emphasises another after-effect of punishment - it can constantly paralyse you in similar situations, because of the fear of punishment.

Ursula: Maybe ten million then? I could buy a nice little waterfront villa in Sydney. And of course the robbery would be so superbly planned we'd never get caught or jailed.

joared said...

"Spare the rod and spoil the child" was popular for a time. I recall in 6th grade having the teacher whack my knuckles hard with a wooden ruler several times for writing and passing a note to my boyfriend -- sure did smart! Don't recall if that curtailed our behavior in the future, or if we just tried to be more careful.




helen devries said...

I don`t think that I was ever punished as a child...at home father ruled by reason while mother ruled by denigration. At school I was not a naughty child and got on with my work.
My husband was punished severely by his father for trivial offences....he noted the injustice but did not turn against the man: mark you he is remarkably sweet natured.

Dave Martin said...

Without wanting to be inflammatory, it must be admitted that capital punishment is pretty effective at stopping someone's bad behaviour.
I'm not condoning it of course, except for those extreme individuals without whom the world would be a much better place.
Otherwise, re-education is definitely far more effective than punishment, but it can sometimes be difficult to find the key to making the errant person receptive to it.

Nick said...

Joared: That must have been painful. I suspect rapping a child's knuckles could easily lead to arthritis in later years, but that's just my theory!

Helen: Looks as if you had enlightened parents who went against the prevailing trend for punishment. It must have helped that you were a diligent pupil.

Nick said...

Dave: The problem with capital punishment is that the person might actually be innocent, and there's no way of rectifying that once they're dead. My dad often mentioned the case of Timothy Evans, hanged after being falsely accused of murdering his wife and daughter.

Dave Martin said...

Yes Nick, that's the major drawback. I'm not against CP but someone needs to be proven guilty beyond all doubt before it's carried out, and that can be hard to do.

Nick said...

Dave: Very hard to do. There are so many cases of wrongful convictions and innocent people protesting their innocence in vain. Guilt is often not a fact, just a matter of judgment by the judge or jury. It could be a huge mistake.

Anonymous said...

I was never punished and my children receive only our love and comprehension. My husband is a wonderful father. Children are a gift and a gift should always be treasured. I once saw a mother who screamed because her little boy walked too slowly. And then she kicked him with her foot . I told her to stop and was severely insulted. Many children have sad lifes.
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: Love and comprehension is exactly right. I could have done with more of that in my childhood! The insults when you reprimanded the violent mother are unfortunately all too typical nowadays. Anyone who is seen as "interfering" with someone else's behaviour often gets a mouthful of vile abuse for their pains.

kylie said...

i don't think 10 million would get you a waterfront Sydney property, Nick. Maybe one overlooking a drainage channel?

99% of the time, when my husband obeys the law it is to avoid punishment, not for the satisfaction of doing the right thing. He would rather die than give anyone his money so will do anything at all to avoid a fine, leading me to believe that punishment does work as a deterrent, at least with some.

Nick said...

Kylie: When I obey the law, I do it to avoid a sanction (an appropriate penalty) rather than a punishment (an arbitrary retaliation). I don't want to pay a parking fine or get arrested or be put in jail. It certainly isn't for the satisfaction of doing the right thing as often I think the law upholds the wrong thing.

But I guess some individuals are deterred by the threat of punishment.

Liz Hinds said...

I am fairly sure I spotted a shoplifter in action this week. I didn't say anything although I did think I might speak to him if he were still outside the shop - he wasn't.

Nick said...

Liz: Jenny and I once saw an elderly shoplifter being physically thrown out of a shop, so violently he fell on the ground. We were so disgusted we left our intended purchases and left the shop.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I don't think it is ever okay to physically punish a child. We never hit our kids and we had a letter on file stating they were not to be physically disciplined (something that does still occur in schools here in Appalachia). Both my kids are polite, hard-working young men and a good case for not using violence to parent.

Nick said...

Agent: Many parents say that - they never used physical punishment on their children and didn't need to as their children have become responsible and capable adults.