Impose a penalty on; inflict punishment on
You have been bad – you deserve to be punished
I am going to teach you a lesson
The need to inflict punishment – the quintessential human trait? What do you think? Do you think people who have been “bad” deserve to be punished? If so, how do you decide what is “bad.” Does someone tell you, or do you just “know?”
This is an important topic, and I would like you all to pay careful attention while we explore this. All over the world, at this moment, children are being punished for disobeying their parents, or for doing something their parents disapprove of; and grown men and women are being punished for committing offences against the laws of the country. What I want to know is does punishment work? “Of course it does,” your mind interjects, “if someone has done something wrong, they deserve to be punished, simple as that.”
Punishments range from being hit on the bottom by a shoe from your teacher, hit with a belt, or denied your freedom; to nice ones like being flogged in public, or having your hands chopped off for such offences as stealing – if possible, punishment should always involve a bit of physical pain.
Since the dawn of civilisation, powerful men have sought to keep everyone under control with the threat of physical violence, using it freely to teach the others that if they did a similar thing, they would get the same, except it has never really worked has it? It doesn’t “teach you a lesson,” it just hurts you, and creates violence in the minds of those on the receiving end. They vow revenge on the people who did this to them, and to be fair, I can see where they’re coming from!
I remember my childhood, which I must stress was fairly normal. My parents cared for me and I think they loved me, but I remember every time I did something that wasn’t to their liking, that upset or disappointed them, (say by misbehaving at school), I was smacked on the bottom, which invariably made me cry. I was then sent to my room for the rest of the night.
Even at junior school, I remember getting “the slipper” from the headmaster, which was actually a rather solid trainer. Being made to face the wall was another popular punishment.
Senior school was no better. I was a pretty good student, although I messed around in class in the subjects I wasn’t good at (which could have been distracting for other students who wished to learn, and for the teacher).
It is only as I write this, that I realise how many times I was hit, had things thrown at me, and was sent to the headmasters office, usually to be hit again, this time with a long stick used as a cane. I had board rubbers hurled at me, and was hit on the head numerous times by one american maths teacher who used to pick up our heavy maths books above our heads and rain them down on our skulls! He also used to like hitting us with our own rulers.
Then there was the biology teacher with the huge hands (I still have visions of them). I remember being lifted out of my seat by the hair for talking with the boy next to me, and then he banged our heads together as he let go! “It never did me any harm,” I hear most of you saying, but we will never really know what effect it had.
The idea of punishment as to help teach you correct behaviour was applied throughout the whole school. If we answered back to anyone in the sixth form (boys aged 17 to 18) or did something like running in the corridor, we were “awarded” a work squad, which involved picking up litter and other tasks after school. As I lived over fifteen miles away, this meant I would miss my bus and have to phone my mum to come and pick me up. She would inevitably chastise me for “getting into trouble” and making her have to come out and get me, and I would be sent to my room when I got home. As if growing up isn’t hard enough!
This is a crucial stage in a child’s development. This period is not about learning mathematics or being able to repeat historical facts, this is about a child forming its world view, learning to find his or her place in society, learning about themselves and the opposite sex, and what do we get? Physical violence as our teacher!
I really want to enter the minds of those inflicting the punishment, to see what they believe it is actually achieving. People make mistakes, sometimes they do things without thinking, and anyway right and wrong is a man-made concept.
Surely the way forward to develop a compassionate and loving world is to help them understand what it is they have done, and why it has upset us so much; and at the same time look at ourselves to see why we have got upset.
It is only by understanding that the reason we punish comes out of a need to control others, to force them to bend to our will, that we can start to evolve our minds.
You may argue that someone who kills or steals should be punished, but that is only a control mechanism. It does not guarantee he won’t do it again.
Look how many people have been hung or imprisoned for life. People are still killing others. Just because there is the threat of punishment doesn’t make them stop. knew that by messing about in class I would get the slipper, but I still did it. I knew that my parents would be angry and punish me if I failed my exams, or was “bad” in school, but it didn’t stop me failing. People are not put off by the threat of punishment. If they were, there wouldn’t be so many people on death row. Humans act first and think later. What do you think? I do not want to convince you, I want you to see it for yourselves.
Several years ago, I purchased a dog. He was a beautiful golden labrador. He had huge eyes, big paws, was very fluffy, and I instantly adored him. The thing was, he just wouldn’t do as he was told. He utterly refused to sit when I said “sit,” so I smacked him. He ran away when I said “stay,” so I smacked him.
He went to the toilet on the carpet when I said “don’t,” so I smacked him. He ran out in the road when I said “don’t,” so I smacked him.
I didn’t think I was being violent. I thought I was doing it to teach the dog something that was in his own best interest! Everybody did it, I wasn’t being cruel or so I believed.
If you hadn’t noticed, this was a dog that (a) didn’t speak the language of humans, and (b) was only five months old, yet I treated him like a human. In fact, this is how many humans treat their children. We don’t mean to be violent, but we are frustrated or afraid when humans or animals do not do what we tell them, especially, and here’s the crunch, when we believe it is “for their own good.” We are afraid when the puppy runs out in the road in case he is killed. We are afraid that the child will not do well at school and so not have a fulfilling life. When it comes to it, we really do deeply believe – maybe not even at a conscious level – that violence is a good teacher.
“It’s not violence,” I hear one of you say, “it’s just a little tap on the bottom. My parents did it to me, and it didn’t do me any harm.”
We still believe that punishment – which is violence – is the way to get order and submission. All it does at a deeper level is breed resentment and hate on the part of the child or the animal.
This reminds me of the way humans break horses and other animals to get them to do what they want. At first they are “wild.” But through “training” (with a whip), they magically become docile and submissive. Is that what we really want for the human race – submissiveness?
I guess what this comes down to, is our human interpretation of what’s right and wrong. Some would say that there are universal laws which go above Man’s laws, including laws that state it is wrong to kill and steal. But lets go behind the word to find out the truth of it. Let us look to the animal kingdom to view these universal laws.
You see, the animal kingdom does not have our laws and sense of “justice,” or long drawn out punishments. Animals regularly fight each other (like humans), but sometimes they manage to kill each other (like humans). They are quite happy to steal food from a neighbour (like humans), and sometimes, they steal someone else’s partner (like humans). You only have to look at groups of wild animals to see how their behaviour and ours is similar. As such, maybe the things we consider to be wrong are expressions of animalistic behaviour, and that is the reason we wish to suppress them. These are traits which run through us all, even in this modern world. We all have the capacity to kill, I have it, and so do you. If we were hungry, we would steal food. If we were in love with someone, we would try to take them away from their current partner.
Is it maybe a small coincidence that these are the things humans have made against the law? We don’t want humans to be like that, we want them to be different to the animals.
We want to stand and say: “I am homo sapiens, I am human, I am not an animal.” But of course we are, and we want to hide it. That is why we need to punish any behaviour that does not conform to the ideal of being human. We want children to conform, we want dogs to conform, we want adults to conform.
Tell me something, how different would the world be if we did not punish people for what they did, given that there are already punishments in place for breaking the law, and people still do what they like? As it stands now, most people are not killers, most people do not steal, and most people are quite orderly in their lives. They go to work, they pay their bills, children study, people pass exams. But what if you removed the threat of punishment, do you think the world would collapse into armageddon? Would everyone be killing everyone? I don’t think so. Do you?
People, like animals, generally get on with their lives pretty peacefully, and if you look at the number of people in the world versus the number of conflicts, you will see that, unlike the press reports which are splashed all over our television screens, the inhabitants of the world are just getting on with the daily business of living! When animals are in conflict, kill another, or go against the rest of the herd, a natural process takes place, whereby the animal concerned leaves the herd or the conflict is resolved. Animals, unlike humans have not come up with unusually cruel and inhumane methods of punishment such as exist today.
Fortunately, they don’t have the intelligence to be so cruel, although the very act of punishment indicates a lack of intelligence.
So why do it? Why create violence, which is punishment, when it makes no difference to whether a crime is committed. Government departments would argue the case here with their statistics, that “if you didn’t have punishment, everybody would go crazy and kill each other,” but that’s what they want you to believe. If you want the truth, spend some time observing animals in action and tell me we need to punish anybody. Guide and nurture maybe, but punish? Never.
by alan macmillan orr
‘the natural mind – waking up’