Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child

"Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." ­ Proverbs 13:24

Obedience vs Discipline

When I hear people quote that proverb I always cringe a bit. Not at the barbarity of it, although that is cringe worthy, but at the apparent misunderstanding of the difference between obedience and discipline. It seems many people, especially those religious people who subscribe to the admonition of this proverb, simply do not understand that these are two very different ideas. So I'd like to break it down for you if I may.

Obedience can be won through violence. A person can have not only their physical but also their mental will bent through force into submission to another. That person will do what they're told, not out of respect or an understanding of why it is appropriate, but solely out of fear. The same people who mistake obedience for discipline also often mistake fear for respect. Or in the least do not care if they are feared or respected as long as they are obeyed. These men who think like that also tell us that their god thinks like that and it has become the backbone of nearly almost all religion. According to these men god wants only your obedience and is willing to torture you for eternity to get it. This may give many a reason to be obedient, but it certainly hasn't made for a more disciplined society. In fact, this idea has led many to the conclusion that it's not a crime if they don't get caught. It is a system built on the notion of consequence alone.

Discipline however is very different. A disciplined person can be trusted to do what is right regardless of consequence or whether they're being watched or not. With obedience one must feel as though they're under constant surveillance, which of course gave rise to the notion of a god that is always watching. In order for obedience to work, there must always be consequences. Discipline however is about education. It's about teaching someone why certain things are true. Of course there are consequences to our actions, but these should not be the driving force behind our behavior. Nor should a reward be expected simply for doing what is right. A man who is disciplined will need no incentive or prodding to do the right thing. He will simply do it solely because it is right. He will avoid doing things which are detrimental simply because they are detrimental.

The Key to Discipline

As I said, discipline is about education. It's about giving a person a rationale for making positive choices without using intimidation or coercion. The only real way to do this is to teach a person ethics and why ethics are important. Positive and negative reinforcement techniques like reward and punishment work well enough if all one is seeking is obedience, but they do not instill an idea of ethics and morality in a person which extends to all aspects of their life. Just like a dog who is trained to perform for a treat, when there is no incentive or punishment for disobedience the person has no reason to continue to behave.

It never fails that at least once a month I will see a Facebook acquaintance post something to the effect of, "My parents used to beat hell out of me and that's why I have respect for others." This statement and others of it's ilk are fallacious in the extreme and not worth the air expelled to say such nonsense. If we're going to be honest, what is really being said is that you are polite and respectful to others because your parents taught you that if you aren't someone is liable to beat your ass. Now I don't know about you, but I call that extortion under threat of punishment.

My parents spanked me too and what it taught me was that when you get angry about something you hit it until it does what you want. It taught me, rather incorrectly, that violence can solve problems. It also taught me that it's only wrong if you get caught which is an idea that a great many people seem to indulge. In all honesty I've never had even one ounce of respect for any person who has ever brought violence to me. The people I do respect are those who had the patience not to resort to violence, but instead strove to teach me why I should behave and act in a way that is conducive to my own well­being and the wellbeing of others.

Bad Terminology

I think a lot of the problem here has to do with terminology. You see, when we use the word discipline to describe punishment we're inviting confusion. By the time punishment is necessary we've already failed at instilling discipline. All punishment is good for is reminding us that there are consequences to our actions, but as I've said those consequences can not be the driving force that motivates our behavior. If it is, then we can say that we are little more than dogs who won't shit the rug in front of others, but if no one is looking we'll drop a deuce pretty as you please.

The mantra of many parents has often been, "because I said so". I heard those words more often than I can remember growing up and most often it only instilled a greater sense of wonder at why I should not do those things. Because of this I've done many things in my life that I likely never should have done. But I wasn't ever given a good rationale as to why I shouldn't do those things, and in the absence of a good reason not to do these things I ended up putting myself in very bad situations. The only plus side to this is that I have the experience of making these mistakes and having learned from them.

As a parent myself, I strive to offer my children true discipline. They will never hear the phrase, " because I said so", and they will not be beaten into obedient submission. They are always given valid reasons for doing what I ask and valid explanations for the questions they ask. They are not forbidden from questioning what I say, but in fact are encouraged to do so. The reason for this is simple. I want to be respected, not feared. I want to know that my children will do what is right not for fear of punishment, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Most importantly, I understand that my children are really just young human beings and they aren't a pet I've been charged with training in obedience. My first job as a parent is as a provider... but my second and equally important job is as a teacher. The best teachers always lead by example.

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