Saturday, August 26, 2006

Judgment: Discipline Based on Judgment

One discussion that came out of a teleclass was around our punitive methods in this country. Our justice system is based on judgment. We discussed whether this was a good or bad idea in light of our work on compassion.

I have very strong feelings and opinions about this area, especially now that I have children. When I began disciplining my kids in the traditional, American way, using judgment, it didn’t feel right. It always felt hard and callous and I also didn’t really see it as useful. I may be scaring them into doing it my way the next time, but what I wanted was to create amazing souls that could make fabulous choices on their own because they knew in their heart what was right. Giving them timeouts and taking away privileges just didn’t seem to be the way to that end. Moreover, I could feel the disconnect with them when I became irritated. I could see in their faces their fear at this disconnect right when they needed me to connect with them the most.

What I realized was they usually know when they have done something “wrong”, they don’t need me pointing it out and further punishing them. (Does it help when you do something wrong and then have your mate or boss or friend also get mad at you for doing it?) If they don’t know what they did is wrong, it is my job to educate them and it is my fault they don’t know about it yet.

Right about this time, I was listening to a talk given by Wayne Dyer (a spiritual speaker and author of over 20 books). He was telling a story about a tribe in Africa. This tribe’s “punitive” ritual was to put the “wrong-doer” in the middle of the courtyard in the village. Every villager then surrounded the person in a huge circle. They then, one-by-one went around the circle and told the person what he or she had done that was wonderful. They would go around the circle again and again, sometimes for hours. Dr. Dyer then added that they barely have any use for this ritual.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Why do kids misbehave? They do it for attention because negative attention is better than none at all. It is a cry for connection, some connection. (I often wonder if that is ultimately at the bottom of crimes as well.) What if we, instead, gave them positive connection. What would it be like if you mate, boss, friend, gave you positive connection when you were the “wrong-doer?”

So, what do I do with my children? (Let me first point out that this happens when I am doing what I can to keep myself connected to my compassionate side. Doing all that we have talked about this year. When I do not do that, I find myself resorting to the “old style” of discipline and then it takes me even more energy to handle the repercussions of that method.) When they are doing something I don’t like, I first note if I have been disconnected (and, boy, do they know!). If so, I realize it is my fault and it is then easier to not blame them. Sometimes they are looking for connection with their sibling, though, and that is more out of my reach, although I can help. Whatever it is, I stop everything, take a deep breath, and then smile inside, if not out. I scoop up the offending child, place them on my lap, hug them, and begin whispering wonderful things in their ear. I tell them I love them, that they are wonderful. I just sit there with them with my heart open until their heart begins to soften. It isn’t until they soften that we then discuss the issue. “You hurt your sister.” “You broke the toy.” Etc. We also discuss what needs to be done to rectify the situation; to make amends. This works even with my 2 year old.

I have a couple of people who think being loving when a child has misbehaved will only encourage them to misbehave. The evidence doesn’t seem to indicate that to me. I only have to use this method a couple of times each day – I think that is amazing with a 5 year old and a 2 year old.

The next time you find yourself judging harshly another, ask yourself, do they need connection? Judgment will just cause further disconnect. Compassion will create connection.