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Are Consequences Necessary?

As Tom says, “Consequences are inevitable.”  

People mostly talked, in one way or another, about consequences as a learning tool.  But sometimes we don’t or can’t learn from our mistakes or the consequences thereof.  My mind goes to a friend I rode the van with years ago who confided in me and our other seat-mate about his gambling addiction.  He was in a great deal of financial trouble as a result, and he didn’t know what he was going to do.  This guy was clearly filled with anxiety (else he surely wouldn’t have told us about his situation).  When I later asked if he was going to seek help, he said “For what?”  Um…Your Problem…you were telling us you have a gambling addiction, you were upset about it, you gambled away a lot of money and didn’t know how you were going to pay it back.  Your. Problem.  

He said, “I don’t have a problem anymore…my parents took care of that.”  So, in his mind, the problem was not the addiction that caused the consequence.  His problem was the consequence itself, and that was eliminated as soon as his parents paid off his debt.  Not only did they take out a 2nd mortgage on their house, but they had helped him with gambling debts before.  By “helping” him, they were not allowing him to face the consequences of his actions – which was clearly the only way he would be able to learn any kind of lesson.

Of course, I’m no one to judge – I’ll admit that there are lessons I’ve had to learn over and over.  And I’ve got the consequential bruises to prove it.

I’d show you the pictures, but this is a G-Rated blog.

Here is what some other people said:

Sharon:  Yes.  How would you ever learn a lesson?  You’d never grow, you would never learn, you would run into the wall with your head every. single. time.

Lynn:  Yes, you have to pay for the consequences of your actions.  I think that you have to have them, because it’s part of learning, it’s life.

Julie:  That’s sticky.
—Abena:  What’s the context?  Like, if you do something and the consequence of the action that you take…
Julie:  See, that’s what I’m thinking, because a lot of times, when you do something bad, your own conscience can eat you up.  So, sometimes that guilt, even thinking that…

—Michelle:  Like that’s its own consequence, the guilt, even though nothing – you don’t get “in trouble”?
Julie:  But that also depends on whether or not you have a conscience.  Because some people don’t.

Abena:  I think that consequences are necessary.  It makes you…
Julie:  …for people that don’t have a conscience…

Abena:  …yes, and it helps you not to repeat your mistakes.

Rhonda:  Yes.
Jim:  Sometimes, but not all the time.  When you don’t know the situation…
Michelle:  So, it’s not fair to enforce consequences when you don’t have all the information…

Jim:  You have to have the full knowledge.  Like a car accident could happen out here, but I won’t know who’s at fault if I didn’t see it happen.
Rhonda:  You know when the reporter went to China and they crossed the line into North Korea, they didn’t know they had crossed the line, and she gets locked up?  In that particular case, yes there’s consequences if you’re deliberately doing it; however, it’s a very fine line.

*We had just finished talking about learning the hard way, when Rebecca started telling me this story involving the consequences of not doing what your head is telling you to do.  Speaking of consequences, I talk about the tree thing, too:

Rebecca:  In the perspective of raising children, if you keep saying no, no, no, they’re gonna tune it out.  But if you say, “If you do that, this will happen, and if you do this, that will happen,” you’re not only teaching them that there are consequences to doing the wrong thing – if you follow through, like “If you do this, I’m going to put you in time out.” – but, they also learn how to make good decisions.  They build confidence in their own decision-making ability so that as they grow older they are self-assured.  But also, the consequence is what keeps them from doing what you don’t want them to do, rather than you telling them not to – the consequence is what keeps the person in line.  And it carries through to me, just like making that chili.  The consequence of me not making the bottle and following my instinct was that I had to put baggies on my hands to make a bottle, and I worried about the baby getting hurt.  So that consequence wasn’t strong enough to keep me from…for making the chili when Steve got home or going out to the store to buy gloves.  Afterwards, I thought, “Wow, that was really dumb; it wasn’t worth all that; I should have gone to the store to get gloves.”  And just like Amanda, sometimes the consequences aren’t strong enough.  Sometimes she wants to do something and I say, “Well, if you do that, then you’re not going to get your book tonight at storytime.”  Sometimes that book is not enough of a draw.  So the consequence has to match what it is that you’re up against – the strength of the temptation.
—Logan:  You’re not very good at consequences.
Rebecca:  Me?

Logan:  Steve is good.  That’s what scares me.
Rebecca:  I do stink.  I was really good when they were little, but as they get older, I haven’t been as creative as I should have been.

Michelle: Creative?  That’s interesting…creative.
Rebecca:  Steve is an amazing consequencer.

Michelle:  Like what?
Logan:  The man is evil.

Rebecca:  He is – I love him so.  Oh, just stupid stuff, like for every minute that he’s late up to a certain point, he’s got to do one push-up for every minute.
Michelle:  That’s not a bad consequence – if you’re willing to do the push-ups, you can be as late as you want!

Rebecca:  No, because he can’t do that many push-up!.  And if you can’t do the push-ups, Steve steps it up one more notch.  He had to go in the back yard, we have a pile of dirt back there – we still have it in case they get in trouble again – and Logan had to dig every night after school and after his homework was done.
Michelle:  See, that’s a consequence that I would be adamant…that I would not want to have to do.

Rebecca:  Oh, Steve is great.  What other kinds of things has he done?
Logan:  I don’t get in trouble anymore because of him!

Rebecca:  Logan walks a line.
Logan:  I pull in exactly when I’m supposed to.  If it’s 10:13, I am home at 10:12½.

Rebecca:  It is true – you hear his little feet running down the sidewalk.
Logan:  I run!

Michelle:  It’s interesting to me that consequences don’t have to be…it’s creative…and the parent doesn’t have to display the anger.  It’s just a matter of Fact.
Rebecca:  And it does keep you, as a parent, in check a little bit, because it makes you not give a consequence that you’re not willing to live with.  Because you hear that all the time, “If you do that again, we’re gonna leave here!”  But the parent doesn’t want to leave so…it never happens.

Bridget: Yes.

Donna: Yes.  If there is no consequence, then if you’re doing something wrong, you’ll continue doing it wrong.  If you’re making a mistake, you’ll continue making that mistake if there is no consequence.

Tom:  Consequences are inevitable.  They’re gonna happen.  From a point of view of physics, the laws of reaction, there are consequences inevitable to everything we do.
Jacque:  For every action, there is a reaction.
Tom:  Equal and opposite reaction.  You can’t avoid consequences, in a physical sense, in a natural sense.  Consequences are a result of living life – there are consequences to everything we do.  You can’t have life without having consequences.  If you walk across the street, there are consequences.  And there are thousands of consequences that we don’t even consider, from the consequence of we’re wearing out our shoes when we walk across the street.

Michelle:  One consequence is you get there.
Tom:  That’s right!  And from the mosquito that might have hitch-hiked a ride on you, to the person that might have had to slow their car down that caused a reaction…  It’s like saying when the butterfly flaps it’s wings, on the other side of the world…

Jacque:  …there’s a tsunami.
Tom:  …that it has an effect.  Life is consequences.

Queen:  Yes.
—Princess:  Yeah – why wouldn’t they be?
Michelle:  Well, I’m just asking.  I’ve had at least one person who told me “No”.
—Princess:   Well I’d be interested in why they said “No”.
Michelle:  Because he’s a smart ass.

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Skip on over:

Consequentially Speaking by me, plus you’ll find another good link there

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I don’t think this is a dud at all. As you noted, discussions of consequences usually center on their function in teaching lessons, reinforcing desired behavior and discouraging (or punishing) bad behavior. I like that you asked about “consequences” rather than “punishment,” which is a lot more specific and connotes more intentionality and explicit purpose. Consequences of some kind happen no matter what. Punishments (and rewards) do not.

    Also, the first place this question took me was: “Are there some behaviors and actions that no set of consequences, however painful or decisive, will alter?” Also: “What are we to do when consequences don’t work?” And: “When it’s in our power to determine consequences (punishments and rewards, for example) for certain behaviors, how do we go about fairly deciding who deserves which consequences and when?” Some people really can’t control some of what they do, even when their actions cause them all kinds of pain (and therefore have negative consequences). People with certain backgrounds are far more likely to commit certain crimes than people with different backgrounds. Where do we draw the line between genes+upbringing (good or bad) and personal responsibility that demands punishment for misdeeds?

    Generally we draw this line by saying that before a person turns 18 we will forgive them most things, but the day they cross into legal adulthood, they will be treated as wholly responsible for their actions and we will reward or punish them accordingly, sometimes sentencing them to death for their crimes (this is NOT an argument for or against or about the death penalty! Just an observation about how important age 18 is, and how much consequences change overnight).

    Neuroscientist Terry Eagleton wrote an interesting article in last issue of “The Atlantic” in which he shared what current research has to say about personal accountability, volition, where decisions and behaviors arise from in the brain, etc. He focused on how our system of justice might change in response to what science is revealing about how complicated it is to determine absolute responsibility for people’s actions (He’s not arguing that we should close our prisons, release everyone, and call it a day 🙂 ).

    OK, that’s it for me. I like your question, especially as I’m a teacher and doling out consequences, for good behavior and bad, is the bane of my existence!

    July 24, 2011
    • Pretty interesting stuff, isn’t it? I was talking to my Aunt & Uncle last night about how the Queries have made me alter my views – or at least consider different angles. There’s no telling where someone will take a question!

      Ok, at work taking a little break to answer this. But did I tell you yet that I missed you last week? 🙂 Thanks for the comment, I wish I had time right now to answer it properly. I do want to look up that article, too.

      July 24, 2011
      • Interesting, I agree! And I so agree about the value of the Queries. The ability to ask the kinds of questions you’re asking is one that a lot of kids never pick up… I think it has to be taught and/or helped along, but for a lot of reasons that doesn’t always happen. Constructive (or critical…) thinking itself doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It has to be taught, rewarded (consequences!), etc. And the act of framing something as a question is sooo sooo much more constructive than starting out with a rock solid position that have to defend. I prefer the socratic method to either/or debates almost any day. Each has its place, of course!

        I missed you too! I promise to comment more actively, but I don’t know how quickly I’ll get back into posting on my blog. That’s terrible for maintaining readers (once they’re gone, they’re probably gone for good), but I’m just… not feeling it lately. I could blog about that, but I don’t want to repeat over and over again how ineffectual I feel my words are lately (ha, I guess if I had to repeat it I would really prove my point!).

        July 24, 2011
        • Maybe it’s the heat, I don’t know… I haven’t felt up to it for the past two weeks, going into three now. That’s why two photo posts week before last and a poem and journal last week. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I feel blank at the same time. I also considered writing about that, but couldn’t muster up the words for that even. I’m in a down phase, or at least that’s how I view it…hard to explain, not quite depressed, but not happy. Maybe I do need to write about that.

          Anyway, I get it and I understand.

          July 24, 2011

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