by Izzy Kalman (March 2003)
Why shouldn’t we punish kids when they say mean things to each other?
This is a very difficult idea for many adults to accept. At my Anger Control Made Easy Seminars, I have increasingly been referring to the Golden Rule as the ultimate recipe for a happy and successful life. The Golden Rule, as you probably know, refers to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” also known as, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and “Whatever is distasteful to yourself, do not do to others.” The purpose of the Golden Rule is to have us behave contrary to our natural instincts. The natural thing is to treat others the way they treat us. When people are nice to us, we are nice back. When they are mean to us, we are mean in return.
The Golden Rule tells us to treat others not the way they treat us, but the way we would like to be treated by them. The beauty behind this is that even if they start out being mean, they end up being nice to us if we respond to their meanness with kindness.
Another thing I teach at my seminars is to practice freedom of speech. We should not punish kids for saying mean things to each other, otherwise we make them hate each other more and the kid we punish ends up hating us, too. In the process, we actually encourage them to use bad language more often.
Some of my participants get upset with me because they think that the Golden Rule requires us to punish kids who don’t treat others nicely. Since it is good to be nice, we should force them to be nice and punish those who aren’t.
Though this seems to make sense, it is wrong. The Golden Rule is a “rule.” It is not the “Golden Law.” As soon we turn the Golden Rule into law, we violate the Golden Rule. Would you like to be punished whenever someone feels you weren’t nice to them? Of course not! You would be furious, and rightfully so. Being nice is a personal decision. If we are forced to be nice, then being nice becomes meaningless. Only crimes should be punished, not meanness. Furthermore, niceness is a subjective evaluation. The same act may be considered mean by one person and nice by another.
The “political correctness” movement is the attempt to force people to live by the Golden Rule. But the very act of forcing people to practice the Golden Rule is contrary to the Golden Rule. And that is why the political correctness movement causes so many problems.
So how will our children ever learn to be nice if we don ‘t punish them for being mean? Not by preaching the Golden Rule to our children, but by practicing it with them. The saying, “Children learn from our actions, not from our words,” is so true. If we treat our kids with niceness, they will learn to be nice in return. If we punish them whenever they are not nice, they will learn to punish others who aren’t nice, and thus will never learn to practice the Golden Rule.