What is it about fear of consequences that has immense power to change behavior? In the classroom, the outcomes are never truly serious and consist of such things as detention, calls to parents or loss of recess.
But it never fails. If you promise that unacceptable behavior will be followed by an undesirable result, that behavior usually disappears.
Unfortunately, we promise the same types of punishments for those in our society who break the laws. The reasoning is flawed. Sentences are inconsistent and often suspended. If the rewards for positive patterns were visible and formidable, we could reward that behavior and eliminate transgressors.
Some of the car insurance companies have the right idea by sending checks to the insured who are accident free. Having recently watched the Olympics, I observed the few who are celebrated and the thousands who are never mentioned. The same imbalance is true of the NBA, NFL and MLB. They all have a few winners and many more losers.
On any given day, we can count the murders or acts of violence and compare them to the reports of kindness or generosity. Yes, the acts of terror occupy large spaces of news coverage but maybe we’re not working hard enough to recognize and reward kindness, generosity and bravery.
No, I’m not naïve. Yes, I know that negativity is more easily found than positivity, on the streets or in the classroom. But as I reflect, I observe one young man who stubbornly and resolutely stacks the chairs and plugs in all computers at the end of the day, without any expectation for recognition or distinction. Perhaps there is a connection between his behavior and statement that he likes me better than any teacher he’s ever had.
We can all do a better job as educators, parents and the media, at identifying character and actions worth celebrating and duplicating. The possibility exists that these actions will reproduce themselves. Shalom.