Wait 'till I get my hands on you!
by Fr. Terence O'Brien S.D.B.
THERE are very few words written of the story of the human race before we are in trouble! In the third last verse of Ch. II of Genesis
Adam received Eve from God. By the sixth verse of Ch. III they have both done wrong! The fourth chapter
begins by telling us of the birth of Cain and Abel, by
verse five there is trouble
Cain jealous and "exceedinglyangry with his brother.
By the eighth verse he has murdered him! And so it has gone on ever since, quarrel and anger, wrong doing and
evil, upsets, squabbles, bad temper, disobedience, and the rest. It is salutary to remember sometimes that it was the parents who started it all and not the children!
With wrong doing in all its greater or lesser forms there inevitably arises the question of punishment: it is very often the automatic response. Wrong doing normally produces two reactions in us, blame or censure for the one concerned and the desire to punish him or see him punished. It is very necessary to be able to set aside our own spontaneous reactions whatever they may be, so that we can be completely objective and have only the welfare of the children at heart.
Absolutely speaking only God has the right to punish and when we punish we do so in His stead and with His authority. In effect we are aciing like Gods and there Is danger in this, because secretly we want to be like Gods, and consequently we may easily over reach ourselves. Another danger is that having punished, we feel we have done our duty and we stop there: we may neglect entirely to enable the child to overcome himself' and to build up or rebuild himself. It is so much easier, just to punish and leave it at that. Punishment must always be only a part and a small part at that, of the much greater and total process of formation and development. Its necessity at times arises out of the very nature of man, the unreasoning. wilful, blind, animal part of man. But this is only a part. and we should never punish as though it were the whole of the child. 11 we do. the likely result will be that the child will be completely swamped and the effects that should follow will not he possible. Punishment therefore should be aimed at helping to restrain in a positive way, and not be just a "payment" or retribulitta exacted for wrong doing. It is wise therefore to beware of the very clear cut, definite. black and white approach: "you knew quite well you were not supposed to do it. you were told quite clearly; you chose to do it deliberately: all right. you are going to got the punishment you deserve." This is acting like God with a vengeanceexcept that God does not normally act that way if He did, what would happen to ourselves'? Apart from that it ignores the essential nature of children, who normally do not act with cold deliberation, hut impulsively, e arei e ss 1 y, thimehtlessly. This leads Ills also to the realization that it is not what the one who punishes intends, which mat lees in the long run, but what the attitude of mind of the recipient is. I will come back on this later on. but would like to mention a couple of points. which flow from this. We can intend punishment to stop something being done thc result can be to make the child more careful not to be caught doing iL again, but lust as eager to carry on doing it. This applies especially to things where there already exists a habit of doing them: A punishment which is meant to convince how wrong the action is. may instead leave the child with the impression how angry a certain line of action can make adults.
It is clear then that the whole business of punishment is far from as simple itS may appear at first sight. Care and reflection are required not only to make "the punishment fit the crime". but still more with regard to our whole approach to it and our endeavour to see it not as something isolated arid complete in itself, hut as part of a total building op, a part withal, which through lack of care and understanding can do more harm than good.