Beginners guides

Carrot or stick?

insultingIt was the BAFTA’s last night, or the Stephen Fry show depending upon how you look at it. Lots of thespians getting gongs for being fabulous. There was much gushing and eye wiping and a wonderful night was had by all. Well except those who didn’t get to stand on stage to gush over a ‘death mask on a stick’ as Billy Connolly put it.

Recognition for your efforts was the theme of the evening, as is every awards ceremony and awards ceremonies for those being awarded are the highlight of the year, or their life, depending on how many awards the awarded usually wins.  I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that all of those people in that building do what they do so well or otherwise out of a desire for recognition of success rather than out of fear of being punished for failure. Herein lies the theme of today’s post. It’s about how I believe we achieve greater things if we strive to be recognised for being amazing rather than to avoid being punished for failure. You might think that’s pretty obvious but the threat of punishment for failure is quite intrinsic to so many people’s formative years and beyond.

I have a child like need for feedback. My primary driver is recognition. I know what punishment for failure looks like on quite an epic scale, but it never made me achieve anything good, ever. It can’t just be me. Many parents lament the loss of corporal punishment and the ability to smack their own children. I am totally in support of strict discipline to establish boundaries of behaviour but punishment should cease when it is used as the motivator to better things.  It does not make people achieve better things. People throughout history have done terrible things to avoid punishment, they’ve done amazing things to get recognition, am I making sense?

There are examples I have seen in my life that have actually crushed people’s potential achievements and stunted their personalities. Making otherwise outgoing people shy and withdrawn. Discouraging creative people from expressing and using their talents. People can affect other people’s whole lives without even knowing it. The teacher who could just say “No that is incorrect but here is how you understand and figure that out” But instead says “wrong again you stupid boy, will you never learn?  I don’t know how I put up with you in my class” The parent who just says, “Don’t slam the door!” When a child races noisily into the house to tell of something they have done which they are very excited about.

The old story of the carrot and the stick has merit but the stick should be used to create boundaries of behaviour, not to try and enforce enterprise. The key people influencing our lives when we are or were growing up must understand what that influence can mean and how it can affect the entire lives of those they have influence over. The parent or teacher who uses threats of punishment for failure as the motivator for endeavour is merely creating an invisible line of satisfactory performance below which the punishment for failure lies. Threats of exclusion and humiliation if you don’t’ achieve a particular goal or target.

Guess what? That invisible line becomes the standard the pupil or child focuses upon. Being a bit better than not demonstratively failing means avoiding punishment. That’s where mediocrity or worse lives and breeds. People learn to manipulate, lie, cheat and deceive to avoid being punished rather than seeking ever greater levels of achievement to gain recognition and encouragement because they weren’t being encouraged, just threatened. History is littered with poignant tales of lives dramatically affected when a young person or even adult had just wanted to make the person most influential in their lives proud.  If the influence was positive, supportive and encouraging, usually the story ends well. If the influence was negative, unsupportive, pressurised, or even malign, mostly the story ends badly, fatally even.

This isn’t rocket science but sadly too many people do not encourage the particular gifts of those they influence. I know of a number of people who had no encouragement at all from their parents or teachers in what they were good at because the parent didn’t approve or the teacher didn’t know, or understand, or have time. So those people’s talents went unused, ignored and wasted, lost to the world for want of a few positive words from people who mattered. That is a terrible shame and it’s happening every single day.

The people who are encouraged at every step of a journey to what they wish to achieve look forward rather than back at the invisible line. It’s quite simple but if people are encouraged to achievement of a goal rather that threatened with failure for missing a target they are more likely to accomplish their goals.

In accomplishment lies self-belief and self-belief is crucial to achievement. Self-belief needs reinforcement though; you only get self-belief when you know others believe in you too, you only know they do if they tell you funnily enough. Self-belief is confidence in your abilities and if you are confident in yourself and what you do, other people will believe in you. That is the only path to success in whatever you set out to do. If people have no confidence in you, how can you have confidence in yourself? If you have no confidence in yourself it will be because you fear or feel a failure, you are looking back to the invisible line, discouraged, not encouraged. You’ll be able to trace that back to somewhere.

I’m not a psychologist but I know that people feel an awful lot better about themselves when surrounded with reinforcement and encouragement rather than threats and having what failure looks like pointed out to them all the time. Like I said, this is not rocket science but it still seems to come as news to far too many people in charge of impressionable minds young and old. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, looking at the really really big picture? All the incredible things in our world, made or done by people will have been done by people spurred on and encouraged to be amazing.

The most horrible, hateful, evil things have mostly been done by people under threat of punishment or fear of the consequences of failure or disobedience.

Simple and obvious. Oradour SmallWe all have people around us influenced by us in some way or another, major and minor. Just make sure your influence is positive, it’s not difficult. Lift a spirit, don’t crush it. The only thing that should be crushed near any spirit is usually ice. Chin up!

18 replies »

  1. LMAO@ Deathmask on a stick!! Love Billy!! Nice ceremony this year, I thought… love that Ben affleck and Argo won… pulling double duty in front and back of the camera… amazing job!

  2. But there have been people who have gone on to achieve in spite of never receiving encouragement. As there have been people who have failed to achieve in spite of the support and encouragement they received.

    I take your point Sandy but the real issue is that we, people, are all different and we all react in different ways to the same stimulus. So that no single strategy is a solution or cure all to any malaise.

    Now if the general principle could be adopted that we are all different and the differences celebrated, then we would all live in greater harmony.

    N’est pa?

  3. My husband’s father crushed every opportunity for him to further his talents.
    My mother carried out a relentless campaign of denigration.
    We both achieved…professionally….we both had self belief in what we were doing, but in private life it can be a different story.

    That’s why we both try to encourage, to applaud, and if we make criticisms, to accompany that with a suggested course of action.

    Makes us sound holier than thou…but we’re not. We’ve both been hurt…no point passing it on.

    • My dad wasn’t one for encouragement more one for making sure you never got too full of yourself, meaning no encouragement. I have a few stories I could tell and started to write them down but thought better of it.

  4. Well written post Sandy. I once had a teacher who enjoyed being condescending at the slightest fault. That made me determined to do well so as not to give him the pleasure… Thankfully times have changed since I was at school. Great images :)) :((

  5. I was just thinking this. I watched a Mum and her little boy swimming yesterday. They were so connected, having a wonderful time. The delight on his face was plain to see, and it made me hope that all children get this simple, beautiful encouragement in life x.

  6. Very well said.= and so true. As your moither I hope I wasn’t too harsh. Do you remember Sam Dailey? He was a friend of Campbells and took his own life at 21. The most talented and lovely guy………..and nobody wanted him or cared. As friends we tried but that doesn’t replace family. He had everything but he had nothing. Liz Abbot (Mother & Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, and whatever other moniker you choose

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