Some experts, in writing about discipline, try to equate and
lump together what I have called the Discipline of Nature and the
Discipline of Superior Force. They say that when we tell a child
to do something, and punish him if he does not, we are teaching
him to understand the natural consequences of his acts.
In a widely praised book, one expert gave this typical advice.
If your child comes home late to dinner, tell him that he can't
have any dinner, and he will soon learn the "natural
consequences" of being late and come home on time. The
example is confused, foolish, and wrong. Being denied any dinner
can be called a "natural" consequence of coming home
late only in the sense that anything and everything that happens
is a part of reality and hence can be called "natural."
One might as easily say that being flogged was also a
"natural" consequence of being late. In fact, getting no
dinner is not a natural consequence of being late at all, but a
purely arbitrary one imposed by the parents. The natural
consequence of coming home late to dinner might be that your
dinner would be cold, or that you would have to eat much or all of
it alone, or that you would have to clear your place when you had
finished and wash your dishes yourself.
Not getting any dinner might be a natural consequence of coming
home unexpectedly, so that nothing was prepared for you.
But it is not a natural consequence of being late. It is
punishment pure and simple. Punishers always tell the punished
that their punishments are the "natural" consequences of
their acts. Not so. They are the result of a choice which the
punishers, or the authority they represent, have forced on the
Some people say, "I agree with all you have said so far. I
don't want to make my child servile and docile, I want him to have
an interesting and exciting life. But to do anything interesting
and worthwhile he is going to have to do a lot of plain, old
disagreeable hard work. If he's never been made to do anything he
didn't like, how is he going to be able to do the hard work, stick
to it until it is done?" Now I don't deny for a second that
much of the work done in the world is disagreeable and hard. But
that is not what these people are saying. They say that to do
anything takes Disagreeable Hard Work, that all work is
Disagreeable Hard Work.
In those three words is a whole way of life and of looking at
life, very widespread, very deeply rooted, and very wrong. First,
the old Puritan split and opposition between work and play. Work
is what you don't like, but you do it because you have to, or
someone makes you, and so it is good for you. Play is what you do
like, but it is bad for you, because you like it. Beneath that
there is a still deeper and more destructive splitting, a
splitting up, in the name of logic or reason or analysis, of our
whole lives and indeed the whole of human experience into tiny and
disconnected fragments. Alan Watts, in The
Book, said that Western thinkers like to divide
into parts an experience that is all one whole, and then get into
endless tangles and arguments trying to decide which parts are
cause and which effect. Whether other cultures do this or not, I
don't know. We certainly do, and it does a great deal to kill the
joy and meaning in our lives.