Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Karmic Penalty Box

When my daughter does something she knows is against the rules, she sits in the penalty box; one minute for each year of age (4 years old=4 minutes). She cannot move, speak or play in the penalty box. If she does, her time starts over. I typically set the oven timer for the amount of time, as I will forget that she is in the penalty box and inadvertantly make her sit there longer than is required. This punishment works the boredom factor; children have a hard time doing nothing and quickly learn that the penalty box equals no fun. She knows that if she breaks the rule again that same day, she sits for twice that time, until she learns to stop doing the wrong thing. She has only had to sit in the penalty box (a little chair) for more than her usual time a few times; once when she refused to swallow some food in her mouth, and a couple other times just because she was testing me. If she has an accident at school, meaning she's "too busy playing" to go to the bathroom when necessary, she sits in the penalty box and has a toy taken away for a week. Luckily for her, knock on wood, she's not had an accident in about a month. (I don't punish her when it's not her fault for having an accident. She is, after all, only 4). If she lies to me, she sits in the penalty box, has a toy taken away for a week and cannot watch T.V. for a week. So far, we've only had to do that once. There are no rewards for normal, acceptable behavior. If she does something extraordinary, then she might receive a treat or special toy. But she doesn't get anything for doing what is expected. Just like real life. The only reward she gets for having good behavior is a compliment on her behavior. This makes it more natural to her to do the right things instead of "being on good behavior" when company is over or she's visiting someone else's house.

The point of these punishments is to teach her that with every choice we make, there are consequences. The bigger the violation, the bigger the punishment. All to help her to make the right decisions later in life. Not to say that she won't make bigger mistakes as she gets older, but hopefully this will help to show her after she makes the first mistake, not to do it again, or the consequence will still be there.

So what happens when grown-ups make big mistakes? Something not illegal, but still not the right thing? Should they sit in the penalty box? How many times would an adult's time start over because they couldn't sit still and do absolutely nothing for as many minutes as they are old. Sure, we all sit still when watching T.V. shows or movies, but can you actually sit still in a chair for 35 minutes (or however old you are) and do nothing without falling asleep? Can you have something you have come to depend on taken away for a week? Can you have your favorite appliance in your house off-limits for a week? I have actually recently had this experience; I had my purse stolen and was without my cell phone and ATM/Debit cards for a week (actually, the phone is still gone, I've had to start over on an old one I still had in the house). To feel cut-off from the world by not having my cell, and to have to plan how much money I needed so I didn't have to keep going into the branch during business hours was very hard. I'm still collecting phone numbers from friends and family. I just yesterday got my replacement cards for my bank. I feel like I've had a huge part of my life taken away, yet really it was only a week before I felt mostly back to normal. But, I digress from the point I'm trying to make...

How long should one be punished for a bad deed? 1 week? 1 month? 1 year? 10 years? How long should the reminder last that you have done something bad? Forgiveness is taught in many religions; forgive someone who has wronged you. I've learned, at least for myself, that forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or excusing the bad thing, just letting the other person, and yourself, know that that bad thing will no longer be in the front of your mind and taking over your life. You know that the person did something bad, but you're not going to keep focusing on it. You are going to move on with your life, and perhaps get back the relationship you had with that person, if so desired. If your best friend lied to you, how long would they be "in the doghouse" until you chose to forgive them? If they felt horrible about it, should that guilt shorten their sentence?

But there's another question I have, one that is always on my mind, most often on a certain day during the week: How long should we punish ourselves for something bad we've done? What if no one else in the world knew what you had done, would you still feel bad? Should you still feel bad? If what you had done had hurt someone you cared about, though they had no clue it was you that caused the hurt, how long would you feel guilty about it and how long would you keep the secret? Would you let the bad deed haunt you and prevent you from moving on? How do you know when, or if, you are forgiven by the universe/karma/God? How do you know when you are allowed to move on with your life, lesson learned? What if this bad deed was completely against what you have believed in your entire life? Can you think of yourself as a good person ever again? Can anything you do ever make up for it? How many good deeds does it take to make the bad one go away? Or are you eternally in the penalty box, forced to go without certain aspects of life, a constant reminder of what you've done wrong?

When will the timer go off, letting you know your punishment is through?

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My fearless child, friends and I on Tower of Terror at DCA

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