The Other I

July 5, 2014

A heroic lesson still unlearned

The most frequently read post on this blog by far is the post  Why do abused children become abusers?    Why, I asked, are a disproportionate number of abusers people who have themselves been abused?  Would you not think that they, above all, would know how painful and destructive it is?  The key explanation seems to be that we don’t learn kindness and love through negative example.  We need to learn how to love from positive experience – at least from one other person in our lives for however short a time.

I have reflected on this fact again several times this week but especially this morning when I read that Israeli pathologists have announced that the Palestinian teenager kidnapped and murdered in an apparent revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli boys last week, was burned alive.  Not just murdered.  Murdered in what must have been excruciating agony.

Would you not think that every Jew in the land, above all, would shudder at the horror of this act?  This is a people living in a land returned to them after the Holocaust, in which up to 8 million Jews were put into gas chambers for no other reason than that they were Jews.  This is a people whose by-word is “Never Again!”

This is not to suggest that the majority of the Israelis support this ghastly revenge.  I strongly suspect that the majority are as appalled as I am.

But how could there be a single Israeli who feels that this act is not abhorrent?

I think it is because kindness and love are not learned simply because one sees how terrible hatred and abuse can be.  Unfortunately, there is in all of us an instinctive desire for what we blindly call “justice,” a “tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye.”

But history shows us it doesn’t work.  The legacy is bitterness and anger and an unending cycle of revenge.

It will not bring peace.



  1. ‘…we don’t learn kindness and love through negative example. We need to learn how to love from positive experience – at least from one other person in our lives for however short a time…’ – a profound statement. Reminds me of “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    Am curious to know where do the pundits in psychology stand on this matter.


    Comment by tskraghu — July 5, 2014 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

    • By and large, psychology stands with Mahatma Gandhi. Psychologists like Carl Roger & Abraham Maslow would be prime examples. Rogers developed a therapeutic technique where the first and most irreplaceable role of the therapist was to fully listen to what the patient (or client) was saying — not to judge or direct, but to respect, to love him or her unconditionally. He was even known on occasion to spend an entire hour with a patient without exchanging a single word — out of respect for the patient’s wishes at the time. Even the reductionist Behaviorists who believe that all our behavior is controlled by mechanistic punishment & reward argue that positive reinforcement (ie: reward for a positive action) is far more effective than punishment.

      There is some now rather old research examining the lives of “survivors” – people who seem to come through sometimes incredible and long-term traumas and abuse. What it found was that these children almost all had at least one person in their lives who valued them. Sometimes it was a grandparent, a neighbour, an aunt or uncle, an older sibling. Surprisingly, it may have been someone they did not know over a prolonged period of time – like a teacher.


      Comment by theotheri — July 5, 2014 @ 7:42 pm | Reply

      • Many managers practice an immediate ‘rap on the knuckles’ followed by a softening touch. Is there a basis?


        Comment by tskraghu — July 6, 2014 @ 1:03 am

  2. As I’m sure you would agree, life is too complex for a single answer that fits all occasions. But broadly speaking, the aim is generally to aim for intrinsic rather than extrinsic consequences – that is, consequences that arise directly from what I do rather than from an external motivating force. For instance, I might not over-indulge in alcohol because the hangover is more than I want to deal with or because it makes my joints ache the next day. Those are intrinsic punishments, whereas being thrown into jail overnight because I was aggressively drunk on the street is an external punishment. In the case of an intrinsic punishment, I tend to make my own decisions, whereas extrinsic punishments often depend on whether I can get away with it or not.

    It is too dangerous to let everybody discover for themselves the negative consequences of everything we might do, however. It is far better to stop a child reaching out to put his hand on a hot stove, just as a baggage handler cannot be given the opportunity to experiment with what might happen if he does not make sure the cargo door is securely closed before the plane takes off. Under these circumstances, the key is, whenever possible, to explain why certain behaviors should be avoided, and when possible, to offer an alternative.

    Whether it is in the family, the school, or the work place, this fundamental principle applies. We want ou rchildren, our nurses, our doctors, our teachers, our workers in every field, to be intrinsically motivated. This does not mean they should not be well-paid, or that they should not be shown appreciation, or praised. But a nurse who is not intrinsically motivated to care for her patients is the nurse who will be neglectful or even abusive when nobody is around. The child who doesn’t steal from the local store because he will be seen by a security camera will steal when he won’t be seen.

    I would expect that a rap on the knuckles followed by a softening touch may be either constructive or self-defeating. It may be effective if the reason for the rap on the knuckles is explained and the preferred alternative is offered. But it might be self-defeating if both the rap on the knuckles and the softening touch are extrinsic – ie – both merely reflect the approval or disapproval of the manager. It might be doubly self-defeating if the message from the manager is “this is bad,” on the one hand, but the softening touch sends the message “but not really that bad.”

    Not sure if I’ve explained this very well. But if I’ve managed to communicate, based on what I have read in your blogs, I would be surprised if you would not agree that your own experience bears it out. Be interested to know.


    Comment by theotheri — July 6, 2014 @ 11:20 am | Reply

    • “…I would expect that a rap on the knuckles followed by a softening touch may be either constructive or self-defeating. It may be effective if the reason for the rap on the knuckles is explained and the preferred alternative is offered. But it might be self-defeating if both the rap on the knuckles and the softening touch are extrinsic – ie – both merely reflect the approval or disapproval of the manage…”

      It is unfortunate in these days the managers dont have the time to explain.

      Thanks v much for sharing ur thoughts in detail.

      I hope I am not imposing on your time. One last question: In your views, what forces encourage internal motivation to happen?


      Comment by tskraghu — July 6, 2014 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

      • How can we encourage internal motivation? Again, the concrete choices differ with different situations and people – children, students, employees, managers, friends, clients or patients cannot be treated identically. (I know you know this, but everyone reading this comment might not.) Basically, the principle is to encourage people as far as possible to evaluate their own behavior. Something along the lines of “Are you pleased with what you did?” is the kind of question you can ask a 3-year-old who has just learned to tie his shoes just as effectively as one can ask an adult who has just finished a major business project. Similarly, “Do you think you could make it better?” or “Do you want to do it again?” are more apt to foster self-evaluation and thus internal motivation than criticism but also – interestingly – than praise. Most people think praise is unqualifyingly positive in its effects, but often it is teaching someone to work to gain someone else’s approval rather than there own.

        One vocational adviser I worked with used to ask her students to make a list of the ten things they liked to do. Use that list, she told them, to help you choose your career because it is apt to include those things you will be willing to put energy into and most probably will be good at. Another approach is to ask the individual or group to set up their own goals, to discuss how to work toward them, and then to evaluate the progress they think is being made. The options, obviously, are limited only by our imagination and our willingness to let others judge themselves.

        Of course, we also need external evaluation in many circumstances. It is good to teach students to ask themselves how they respond to different kinds of music, art, sports, even various forms of recreation. But they also need to know eventually how some of their talents compare to others. In the work place as well, I need to know the needs of the people I am serving or the company for whom I’m working as much as I need to be the judge of my own work. And in the family and community, I need to take into consideration how others may be affected by my choices.

        One last thing: some people seem to be born with a stronger determination to do things on their own terms than others. That does not mean everyone does not need encouragement and guidance to forge their own path and to take responsibility for their own choices.

        I hope you feel this comment addresses your question. In any case, you are not in any way imposing on my time. I think it’s a fascinating subject which I could discuss for hours on end. So thank you.


        Comment by theotheri — July 6, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

      • Thank your taking the time to respond at length. Would love to read about your experiences and experiments on behaviors, ethics, social trends,etc.


        Comment by tskraghu — July 7, 2014 @ 1:29 am

      • Most of my work has been in relation to students, teachers, and parents, rather than in the adult work place. What I would find most interesting would be the opportunity to exchange ideas and outcomes. You have grandchildren as well as work in a business setting, and are in a different culture than the one in which I was socialized. We could, perhaps, exchange experiences using our ping backs on our blog posts to respond to each other. We could experiment – I would be happy to throw out some ideas on my blog and you could evaluate and possibly test them and write up your experience in your own blog. I\’m pretty sure I would love to read about your experiences on the topic as much, and probably more, than you would appreciate mine.

        But no time-pressure for either one of us!

        On Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 2:30 AM, The Other I wrote:



        Comment by Terry Sissons — July 7, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

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