For many years I believed doing something ‘wrong’ deserves punishment – physical, emotional or psychological. A few years ago I decided to transform, with the help of NVC, this notion of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ I grew up with.

Here some examples of where I might have learned this concept of ‘wrong’:


  • School: getting something wrong in class was punished with a low grade (or public ridicule)
  • Home: disobedience or carelessness was sometimes met with a mild slap on the legs and education about my mistake
  • Church: I was taught about the ‘big wrong-doings’ of sin resulting in eternal damnation
  • Police: The punishment depends on the significance of my ‘crime’. I got fined and accumulated some points for a couple of speeding tickets in my younger days
  • Peers: listening to ‘inappropriate’ music or wearing ‘unfashionable’ clothes was punished by my peers with laughter and ridicule.

I often get stuff ‘wrong’ and beating myself up (or being beaten up) is neither helpful nor healthy and I don’t want my actions to be motivated out of fear of punishment. So my new thinking means I can’t do anything ‘wrong’.

I’m not talking about disagreements but about those situations where I’m clear I messed up. I know it. You know it. Everyone  knows it. Those situations where my behaviour clearly has negative consequences for other people. For example:

  • I run into you and knock you over as I’m sprinting down the street.
  • You catch me in a lie and feel hurt and lose trust in me.

My actions or inactions always have consequences whether I like it or not and why would I ever do something that results in pain?  There are three reasons I can think of:

1   I’m evil and wicked

This is quite a popular explanation but I don’t buy it. I think this view of ‘human-beings-are-sinners’ has done enough harm and it’s time we moved on as a species! I put it here because I have no idea what personal consequences there might be if I don’t include it.  But moving on …

2   I’m missing information

I don’t know everything nor can I forecast the future with any precision so I’m often unaware of the likely consequences of my actions. Things often turn out different to my expectations or I was missing information that if I had known I would have done something different.

I’m running down the road, worried I’ll be late and oblivious of your presence. If I knew you were there I’d have slowed down!

3   I didn’t know what else to do

It happens I know exactly what the consequences will be but I don’t know any other way to act at the time. If I’d seen another way then I would have taken it.

I was feeling vulnerable and scared of telling the truth and to protect myself I lied. I knew you would find out and feel hurt  but I didn’t know any other way to feel secure. If I’d known how to be honest and feel secure at the same time then I would have done so.

I’m not making excuses or absolving myself of responsibility.

I’m seeing clearly and taking responsibility for the consequences of my actions. I did something that hurt you, I feel sad and I’ve learned.  I’m not going to beat myself up with self-blame and I want to apologise with authentic sadness at the results of my actions and not be motivated by ‘repentance’ thinking.

Isn’t this a more peaceful and loving way to learn from mistakes and make connection with those my actions harm?

[This is a revised and edited version of an article I wrote for Quantum Learning – my deceased blog]