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]
Welcome! I'm Ian Peatey and this site is one way I share Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by writing articles and sharing information about NVC materials, news and people. I hope you'll be a frequent visitor.
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