By Patricia Johnson
We are coming into a season marked with excess. Excess food, sugar, presents, stuff, even excess time with extended family. Maybe you all have the holidays figured out and do better than just survive the commercialized bombardment of the season. My young family however, is just entering the phase of life where Christmas isn’t just Daddy having extra time off work and getting to sit in “big church” for the family Christmas Eve service. Now, there are expectations of gifts and treats, and even expectations of a little elf who can’t just sit on a shelf like his name implies. Nope, this little guy is expected to move and be creatively sly now. I think I liked him better last year.
One way we like to prepare for the onslaught of gifts under the tree is to preemptively purge the items we no longer need or use. The process is therapeutic to me and helps me to not become overwhelmed by excess after the holidays.
The kids are learning about how we can bless others who are less fortunate by sharing our things while they are still nice, useful and desirable. I have to fight the urge sometimes — while tripping over toys in our playroom — to not hold the fact that we are very fortunate over my kids’ heads, saying something like “You should take better care of your things! Don’t you know there are kids who have nothing?”
This idea that someone else’s situation should dictate expectations placed on a different individual is the greatest shortcoming of group punishment, a technique embraced in the military yet one we should avoid in our homes.
The Army is notorious for embracing the idea of group punishment. Perhaps because the method of punishing everyone is easier than punishing only the guilty. Maybe the strategy fortifies the process of reducing the individual to enforce the idea of a unified team. Or perhaps, it is implemented in hopes of using peer pressure to encourage soldiers to police their own ranks and take care of a small issue before it becomes a command problem. Regardless of the reasoning behind group punishment, you would be challenged to find someone who has enjoyed being on the receiving end of group punishment or could articulate a specific positive outcome of the group punishment.
For example, “I am so glad that Smith was late for formation because I really wanted to do 40 pushups in the rain during formation this morning” is something that has never been said.
Nevertheless, group punishment is the default action in the Army. A short story about a deliberate attempt to avoid group punishment: Just weeks after returning from an OEF deployment, a couple of soldiers were busted with possession of marijuana. At the end of the Thursday formation, the commander gathered everyone together and said she knew everyone was hoping for a long weekend but that, in light of recent choices made in the formation, she had to rethink Friday’s schedule. Disappointment hung heavy in the air.
She then looked as many people in the eye and told them that she trusted them to make good choices and that she did not want to see any of them until Monday morning. Not surprisingly, there were zero issues during that long weekend. Avoiding group punishment is important for morale, but it takes extra effort to take each situation individually and ensuring the only the real issues are addressed.
Back to the problem of excess in our homes. The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year filled with opportunities to bless others, particularly those less fortunate than us. Please do not miss the chance to foster compassion in your kids. Scolding your kids for not finishing their vegetables at dinner because there are starving kids in Africa will not cause your kids to feel compassion for others. Same goes when we are vainly trying to get our kids to clean up their toys or put away their clothes. Shaming them for having too many things won’t encourage them to be generous with others or appreciate what they do have.
The best outcome we can hope for with this technique is an eye roll from our child, but at worst, we might plant the seed of contempt for those less fortunate. Try to avoid group think and group punishment and enjoy the unique and blessed position you are in while breeding compassion and generosity for others. Then, enjoy the holiday season guilt free.