Some theories speculate that by the time that we have graduated from high school, our personalities have been solidified. Others believe that our personalities as children and adults are coded in our genetics. Others, including myself, believe that we are somewhat more malleable. Still, the former theories are of interest, especially given my experiences as an educator.
As you know, I have returned to the United States, the land of underemployment, where I am currently working as a teacher’s assistant. I won’t get too into details, but one of the children that I am working with has behavioral issues. He likes to run out of the classroom, and it is part of my job to ensure his safety.
Once he has run out, there is no getting him back in unless he wants to go back in. This is the first lesson.
People Will Always Have Their Interests in Mind
Whether we are talking about a kindergartner, woman in the dating scene, politician, or any other manner of person, we must be aware that everyone has their own motives. Even the seemingly all-giving altruistic individual has a motive that probably goes beyond love and compassion.
Having a motive in and of itself is not a problem at all. It is just important to realize that we are likely not the center of others’ universes. This reality can be utilized in a variety of ways. First, if we have a way to suit the needs of others, we may get what we want out of them. Second, we can protect ourselves from being mere pawns in their game. Finally, we can avoid guilt in having motives of our own. If this world is unfair and people are selfish, we can make it more fair (through mutual unfairness) and be selfish ourselves, or at least we can ensure that our own needs are met.
Young children are often inherently selfish. They know little about the concept of civic duty, and their worlds revolve around themselves. They can be hyper-Machiavellian without even knowing it. In order to reel children (and overgrown “children”) in, counter-Machiavellian tactics must be employed. This leads us to our second lesson.
Strict Punishments and Incentives to Curtail Behavior
Punishments and incentives, keeping the desires of others in mind, can be wondrous means of attaining what we want. A child that understands that they must eat their meat before having pudding will gobble their meal with anticipation. I for one know that the prospect of spending time on my old Packard Bell computer as a kid made spinach seem much more delicious.
However, when punishments are taken away and rewards are doled out without earning them, contempt and disobedience are born. This is what I am dealing with.
In my experience, setting firm ground rules and having a base level of expectations for all students creates an atmosphere more conducive to learning. However, my directives are to give nothing but positive reinforcement and praise for good things.
The student that I am working with likely has a cognitive issues that prevents them from connecting incentives with rewards. This means that they behave any way that they please without connecting cause and effect, at least not in a positive sense. When giving them numerous choices and praise, the desired results are not garnered.
In the adult world, constantly acquiescing to the wants of others builds contempt. The nice guys in the dating scene get walked over. In politics, groups that continuously follow party lines without demanding anything from those parties are taken for granted, and their needs are not met. In the words of Malcolm X, they are chumps.
To get my needs met (making money), I have to follow the directives of my superiors. This is contrary to what works, however, and that is a strict incentive plan. “Unless the work is done, there is no reward.” Sticking to this plan firmly, and even incorporating a little bit of Detective Alonzo Harris’s attitude made my student get their work done.
The words of Machiavelli apply to people of all ages: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
People may grow and develop, and their wants may change, but people are always going to keep their own motives in mind. It behooves us to keep this fact in mind, and utilize it to our advantage. We must also be mindful that firmness yields more respect than constantly being nice in an effort to be adored. In the end, even if we do not achieve the desired results, we can retain our self-respect and build from there.