we teach others how to treat us by what we reinforce and what we punish. so when someone acts adversely towards you or towards another and we choose to do nothing, we're actually doing something. we're telling that person that how they're behaving is okay; we're reinforcing their actions.
B.F. Skinner, a famous psychologist and behaviourist, coined this operant conditioning. he believed that our behaviours are a product of what's been reinforced and punished throughout our lives.
how many times have you experienced or witnessed something adverse and chosen not to say anything, to 'keep the peace'? inaction is action. it's reinforcing. if someone's behaviour is not sufficiently punished when it is out of line, i can guarantee that individual will repeat that behaviour. and probably with more potency and pain too.
when people witness something adverse, their response is often to not get involved. to not choose a side. but no side is taking a side. what we don't stand up for, we're agreeing with. keeping the peace does nothing more than reinforce to the perpetrator that their behaviour is okay. human beings have an innate ability to know what is right and just, but by not involving oneself in situations that are unjust, we are saying it's okay to treat others poorly; to be unjust.
so how do you punish someone's behaviour? firstly; focus on the behaviour, not the person. secondly; be firm. the punishment has to be severe enough to deter that individual from attempting that behaviour again. any weak stance ends up being reinforcing. thirdly; be consistent. any inconsistent punishment will also serve to reinforce their behaviour because the individual will think there's a chance they can get away with it. fourthly; be prompt. any delay in the delivery means the individual will not associate their behaviour with the punishment. and lastly; punishment is more successful when something is taken away (negative punishment). so if someone has said something adverse, cease communication for a period of time. this time and space also provides a platform for the individual to reflect and take accountability for their actions.
so what behaviour in your life have you been inadvertently reinforcing? and how can you apply these principles of punishment to alter that individual's behaviour? remember, inaction is action. no side is a side. and a friend to all is a friend to none. do you choose comfort or do you choose what's right?
"in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr