Punishment By Love

Weird title, isn’t it?

My friend, Darrel, shared a story about a nomadic tribe of people in Africa. In many circles, this tribe would be labelled “uncivilized.” They live in a harsh environment, hunting and gathering much as they have lived for centuries.


Maybe in some ways, because the modern conveniences you and I “need,” are not a part of their culture. Yet in other ways, their culture has developed basic “civil” ways of maintaining community and ensuring their existence. I’m curious to know how similar strategies might work in our “civilized” society.

In this tribe, if someone is caught stealing or inflicting harm on others (or their property), the consequences are, for lack of a better term, punishment by love.

The tribe forms a circle around the perpetrator. Starting with the chief, each person shares positive attributes about the perpetrator. It could be positive things about their character traits, skills and talents. Or it could be a reflection of positive and caring behaviour that are normal behaviour of the perpetrator.love-bucket

I’m guessing that the intent is for the community to remind the perpetrator what they know to be true. Sure, the person screwed up in the behaviour, but they know the perpetrator is a good person. And the reason he/she screwed up is because the community had forgotten to provide the love and attention that was needed to have the perpetrator have a full love-bucket.

I don’t know if this is true, yet it has me noodling, “How might I apply this?

And, “How might you apply this?

Let’s explore.

I invite you to shift your thinking to our civilized society.

Based on my coaching experience and knowledge of human nature (healthy humans), most less-than-socially-accepted behaviour (aka screw-ups) are nothing more than a call for love, or a request to fill the love-bucket.

I invite you to think about a child who receives lots of attention through affirmation, praise, and love from her parents. She is appreciated and acknowledged as a good person and for her good behaviour.  Less-than-desired behaviour happens rarely, and when it does, she learns about the bigger negative consequences to the behaviour and why it is not acceptable. She is coached to find a more appropriate way. And in the process, she knows she is totally loved as a human being. Her love-bucket is full.

happy-childConversely, a child that receives limited, or no attention from the parents has a love-bucket that is far less than full. Appropriate behaviour goes unnoticed and the love bucket drains. But he soon learns that inappropriate behaviour will gain attention from mom and dad – yahoo!! Unfortunately, in striving to have the love-bucket filled, the attention is in the form of punishment by harsh words, anger, physical harm, or having special things or privileges taken away, which only drains the love-bucket more. But at least mom and dad noticed him.

As the child ages, always striving to have the love-bucket full, good behaviour goes unnoticed. Less-than-desirable behaviour gains attention and it also allows him feel “part of the group.” This group of love-seekers (often labelled as bad-actors or sh… disturbers) are striving for a sense of belonging – to be a community.

Yes, a few of these end up in teenage pregnancies, criminal activities or addictive behaviour or just driving their parents nuts. But thankfully, most people work through this period and end up as valuable contributors to society. They find a partner, with whom they can share love and fill each other’s love-buckets – at least for a time, while they are in the honeymoon stage of their relationship.

But, sooner or later, they begin to forget about filling each other’s love-buckets, and the non-love behaviours begin to appear. And the attention is …?

I don’t think I need to go on. You’ve experienced it, haven’t you?

So what?” you say.

So, what might happen, if you and I consciously applied the African tribe’s approach of punishment by love? So, what might happen if the consequence for any inappropriate behaviour was a showering of love and appreciation for the good in the person – with the intent to fill their love-bucket? So, what might happen as we continue to fill the love-buckets of others, so they are totally full? Hmmm?

Will your whole community or office team come on-side with this? Probably not – yet. At least that’s been my experience. But as you and I model this consistently, maybe…

I’m not nearly powerful enough to have much control of a whole office team, or community or a country, but I can start at home – in my own little tribe. And I have and I will continue.

What about you?

As I’ve experimented with this, an amazing thing has happened. As I’ve applied the punishment by love, I now rarely see less-than-appropriate behaviour by others. And as I strive to continually fill the love-bucket of others, regardless of their behaviour, they respond with very kind, respectful and loving behaviour.

I could share dozens of recent stories about these experiences to prove the point, yet that could compromise confidentiality and trust.

The best part of this deal is that my own love-bucket stays full to the brim and overflows. It just plain feels good. I think that is the magic of it.

How might you apply this principle NOW?

I’d like to know.

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