COMMENTARY 986.5: Teach or Punish, That Is the Question

As Greg paces the floor, waiting for his 17-year-old daughter Sandy to return from a school event, he feels two conflicting emotions: fear and anger. Fear that something terrible has happened to her. Anger because he thinks his fear is probably unfounded and Sandy is not hurt, simply irresponsible.

Finally, Sandy calls. She’s all right. She just lost track of time. Greg’s fear disappears, but his anger grows.

The love that motivated his worry is overwhelmed by a growing sense of outrage. He begins to rehearse what he will say and what punishment he will inflict. Unless he intercepts his anger, it can easily turn to rage, an emotion likely to produce foolishly impulsive conduct that’s likely to alienate Sandy and widen the rift between them.

Here’s the character challenge: Can Greg stop his runaway train of anger long enough to think about his objectives? His immediate goal is to vent his fury and frustration and teach Sandy a lesson. His long-term goals are to strengthen — not weaken — his relationship with his daughter and to help her become more responsible and respectful.

If Greg stops and thinks about his broader goals, he will want to turn this event into a positive teaching moment. To do that, he will have to choose his words and tone carefully.

Good managers don’t yell at or demean employees because it would be ineffective and unethical. Parents have no less of a duty to be tactful and respectful when dealing with their children.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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