Why Do We Punish People For Doing The Thing We Ask Them To Do?
A teenager is constantly playing video games. Day and night, night and day, they lock themselves away in a room and don’t engage with the rest of their family. Their parents urge them to socialize, to have conversations, to be present without a screen. Eventually, the teenager comes out of their room and rejoins society.
The parents tease them a bit, marveling at the fact that they’re talking without a controller in hand. Thank you for joining us, they’ll say in jest — undoubtedly making the teenager question why they came out to connect in the first place.
Somehow, it seems, we’ve punished the teenager for doing precisely what we’ve asked them to do.
A strident twenty-something becomes a parent — and, in walking this new road of parenthood, softens. They see their parents in a different light — are less quick to judge, condemn, to tell everyone how they are wrong and that they are the ones who are in the right. They extend an olive branch to the ones they used to shun — their mother, mother-in-law, aunt, and friends.
And yet, that branch is met with trepidation. How could this twenty-something have changed so quickly — what’s their angle? Why do they want to be kind now? To be close, now? To connect, now?
Somehow, it seems, we’ve punished the new parent for doing precisely what we’ve hoped they would do.
A public figure changes the beliefs that they’ve held when they were younger. They no longer think the same way when they were twenty-two, or thirty-two, or forty-two — and so on. They were presented with new information and experienced new things, and so they changed their minds.
Instead of celebrating changing one’s mind when presented with new information, this change is met with skepticism. Criticism. A lack of faith that such a thing could ever be possible, a conspiracy theory that some foul play must be at work. How could they possibly change their mind from yesterday? How could they possibly be different than who they were, ten, twenty, thirty years ago?
Somehow, it seems, we’ve punished the public figure for doing precisely what we’ve hoped them to do.
Too often, we forget to make the space for people to change. To change their ways, change their habits, vary from the person they were a month ago, or a year ago, or their teenage or childhood self. We train ourselves into thinking that the way they used to be will always be the way they will function from hereon out — locking them into the selves of their past.
Why do we punish people for doing the thing we ask them to do?
Why don’t we allow for change? For growth? For learning something new? For changing their minds when they are presented with new information?
You are not the same person you were yesterday, or when you were a toddler, a child, a teenager, or a twenty-something fresh out of college and eager to start your career. You have lived. You have loved. You have made mistakes, and you have had tremendous success, and you have fallen, and you have gotten back up again.
There are bumps and bruises that your bones still hold from the life you’ve walked — and that will hold for others, too.
And so, I hope you bestow the grace upon others that you’d wish they bestow upon you and create a space and world where people are celebrated, not punished, for changing.
For how boring would life be if we never allowed for the space to grow and change?