Consequences and Punishment

It seems that the one lesson I teach year after year – regardless of the academic subject – is that there is a world of difference between consequences and punishment. There are days when I think I could write a book on the issue – and there are days I need to write one only to remind myself.

I am not sure if it is a fact that there are more articles about Sartre flying around the internet right now, or if they just catch my attention these days.

It doesn’t matter really. What matters is that I make the time to pay attention to why things capture my attention.

I have a group of postcards that I bought years ago when I was working with PEN. Each card pairs an article from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights with an illustration by Octavio Roth.

This morning I glanced over at the shelf and noticed the card on top was about the right to assemble peacefully. I laughed out loud when I noticed that this morning I’d spontaneously interpreted the illustration as people using their arms to measure for appropriate social distancing.

I still find that the hardest part of being an adult is accepting responsibility for my choices. Which, to a very large degree, does boil down to nothing more than understanding the difference between consequences and punishment. It’s so much easier to blame an authority figure for the “injustices” we have to suffer. And speaking for myself, I reach for these powerful authorities in direct, inverse proportion to the pettiness of the inconvenience. If I didn’t make my bed this morning, I can wind my way around to the result of an oppression from my workplace: I was awake all night brooding about a student, and the school administration expects too much from me in my 43 hour work-week. I’m being punished for caring too much. I should find another job so that I can get my life together.

If anything, I’m a creative person.

I’m genuinely surprised by how often I catch myself manifesting scapegoats for what I choose to do – when the consequences don’t align with my idealized life. And what really concerns me is that there are so many times I don’t catch myself.

Last night I forgot social distancing while taking part in a performance workshop. I immediately starting thinking about how difficult it all is: one set of rules for the home, one for the classroom, one for the spa, one for performing workshops. It surely must be the fault of some committee somewhere spitting out complex guidelines too difficult for the average person to store and retrieve while going through their day.


The second article on this particular postcard states that, “No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”

I’m going to let myself off the hook for some associations until I learn some techniques to keep these guidelines in place. No one is making me do anything.

Or not do anything.


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