Punishment is imposed suffering of some kind. The imposed suffering may be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual or economic.
A consequence is the effect an action has on oneself, others, or the environment. Every action has a fairness or safety consequence that may be immediate or may be delayed.
Any imposed ‘consequence’ is a punishment in disguise and is likely to be responded to as a punishment.
Understanding this difference is particularly important for parents, teachers, employers, and all other authority figures. The difference may initially be difficult to understand, but the benefit for authority figures is a reduction in stress as they meet their responsibilities. The benefit for all relationships comes from understanding how to avoid conflict; by opening up a wide range of alternatives to punishment.
The consequence of harmful behaviour is the harm it causes, plus the fact that there will be a response of some kind. However, how people respond is their choice and is not directly controlled by the harmful act. The form of the response from people is not a consequence of the action. The consequence of breaking an agreement may involve the loss of benefits from the agreement, but that is self-imposed by the one who broke the agreement. Any added imposed action is punishment and may be called revenge. Punishment and revenge are similar, which is why punishment very often stirs up feelings of resentment and anger; distracting attention away from the effects of the action.
Since people naturally avoid suffering, they avoid punishment. And, because it is imposed suffering, they may be inclined to avoid the one who imposed the suffering.
Punishment only happens if someone gets caught and therefore the punishment may be seen as a consequence of being caught. We learn from consequences, not from punishment and, therefore, we learn to avoid getting caught,
Punishment is not really a consequence of getting caught because it still requires someone to decide to impose the punishment. The decision could be made to simply ignore the harm done or to give a warning only.
The most useful aspect of punishment is that it can become a consequence, but only when it is self-imposed as a sign of true remorse, along with an attempt to ‘put things right’. This is an important part of ‘taking restorative action’.
Bob Myers, author of Travelling the Road of Peace and Happoness.