Love and fear are two strong motivators of human behaviour. However, love and fear are very different. When people are asked why they obey the law, the most common answers centre on the penalties for breaking the law. This indicates how much people are motivated by the fear of getting caught and being penalised.
There was a famous study done some years ago on honesty in children and it was found that children’s honesty depended on the chance of being caught and the size of the punishment. Since adults are only grown-up children, the study backs up the idea that fear motivates a lot of people to keep within the law. Unfortunately, that type of study prompts extra police and heavier sentencing as the way to reduce offending.
My view is that there would be far less crime and law breaking if children were taught the ways of love in regard to the law. By that I mean our disciplinary measures should be assisting children to develop a positive
attitude to rules rather than seeing them as restricting their individuality and fun. One way to do this is for parents to explain the social reasons for each rule so the child develops a sense of the rules being for ‘us’ rather than just against ‘me.’
Putting the emphasis on punishment is relying on fear to motivate cooperation but it usually only works while you are watching. The proper use of fear as a motivator is through honest warnings about the possible bad outcomes if a certain action is chosen. Keeping to a rule because of the benefits for ‘us,’ or for someone not even present, is relying on love motivating cooperation; the type of cooperation that then happens whether you are there or not. Love as a motivator has its own reward. Assisting children of any age to develop a positive attitude to the law is easy. Success may be difficult because of many social influences, but that is no excuse for not trying.
We can all do our bit to reduce crime and wrongdoing by explaining the fairness and safety reasons for our rules and being prepared to change any rule to make it fairer and safer.