What makes the difference between someone who is motivated or upset by being yelled at and someone who doesn't care and is totally unmoved? The one who is affected is likely somehow invested in the situation.
A child who does not feel loved by anyone may come to have no regard for rules of any sort. Feeling anonymous and alone, such a child may wonder who really cares or what difference it makes if a rule is broken. Further, feeling resentful or defensive, the child may angrily look for opportunities to break the rules just because they are there. No amount of threats or punishment can make an impression if this child believes it is possible to evade being caught, sweet talk or squirm out of the consequences, fight back even if it just means going down swinging, or endure the consequences with the satisfaction of having succeeded in being defiant for at least a time.
When infants are new to the world, they know one thing: the devoted love of their parents. Long before they can think of the difference between right and wrong, let alone make choices about their own behavior, they begin being raised in this love. When the time comes that they are old enough to consider what they will do or not do, they will initially act only on their own wishes. But they will eventually come to learn what is acceptable and what is not, as well as what the consequences may be for unacceptable behavior.
Here we may stop to consider the mother who responds to misbehavior by saying to her child, "I'm so disappointed in you." Think of this. Although there may be more to follow, the consequences have already begun. Even full grown adults can be deeply affected by the uttering of this statement. Why? Because people who are loved care what those who love them think and feel about what they do. Even a parent whose judgment is mistaken can cause deep dismay in a grown child who is sure of being in the right.
Love is not only a thing that causes children to try to meet with their parents' approval. It is also what makes their parents' disapproval have meaning. It is what makes a punishment have impact. A child who genuinely feels unloved says, "So?" and endures. A child who feels loved may outwardly say, "So?" but is inwardly remorseful and sad. For some offenses, this alone is punishment enough.
When children become teenagers and they feel the time of their independence in the adult world approaching, they naturally test their right and ability to assert themselves - just as they did at earlier times in their growth, only more so. But however wild they may be, and however far they may stray from what their parents expect of them at that time, many will still come out the adult end of this stage with their parents' good values intact. This is in large part because they associate those values with the best of what they have had with their parents: love. Even when they think of their parents' disapproval as what makes them refrain from doing the wrong thing, it is still love that makes it matter.
The exception to this, of course, is when fear of outright viciousness and cruelty is the motivating factor. But if this is the source of the investment, does it make a person more moral to obey, even if the result is more controlled behavior? Or is this "good" behavior simply a reflexive reaction requiring no thought at all about right and wrong, only the imagining of wrath and outrage accompanied by vengeance?
A person who can be made, by force, intimidation, or manipulation, to behave in a certain way can be made to do wrong as easily as right. A person secure in healthy love, grounded in respect, has a choice. This choice is what makes the good behavior moral rather than mindless. The ability and inclination to freely choose right is what makes a person a mature adult, not just a child reacting to an approval rating. In love, one finds true independence and real concern for good values, in and of themselves.
Those who are motivated by love, respect, and good values may also sometimes defy rules and laws. Where injustice strikes, they will rise to the defense of the abused, in defiance of the consequences of being caught. This was so when Germans hid Jews during the holocaust. Sharing no love with the Nazis and their views, they had no desire to support their aims. Loving humanity and justice, however, they felt compelled to act, despite the risk. They did what they could, following where their hearts were genuinely invested.
When people speak of God and the reasons for following God's Law, they often only see two motivations: reward and punishment. There are those that believe the enticement of reward to be enough. They like to talk up how great it will be as a way of reeling in the reluctant and exciting the faithful. Others say only stark fear of punishment is enough to overcome the inherently evilly inclined nature of man, or that the warning of punishment should at least come first as the attention getter. They often tend to dismiss talk of God's love as a fluffy amusement keeping everyone blissfully unaware of dire warnings. Many believe in speaking of reward and punishment in a balanced fashion. But they still never see beyond the carrot and the stick. Those who speak of God's love and of love for God know something more. They transcend hope and fear, living in the moment of spiritual truth. They do what they do for the sake of that love and for the sake of right itself, whatever they may also believe about what can happen to them in this life or what will happen to them when they are no longer here.
Consequences matter. They should not be disregarded. But love must come first if one is to choose both rightly and freely. And without that freedom, there is no justice or sense to any punishment or reward.
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