Don’t Associate the Good with the Negative

I remember the punishment.

But I don’t remember why I was being punished. It was bad enough to warrant such an extreme, drawn-out task. Maybe it had to do with schoolwork or dissrespect.

I was 13 or 14 at the time.

The punishment? I had to copy, by hand, the entire book of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. The main driver behind this punishment was my father.

My parents did a lot of things right, but they got some major things wrong. This is the best we can hope for. None of us are perfect. We can only hope to learn from the mistakes of our forebears so we don’t repeat them. After all, we have mistakes of our own to make.

But assigning the transcription of a work of literature as punishment is a bad idea.

I understand the reasoning behind it. If you are going to have your kid write something as punishment, to make sure he never makes the same mistake again, why settle for boring, rote sentences? Why not have him write great literature instead? Some of it may rub off on him. If he remembers any of it, so much the better.

The result? I absolutely loathe the idea of The Old Man and the Sea. I have a visceral reaction to any hint of reading it. It has taken the better part of 20+ years to reach a point where I can entertain the idea of the book.

I guarantee this was not what my father had in mind.

As much as it is in your power, do not associate anything that is Good, Beautiful, and True with negative experiences. That association can last a lifetime. Maybe for generations.

In my mind, I will never get to read The Old Man and the Sea. I will always have to read The Old Man and the Sea. The struggle is built in before I even start.

Instead, try to associate the Good, Beautiful, and True with positive experiences. For example, make sure your Bible reading time coincides with dessert time. Or make sure that strenuous exercise is in service to playing a game that they love.

Don’t force them to write poetry as punishment. They will only learn to hate that poem.

Don’t force them to write Scripture as punishment. They will only learn to hate those verses.

Don’t force them to play with their little sister as punishment. They will only grow to resent her.

Take care of the negative associations you create. You are cultivating their affections.

And don’t force them to transcribe The Old Man and the Sea. Read it to them instead, while they dig their spoons into big bowls of ice cream.

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