Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo® – 05/20/2019
“Scared Straight” was a famous 1978 documentary in which a group of “juvenile delinquents” (au courant at the time) met with prison inmates to be scared into leading better lives through the threat of what might await them in prison. Throughout most of our lives, “motivation” has often been fear based: chunks of coal and no gifts from Santa, no bonus if you don’t meet quota, speed limits enforced by unseen radar, “smoking will kill you.”
In fact, such threats are jejune. We speed anyway, we know of no one, no matter how nasty, whom Santa shortchanged, and people stopped smoking because of education about harm to others and not seeing their grandchildren (I don’t see that as a threat so much as a salutary future). In other words, I’m not cynical enough to believe that we only change behavior because we’re threatened with some form of punishment. I believe we can change because we’re told how to control our fate positively.
Perhaps, therefore, if support for battling climate change is desired, stop showing me rising sea levels threatening to flood my home, and instead tell me the pragmatic ways in which I can help, such as switching from plastics. If you are pursuing help for the homeless, stop showing me people living in squalor and begging in the streets and tell me where my volunteered time can make a difference for them.
I don’t know what happened to those kids in “Scared Straight,” but I do know our prison population has more than tripled since then. And I suspect that the point wasn’t so much prison life that influenced them, but the fact that someone—the prisoners—was finally paying attention to them.
Those that are the loudest in their threats are the weakest in their actions. — Charles Caleb Cotton