Do people need to suffer the consequences of their bad behavior?

You know the headlines. You read them and hear them and see them every day.

Someone gets angry at the system and shoots someone or several someones in cold blood, often having planned the act, gathered the necessary firepower and ammunition ahead of time, stalked the victims, checked the schedules and shown up at the right time to do maximum damage.

A family including mother and young children in a van are killed instantly when a drunk driver crosses the line on a highway into the opposite lane, rushing headlong into the hapless victims. He walks away with a bump on the head.

A child is abused over a period of many years, deliberately and in such a way that no one will see the scars being inflicted. Great pains are made to only bruise in places covered by clothing. Emotional abuse leaves no readily observable scars. Sexual abuse injures for life.

A wife is cloistered and her social contacts are limited. She is not allowed to wear makeup. She cannot work. She cannot drive the one car the family owns. If she tries to cultivate friends of her own, male or female, she is ridiculed and called offensive names. She lives at her husband’s whims and has no life of her own. All this in the name of marriage and a husband being the head of the household.

A man drinks and drinks and drinks getting DUI after DUI and losing job after job. He has no place to live and his family has disowned him. He looks you straight in the eye and tells you how someone owes him the help he is not getting. Someone owes him a job. Someone owes him a place to live and a car and happiness. After all, everybody else has this. Why shouldn’t he?

What do we as a society do?

We coddle. We make excuses. We ignore and hope the behaviors go away. We look for scapegoats. We build more cells. We see the problem but we do not like what we see, so we pretend it is not there. We do not hold anyone accountable for anything. The more conservative among us try to explain it away and ignore it, pushing it off to future generations. The more liberal among us try to find ways to fix it and everyone and everything. It cannot be done.

All of us like to feel that we have some control over our world and the things that happen in it. We even like to think we can control the people who give us problems or do not conform to the standards that most of us live by. We need to give up that false sense of control that we’ve never had and never will have.

Sometimes the chips need to fall where they may.

Sometimes people need to suffer the consequences of their bad behavior, bad decision making and bad planning.

People need to be responsible for themselves.

They can do it.

They. Just. Don’t. Want. To.

Wow. What a radical concept.

Greg Smith is a psychiatrist who blogs at gregsmithmd.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • NewMexicoRam

    Yes! I can’t believe I’m reading something this reasonable on this blog.
    Or is it meant as a joke?

    • Greg Smith MD

      Well, I wrote it, and I assure you it was NOT meant as a joke. Greg

      • NewMexicoRam

        Thanks for clarifying that. I’m with you!

  • EmilyAnon

    I wonder if the examples you cited are just an American phenomenon.
    I was depressed after reading them.

  • Edwin Leap

    Excellent points. But then, consequences are seen as violating ‘fairness,’ or hurting self-esteem. Can’t have that can we? It’s like we take the ‘Golden Rule’ and say, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do to you if you did the same terrible thing but didn’t want to be punished.’ Society cannot stand long if we neglect consequences. Someone said, ‘The result of protecting individuals from the consequences of their actions is to create a society populated by fools.’ Can’t remember who.
    Thanks for the post!
    Edwin Leap, MD

  • shousemd

    Great post. The perpetrators you mention above are without excuse and should be punished. “The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.” George Washington
    The US founding fathers were great proponents of working hard and being responsible for one’s own actions and welfare. The quoatations below are primarily economic, but they have implications for all aspects of life.
    “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the
    right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” ― Benjamin Franklin

    “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way
    of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or
    driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made
    for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became
    poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for
    themselves, and became richer.” ― Benjamin Franklin

    democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to
    work and give to those who would not.”
    Thomas Jefferson (That’s not saying …who CANNOT work, only those “who would not” work when they could or those who THINK that “don’t want to” = cannot.) – parentheses mine, not Jefferson’s.

  • Sara Stein MD

    Hi Greg – Agree.
    I think part of the problem however is the gross inconsistency in how these consequences are doled out – one person gets probation, one gets 3 years in prison. (yes, maybe related to racial and socioeconomic inequities, the legal system, etc)
    And then there’s the mental illness piece of it. When an untreated schizophrenic walks into a theater and kills people, should he be hospitalized or imprisoned or both or worse? And if you decide he needs treatment, but he lives in a county that does not allow involuntary mandatory treatment, then what?
    We have a long way to go. Hopefully psychiatrists can discern what’s bad behavior and what is truly illness.
    Best, Sara

  • Arnold Wax

    This is the message that Ayn Rand portrayed in Atlas Shrugged written in 1937, The message, that the needs of the bad outweigh the needs of the good, and we all need to help the self-loathing downtrodden unwilling and/or unable to help themselves. This was the ruination of that society and will be the ruination of this society, as it will deplete our resources to move ahead.
    It is always someone else’s fault, thus the edict becomes, God helps those who help themselves, the United States government helps those who who are unwilling. As long as this happens, the events of last Friday night will continue to happen. We will now wait years to mete out justice. In the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, published in the 16th century, and in Rousseau ‘s and de Tocqueville’s definition of democracy, the perpetrator of any action detrmintal to society would meet with swift and final justice.
    When will our society understand the concept that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
    We may be a society of justice and laws, but it sure drags its feet, and nothing changes.

  • drjoekosterich

    Absolutely agree. Lawyers and social workers have mad explanations into excuses. We may understand what went before certain behaviours but that does not excuse them.It also insults those who have had similar experiences and do not take it out on “society at large”

  • Abdul Samad Yusof

    It seems we are just getting to grips with social issues that are at the tip of an iceberg. In the past and till today we only seem to be able to anticipate a single move and its consequent results/effects. But today, after having solved most of the immediate problems described above, we are now attempting to solve problems that have multiple consequences and require many steps ahead as in the game of chess.
    I sincerely believe that every ‘bad person’ needs to be studied carefully, the sequences of events that led to his/her bad behaviour. We are the product of our upbringing and too many families fail in raising their children. It is complex but until we choose to study much much more in depth, the problems that arise from bad practises, the better we will all be.
    Unfortunately trying to anticipate consequences from multiple conditions seem to confuse the best of minds out there due to the complexities of multiple variables that lead to multiple results. Have we reached the end of our abilities to decipher or simplify the study of social/personality issues out there?

  • Sherry Reynolds

    According to the Supreme Court – Corporations are people also (not making a political statement just an observation)

    Definition of a psychopath – note: some of these behaviors are mitigated by govt intervention.

    1) Callous unconcern for the feelings of others (stockholders vs community drive agenda)
    2) Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships (layoffs)
    3) Reckless disregard for the safety of others (environmental damage)
    4) Deceitfulness – repeated lying and conning others for profit
    5) Incapacity to experience guilt
    6) Failure to conform to social norms

    The Pathology of Commerce

    note: I am a hard core entrepreneur and social venture broker. This is just an observation (paradox) that if we hold people to be responsible for their actions shouldn’t we also hold people as corporations to those same standards.. Or perhaps we should let people act like corporations?

Most Popular