As parents, we know that discipline is necessary to build a child’s sense of responsibility, of independence, of maturity. Sometimes, to make sure a child behaves correctly, punishment is needed. I won’t get into the debate of what constitutes punishment and what goes beyond – but rather, I’ll tell you a story I heard for the first time today.
As we were driving home from the doctor (confirming that Davidi has managed to break his big toe while playing basketball), Elie and I were discussing his younger sister. He feels she needs to be punished more, that I am spoiling her and letting her take advantage too much. This week, I did punish her for coming home late and not listening. She wasn’t allowed to go to friends; though I did let her have friends come over. Elie feels this is too common a punishment and she isn’t going to learn from it.
Soon, I began hearing Elie’s understanding of what punishment is, what it is meant to accomplish, when it is effective, and when it is not. It is interesting as a parent, to listen to your child speak of punishing others. In a normal world, your children only reach the age where they punish others long after they have become parents themselves and here, at the age of 21 and 22, was my son, holding this responsibility in his hands.
Elie then began telling me a story I had never heard. He explained that at one point during his serving as a commander (of other commanders), there was a soldier who kept doing what he wanted and his commanding officers kept punishing him. K., Elie’s battalion commander (Mem-Pay) was aware of the situation and told the commanding officers, “Stop punishing him. It isn’t working.” He then came up with his own punishment, which was effective because it was geared to the soldier and the situation. All the other punishments given by the commanding officers were standard, expected, and didn’t really bother this soldier.
The next story, though, was the most amazing of all. One soldier from Tel Aviv, who comes from a wealthy family and always had the latest gadgets, got fed up with the army in front of his unit and all the commanders and spat out his frustration. Without really intending it, he spat at the Israeli flag. There was utter astonishment and shock among the commanders as they looked at this young man. The Mem-Pay was too angry to respond and so he simply walked away, calling his commanding officers into a meeting.
How do you punish a soldier who spits at a flag and, in effect, all it stands for? All that soldiers do, every day of their army service, is represented by the flag. K. thought for a while and then called the soldier in and gave him his punishment. It would take him days to accomplish – hours and hours of his personal time as well as additional time the army would give him.
His punishment – he had to create a 2 hour lecture to be delivered to all the soldiers on the meaning of Israel and the flag. To accomplish this, K. explained, the soldier had to travel all over Israel – to the north, to the south, to many of our cities. He had to interview people, Israelis, other soldiers, teachers and Holocaust survivors.
In the end, he stood before the soldiers and delivered a beautiful lecture on all that he had learned. Then, he went over to K. and thanked him for the chance to learn so much about Israel.
Understanding the purpose of a punishment and how to give that punishment with wisdom is something that not all people learn in a lifetime. When K. gave this brilliant assignment to this young soldier, he was a young man himself, in his early to mid-twenties.
What flash of inspiration brought him to this idea, I do now know, but I have no doubt that Elie’s soldiers and the “punished” young man, will never forget the punishment, but more, the justice of it. K. took something that could have been so ugly – spitting at our nation’s flag, and turned it into the most wonderful learning experience.
If you live in an amazing country, that grants its people freedom and democracy and protection, and you ever doubt it for a second, I can only hope someone will “punish” you into learning and exploring more about what it stands for.
May God bless K., who still serves in our army and continues to inspire others, as he inspired Elie and his unit.