Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lawlessness by Neglect

My wife and I were visiting some friends not too long ago. I watched as their four year-old son was running through the house playing and yelling. This was not surprising to see since he was excited to play with our then five year-old daughter. It just made hearing each other difficult. So our friend told his son to stop running and yelling. Byassing discussing affirmative vs. negative messages, I watched their son acknowledge her and run off yelling. After five more minutes of this, she yelled to him to stop, which he did for about 10 seconds. A little later, she then told him to stop or he will be sent to his room. He stopped for about 20 seconds. Still a little while later, she told him to stop or he would get a spanking and sent to his room. He stopped for 15 seconds. This was going down hill. Finally, she loses it and grabs him kicking and screaming and takes him to his room where he stayed for I forget how long. The mood now made it hard for anyone to enjoy the evening.

Lawlessness is typically viewed as the result of no laws or lack of laws, which can be the case. It can also be the result of the lack of enforcement or inconsistent enforcement. As my anecdote demonstrates, simply adding more laws without enforcement will not change the behavior and will breed contempt for the authority. Finally, frustration can boil over into an overreaction that hurts everyone and damages the relationship.

Consistent enforcement must be in place first and foremost, or no rule will be honored by those it is meant to address, no matter how severe. I heard that a child will think it is worth trying to get his or her way if it succeeds as little as one in ten times. The reality is that a person attempting to provide for their family will need fewer successes to think it is worth it but is more successful than one in ten. It is not surprising we are being overrun.

Passing more immigration laws does little to change the situation when we do far too little to enforce the ones we have. The additional laws may not be necessary since enforcement has not been fully tried and may only serve to embitter those addressed.

It Is Simple
We talked with our friends later and they apologized for their son's behavior. They remarked on how they noticed how our child responds to us and wished their child would be as easy. We explained to them that they did not have a particularly rebellious child and that our child would have behaved similarly in the same circumstance. The difference was that we have earned a reputation of following through with our child by being consistent. We have also earned our child's trust by keeping the rules simple to remember and fair. If they earned the same reputation, then their child would behave similarly in time. We worked with them and their child is a joy for them now. Now they help us be consistent, too.

How does the role of a parent have anything to do with immigration? I am certainly not advocating that the government treat anyone as its child. It does serve well in demonstrating effective and ineffective use of authority. To put it simply, enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. When that fails, change the rules and enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. Ask anyone in authority and they will tell you that consistency is the hardest thing, and the most effective.

If only our government would be like our friends and listen to what many Americans already know.