Beginning in early childhood and lasting our entire lives, learning the consequences for our behavior is a vital part of maturity. It helps give us healthier expectations. It shows us how the world works. It actually teaches us a lot about the true nature of freedom. And, most importantly, it informs the degree and depth of our self-awareness and sense of ownership.
We often talk about boundaries and consequences as if they are straightforward. But it is actually pretty complicated. One of the things that make it so tricky is the inconsistency of consequences.
A Moving Target
Mom says I can’t go to the concert but dad says I can. My boss takes it in stride when I miss one deadline but yells at me when I miss another.
One of the clearest messages we are being taught is that consequences are negotiable and circumstantial. Some of this is just the nature of consequences. Two missed deadlines is a different situation than one. And some of it is inconsistency (mom had a long day and might just feel differently about boundaries one day over another). And some people react to things differently than others – consequence, at times, can be in the eye of the beholder.
The result is that we try to manipulate consequences to fit our expectations. If they are negotiable, we ought to be able to make a better deal, get away with a little more, avoid a little extra. If we are not careful, we lose the power of consequences altogether. We stretch them so thin they disappear.
So what do we do in a world of waffling consequences?