Punishment useful only as a means of humanising mind

Sunday March 5 2017

Master Gideon Yegon, 14, being comforted by a relative Rachel Keter at his hospital bed in War Memorial Hospital.

Gideon Yegon, 14, being comforted by relative Rachel Keter at his hospital bed at War Memorial Hospital in Nakuru on September 21, 2010 where he was admitted with injuries sustained on his private parts during a caning incident in school. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

By PHILIP OCHIENG
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Why was it that, in my schooldays, teacher training institutions were called “normal schools”? Was it because such schools were intended to “normalise” the minds of all future teachers, namely, to strengthen their inborn or normal humanity?

But are all our school teachers normal-minded? My question is provoked by newspaper headlines to the effect that a Kenyan teacher had beaten to death the child of another Kenyan. The question is ineluctable: How can you call it a punishment?

For, to my mind, a punishment is an action intended both as a deterrent and as an occasion for improving one’s character and behaviour. The mind of the human child is the most versatile living system that nature, as we know it, has ever produced.

That is why any impression, natural or social, can drastically bend the human child’s mind one way or the other. The point is that, whenever an action destroys the spirit of the recipient, the action can no longer be called punitive in the positive sense of the word.

For, in destruction, the mind can no longer improve. However, in all of the world’s historical and extant ethico-moral systems known to me, no action against a human child can be called punishment if it, in any way, injures the child’s body or brain.

HUMAN MORAL SYSTEMS

Why not? Because, to my mind, human moral systems need a punitive system only as a method by which individuals can improve their conduct towards other human beings. For, in the last analysis, a punishment is or should be something intended to buoy up – not to destroy – the spirit or body of the subject.

An action is or should be called punishment only if it aims at helping a wayward person into improving his or her attitude and behaviour towards society. That statement is also applicable to adults and should be heeded even by our courts of law.

Do not impose any punishment that destroys anybody’s spirit or body. In short, abolish capital punishment because it denies human beings what all of them are capable of, namely, self-improvement, namely, learning a vital lesson from one’s folly of the moment.

For, if you destroy his or her spirit, you have removed from him or her all his or her humanity. You have made it impossible for them to make any self-improvement effort. That is why, as a judicial official, you must punish only with the aim of helping the culprit to become a better human being.

That is why I reject capital punishment. Do not impose it because death removes all possibility of personal effort at improvement. Even where the law demands it, raise yourself above the law by remembering that death always denies the citizen the chance to amend.

IMPROVE CONDUCT

Whenever an action against a child negates the possibility for it to improve its conduct and grow up into a fully responsible-minded adult, that action cannot be called punishment because it will have destroyed all of the child’s inborn propensity to behave positively towards its society.

For a psychological attack on a child is what may cause a permanent wound in the child’s brain, usually causing the child to grow up into physical adulthood but to remain a mental baby all his or her life – he or she sometimes retaining an attitude which is dangerously negative towards all human beings.

This – it seems to me – is the lesson number one that all our teacher training schools must impart. It is that – even if it does not end up in death – overly brutal punishment is likely to produce a child dedicated to wreaking revenge upon his or her society by criminal methods throughout the child’s life.