In Part 1 of this series we looked at consequences of coercion and the benefits of autonomy. In Part 2 I want to think through if people will do hard things when they are not forced to do them.

So, let’s start at the beginning:

What about babies? Do babies do hard things without being forced to do them?

Think about learning to roll over or walk and just how many failed attempts a baby goes through before finally succeeding. It looks pretty hard, but no one is forcing the child to do this. It is just a natural drive for betterment, belonging, and understanding of the world around them.

In Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Unstoppable Learning Alison Gopnik, author of “The Philosophical Baby, The Scientist in the Crib,” talks about and presents evidence of the throughly determined and scientist-like nature of babies. Babies aren’t some foreign beings. They are simply young humans. The characteristics that Gopnik describes were once traits of all of us.

I think this is naturally how we are designed to be, but as humans I believe we also have a fair amount of natural foolishness, too. In our efforts to cultivate grit, intrinsic motivation, and compassion in our younger, fellow humans, we have often gone about it in ways that stamp out those qualities by the time we reach adulthood to such a degree that we no longer believe those qualities are natural to the human condition.

Alfie Kohn dives into this concept in his book “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.

The Atlantic also recently published the article “Against the Sticker Chart: Priming kids to expect rewards for good behavior can harm their social skills in the long term” that looks at the phenomenon of a reward economy:

“Studies have shown that offering children tangible rewards in exchange for caring behavior may diminish future helpful behavior and can erode children’s innate tendency to help others.”

Rewards, which we implement to encourage diligence and hard work, actually end up teaching an entitlement, “what’s in it for me” mentality, exactly what we don’t want!

Next, in Part 3, we will examine how I think we can cultivate diligence, grit, and helpfulness in our children.