Activity time: 20 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Ten newsprint posters, each with one of these headings: School Detention, Church Punishment/Penance, Grounded at Home, Going to Jail, Paying a Fine, Doing Community Service, Getting Scolded by Police, Loss of Allowance, Having Angry Friends, Feeling Guilty Is Enough
- Washable markers
- Painters' tape for hanging posters
- Newspapers to place under posters as necessary to protect tables or carpets
Preparation for Activity
- Prepare the posters and hang them around your meeting space.
- Before beginning, be sure to place the posters around the room so that participants can write on them without damaging anything. If you cannot use tape on walls, place the posters on tables or on the floor. Protect surfaces beneath the posters with newspapers if necessary.
Description of Activity
This activity allows youth to brainstorm real-life situations that might involve punishment and to consider what kinds and amounts of punishment are just.
Ask the group to think for a moment about "making the punishment fit the crime." Ask a few questions like these:
- Why does society punish people for doing something wrong?
- Is punishment a good thing or a bad thing?
- Who decides on the punishment?
- Is it fair for parents, teachers, juries, and judges to have that power?
- What would life be like if no one had the power to punish?
Point out the posters placed around the room. Say that when you begin, each youth will get a marker and will go to stand in front of one of the posters. The youth should divide up as evenly as possible. (If there are ten youth in the group, one should be in front of each poster.)
Read the titles of all the posters aloud. When you say "start," the youth should read the title on their poster and then write on the poster as many wrong acts or "sins," to use the religious word, as they can think of that fit the punishment. For example, if the punishment is School Detention, someone might write "talking in class"; if it is Going to Jail, "robbing a bank" might be an answer. The youth should keep writing until you say, "change posters." Then they should each move one poster to the right and do the same thing. They will continue until everybody has had a chance at every poster. As the lists of sins get longer, participants should try to think of new things to add and not repeat what is already there. Tell the group that some lists are easy and some are not. If they get stuck, they may not be able to write anything on that particular poster, but they should keep trying to come up with something until it is time to move on.
Give the youth no more than a minute at each poster, at least at the beginning - less if time is short. As the lists get longer, they may need more time because more reading time is required. If some of the youth are having trouble thinking of wrong acts, offer quiet assistance.
When the lists are complete, ask participants to rejoin the circle. One list at a time, read the entries to see if everybody agrees that the "crimes" fit the punishment. Point out that some sins or wrong acts can be on more than one list. In many cases, the seriousness of the act might affect which punishment is appropriate; shoplifting a small item may deserve a lesser punishment than robbing a bank. Anticipate questions about both the Feeling Guilty Is Enough and Church Punishment/Penance lists. You may wish to clarify that most Unitarian Universalist congregations do not punish their members. But some religious faiths punish their members or require penance for church-forbidden acts such as wearing the wrong clothes, or eating the wrong foods, or acting in particular ways the faith says is sinful.
Conclude with a brief discussion of guilt. Ask what it is. Affirm that guilt is the feeling that you did something wrong. Point out, if the group does not, that when judges and juries say somebody is guilty, they mean that person is responsible for having done something wrong. However, all of us sometimes feel guilty without anybody else saying that we did something wrong.
Ask if most of the bad acts the group listed in this activity would result in guilty feelings for somebody. Ask also how conscience and guilt compare to each other. Offer this idea if you need to: "Conscience is the feeling inside us that we should do the right thing. Guilt is the feeling inside us that we have already done the wrong thing." Help the class to see that guilt can be so strong that it actually hurts a person. Guilt can compel people to confess to crimes or to help people they have hurt, or even to hurt themselves in some way.
Ask the youth if they think guilt is a good thing. What would life be like if nobody ever felt guilty?
Including All Participants
Place posters where participants with limited mobility can reach them. If you have youth with limited reading and writing skills, consider working in pairs.