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Obedience vs. Cooperation

A basic difference between obedience and cooperation is who sets the goals and is the goal a mutually desirable one? For example, if a police officer tells someone to do something they do not want to do, it is not helpful to say "He was not cooperating." This devalues the nature of true cooperating.

Here is something else to consider when trying to figure out if it is obedience or cooperation. What is the motivation behind or underlying the behavior of the person doing the "obeying" or "cooperating"? If a parent is ordering a child to do something and there is a clear threat of punishment if the child doesn't do it, then the main motivation is probably fear. On the other hand, when two people are cooperating, then the motives of both parties are more likely to be desire to achieve the common goal.

So so far we can say that there are differences between who is setting the goal and who desires the goal. Another issue is the relationship between the two people.

In an equal relationship two people have equal input into both setting the goal and influencing the other's behavior. Obviously, there is an imbalance of power between a police officer and a young person, for example. And in the legal, physical and psychological make up of parent-child relationships there is also a large power inequality. As pointed out in one article by a mother, cooperation is a "give and take" thing. But when there is an imbalance of power, or an abuse of power, there is no give and take, no compromises. There is just "do it or I will hurt you."

I expect that the majority of parents around the world would prefer to have more of a truly cooperative relationship with their children, and that the only parents who want basically absolute power and unquestioned obedience are those who themselves felt over-controlled as children and who are now trying to fill their unmet emotional needs to feel powerful and in control - and possibly to feel "respected" - but as I discussed on the respect pages, this kind of relationship is actually not one based on respect at all. It is based on fear. And again, most parents do not want their children or teens to be afraid of them. Instead they would prefer that their children, especially the older ones, take what they say into consideration because the parent has earned their respect over the years of their relationship.

By the way, with a gun I could easily and instantly get someone to obey me. But without the gun it would take much more time to win their respect and cooperation.

S. Hein

At the Dentist's Office

People Are More Cooperative When They Feel Cared About

Disobeying the Taxi Driver in Indonesia

Confusing Cooperation, Obedience and More...

A Christian Mother Talks About Obedience -vs- Cooperation

Helping vs Obeying and Love vs Fear

Getting Tasered in the USA for Failing to "Cooperate"

Families and Common Goals



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Disobeying the Taxi Driver in Indonesia

The first time I was consciously aware that I chose to disobey someone was when I was traveling in Indonesia. I was in a taxi looking for a low priced hotel on the island of Bali. I had been in Indonesia long enough to become suspicious of anyone who works in the tourist industry there, especially taxi drivers. more

So when the taxi driver stopped his car in front of a hotel and ordered me to "Wait here, " I thought about it for a few seconds, then decided to disobey him and follow him into the hotel to see for myself what was going to happen. I wasn't even sure exactly what I was afraid of, but my instincts, combined with my experiences in Indonesia and with taxi drivers, told me to disobey.

As I recall, the main thing I was worried about is that he was going to take me to a hotel which served his interests, not mine. By that I mean a hotel which would pay him a commission for bringing a guest. It would very likely not be the lowest price hotel in the area. In fact, when I did follow the taxi driver into the hotel and listened to the discussion, I could tell there was some kind of negotiation or discussion going on concerning prices. My suspicions seemed to be confirmed and the price given to me was higher than I wanted to pay. The taxi driver was pressuring me to stay, but I was already feeling tricked and untrusting so I definitely was not going to let myself get talked into something my feelings were against. I asked the driver to take me to another hotel where I did the price negotiations myself, and I was satisfied with my choice.

So this true story helps show one important difference between obedience and cooperation. The difference is: Whose interests are being served? Or whose needs are being met?



This reminds me of one of the articles I have copied about raising children. A mother is suggesting that when a parent "asks" a child or teen to help bring in the groceries and the response is "When I get to the next level .. (unfinished)

At the Dentist's Office

The question of whether or not there is a common goal came to me very clearly at the dentist's office one day. He told me to "open wider." He didn't ask me. He told me. I am one who very much dislikes being told what to do. Yet I willingly did what he told me to because I had the same goal as he did, which was to get my teeth fixed.

Confusing Cooperation, Obedience and More...

Below are three articles. Look at these articles and see if you notice how the following words are used to all mean basically the same thing:

obedience | cooperation | compliance | following instructions | listening

Notice also how the words "request" and "ask" are used to mean command or order. In other words, there is no option not to do what is told -- or at least no option without a punishment.

Here is one example from one of the articles.:

If you have a child who doesn't know how to cooperate, maybe you need to use a technique we call, "Obey first and then we’ll talk about it."

Here is another example: "When Jenny is asked to get on her pajamas..."

These 3 articles are all from the website "biblicalparenting.info" This reminds one that one of the 10 commandments is to "honor" your parents. But usually people also think of the word honor in this context as "obey."

Here are the articles. Some of the key words have been color-highlighted.

First Article

Compliance vs Obedience

Some parents say, "I can usually get my children to do what I say eventually." Parents sometimes think that obedience is the same as compliance. When you say to your son, "Please leave the computer and help me bring the groceries in from the car," and he says, "As soon as I get to the next level," that's not obedience.

Now, we don't believe that a child must instantly
obey every time. As parents, we want to consider our child's agenda and needs too as we direct the course of family events. However, some children never adjust their schedules to a parent's. They always have to have it their way, in their time, and on their terms.

Parents who allow poor responsiveness may believe that they are loving their children when in fact they’re encouraging selfishness.
Cooperation is a two-way street. As a parent you know how to cooperate and sacrifice for your child. Can your child do the same?

The child who can't give up her agenda is selfish and hasn't yet learned what real
cooperation is all about. Demandingness always requires me first. The child who is demanding about reaching the next level in a computer game before obeying Mom or Dad, may not be ready for such games. Cooperation means that sometimes we drop what we're doing to help someone else.

If your child has a problem in this area, you might want to focus more on
obedience. It's amazing how many benefits are hidden within obedience that will help your children develop the character necessary both now and in the future.

How have you seen teaching
obedience to be helpful in your family? Posted by Joanne Miller



Obey First and Then We'll Talk About It

When parents give an instruction but children don't want to comply or it's not convenient for them, sometimes they need to learn to "obey first and then we'll talk about it." This emphasizes obedience.

If little Brian has pulled a chair over to the counter and is climbing onto it, you may say, "Brian, we don’t climb on chairs."
"But I was just…"
"No, you need to get down.
Obey first and then we'll talk about it." Once he gets down, discuss the problem and find a solution together.
"Karl, go get your pajamas on."
"I don't want to go to bed."
obey first and then we'll talk about it."

To some parents this may sound like blind
obedience. We've all heard stories about people who were led into cultish activity because they couldn't think for themselves. No parent wants a child to fall into a pattern of blindly following a leader's instructions, but evaluating instructions is an advanced skill.

Many parents have gone too far in the other direction ending up with children who can't
follow simple instructions without a dialogue. Parents sometimes believe they have to talk their child into wanting to obey. Inadvertently, these parents teach their children that if you don't like a request then that's enough reason to resist it. These children make poor employees, develop selfish attitudes about following someone else's leadership, and have a difficult time in relationships because they haven't learned how to sacrifice their own agenda for others.

Talking is important but sometimes even we, as adults, must
obey first and then understand later. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son without fully understanding and then considered it faith for him to obey. Peter didn't know why he was to go to Cornelius' house but went anyway only to discover that God wanted to bring salvation to the Gentiles. Philip was asked to leave a revival in Samaria and go out into the wilderness, not knowing why, but when he got there he led an Ethiopian man to Christ.

Evaluating instructions is an advanced skill and will become important later on but children need to learn that sometimes we all must "obey first and then we'll talk about it." Posted by Joanne Miller


Third Article

Obey First, Then We Will Talk About It - 2

SH - This article was actually titled "Teaching Cooperation" but it is about as far from true cooperation as I can imagine.

We all want cooperation from our children and many parents are disappointed when they don't get it, but do we take time to teach it? Cooperation involves give and take. As parents, we are more than willing to give, expecting that our children will give sometimes too. Unfortunately, some children don't know how to give; they only take. Any negotiation has to have something in it for the child or he won't work with you, and if he does agree to work, he'll do so with a bad attitude. That's not cooperation, that's coercion.

If you have a child who doesn't know how to
cooperate, maybe you need to use a technique we call, "Obey first and then we’ll talk about it." This technique simply reverses the sequence of two important elements, discussion and responsiveness. A person who knows how to cooperate can be responsive and give in without necessarily having a personal benefit. The enjoyment of a pleasant relationship is the reward and sacrifice is a way to gain it.

Some parents try to talk their children into
following instructions or have discussions to help them want to obey. These children often can't follow a simple instruction without a dialogue and grow up to make poor team members, difficult employees, and demanding friends.

Some parents who see a need for their children to give, not just take, require obedience by saying, "Because I'm the parent, that's why." We believe that although these parents may have a handle on the problem, their solution is inadequate. We simply suggest that a child may need a period of time where
following instructions comes before the discussion to foster the ability to give up one's agenda without always having to get something out of it.

When Jenny is
asked to get on her pajamas and responds with, "But I'm not tired," Mom may say, "Jenny, I'd like you to obey first and then we'll talk about it." After Jenny obeys, then a discussion about bedtime may take place. It's surprising though, how many children don't feel the need for a discussion afterwards. Dialogue for them was simply an attempt to delay or avoid obedience. (SH - Or perhaps they feel sufficiently intimidated to keep quiet since their parents obviously don't want them to question their authority.)

If your children are having trouble
cooperating, try "Obey first and then we'll talk about it" for a while and you'll see a noticeable difference.

What are some ways you've been able to teach
cooperation in your family? Posted by Joanne Miller

A Christian Mother Talks About Obedience -vs- Cooperation
As a parent, I am not barking commands and demanding my children to follow my whims and be carbon copies of me. I provide for their needs, support their development and encourage them to be responsible. I take a genuine interest in my kids. My heart is closely tied to them and a sense of cooperation has grown from this bond. This is completely different than the approach I was raised with, but I think it's working...

The vast majority of religions in this world stress the importance of obedience.

The very word "obedience" connotates [sic ]that there is someone in command and someone in submission. I made sure that I did not promise to "obey" in my marriage vow. Marriage should be a partnership- not a dictatorship.

In Christianity, it is God in control and we, the lowly worms of sinfulness and degredation [sic] are to obey and do so gladly & without question. Things are very similar in Islam. Strict adherence to a code- don't think, don't feel or vary from the status quo. I reject the idea that we are to think of ourselves so negatively. Human beings are beautiful, intelligent and complex. Yes, we are certainly capable of mischief, but also of great good.

I prefer the idea of cooperation. This concept promotes equality- a give & take relationship. Is it so awful to think of a relationship with God or those around us in this way?

As a parent, I am not barking commands and demanding my children to follow my whims and be carbon copies of me. I provide for their needs, support their development and encourage them to be responsible. I take a genuine interest in my kids. My heart is closely tied to them and a sense of cooperation has grown from this bond. This is completely different than the approach I was raised with, but I think it's working...

As a Christian, I was intent on being obedient to certain standards, but at what sacrifice? Expected to turn my back on any & all "worldly" pleasures, the list of enjoyment in my life grew quite small. Let's reflect:

No TV, no movies, no popular music, no co-ed swimming, no jeans, no fast cars, no wine, no jewelry, no sensuality, no dancing, no meat in my diet, no sugar, no caffeine.... the "no-no" list kept growing. I viewed God as an entity that takes away all joy and makes us dull. I was BORED to death at several points of my journey!! Sorry, as much as they would like to paint themselves as being more modernized and Gospel focused, there are still large pockets of Adventism that very closely resemble a cult.

Eventually, I broke away from all those restraints. Life is painfully short. A joyless life can be painfully long.

I am NOT opposed to obedience. There comes a time when everyone needs to obey to a certain degree. But I think as much as possible, we need to work toward cooperation.

I cannot MAKE myself be good. I've tried. I'm a decent person, but I make mistakes just like everyone else. I am a black sheep.

They say God is like a shepherd who seeks lost lambs. I have never felt very "sought after" in life. My parents, my spouse and many of my friends and extended family were the kind I had to pursue in order to have any kind of relationship. Eventually, a few years back I got a clue, "Hey, things were getting pretty one-sided." So I backed off. Guess what? Without me making most of the effort, it pretty much died out. It feels somewhat the same with God. When I need Him most, He is painfully silent.

There are some movies out there that make me cry. The ones where the hero saves the girl, Daddy finds his daughter, or the man is there for his woman- the way she needs him to be. Most are scripted & not based on true stories, but I think there is a part in each of us that wants to be pursued.

I have done more than my share of pursuit and have searched for a hero most of my life. Amazing people are few & far between. I've had to pull myself up by the bootstraps so many times... not whining, that's just the way it is.

God, if You're up there... if You're by chance still listening to me, I need You to make a move. Find me. Help me feel the love they say You have in Your heart for every soul. I'm waiting... but I won't wait forever. Eventually there may come a time when I, like so many others believe the Bible is just a book of wisdom & fairy-tales.

Win my heart and I WILL cooperate with Your plan.


Helping vs Obeying and Love vs Fear

A mother left this post on a discussion board:

"Love is the foundation of obedience. If the child consistently feels that you have his best interests in mind, he will listen, because he will be naturally afraid of breaking the emotional bonds you've built up."

I'm not sure about this logic. There may be some truth in it but I don't think fear of losing the bond with the other person is the main motivation. Instead, I suspect the primary motivation for doing what someone you love wants you to do is simply that you know they will feel good when you do it. For example, if my partner says, "Could you get some ice cream when you go to the store?", I do it because I know she will like it, not because I am afraid of what will happen to our relationship if I don't.

I would also say that if a child is afraid of breaking the emotional bonds by not obeying, then there is not what the psychologists call a "secure attachment bond." In other words, the child does not really feel secure. Rather, he or she feels just the opposite: insecure. A child who feels truly loved, on the other hand, will feel secure because they know the love is unconditional or at least close enough to it for a highly level of security.

In fact, this is the basis of security: feeling loved in a deep way so there virtually no fear of rejection or abandonment. If you happen to find someone who is very secure, ask them, for example, if they could ever imagine a circumstance when their parents would have thrown them out of the house. Chances are good they will say, no, they can't even imagine any such situation. Compare this to people who hear things like "As long as you live in my house you will follow my rules," and who have been told to leave home because they did not follow one of their parents' rules.

I have interviewed hundreds of people about things like this and the patterns are clear. People who grew up in homes where they lived in fear are without question more insecure as adults. So even the fear of "breaking the emotional bonds" is a fear which is based on, and causes, insecurity.

If a child or teen really feels loved by his parent, then I agree they are much more likely to do something the parent asks them to do. But they will do it willingly, not out of any kind of fear. More specifically, they won't be afraid of what will happen if they don't do it. Let's look at a situation described in one of the 3 articles on this page where the author confuses and interchanges words like cooperation and obedience. In one example she writes about a parent who says, "Can you help me bring in the groceries?"

If a teen was just about to leave the house and is already running late for something important to him, he might say, "I was just going out to do so and so, and I am afraid I am already going to be late." An understand parent will say something like, "Oh, it's ok then. No problem." Or there might be some "give and take." A mother might say for example, "Could you just take this one bag then because it is the heaviest one?" The teen will probably be happy to do that since A) He would feel a little guilty if he didn't help at all, and B) He will feel good knowing that he did help out his mother. The mother would probably also feel guilty if he took a lot of time to bring in several bags, but she feels appreciative that he helped her with the heaviest one. So now everyone is happy.

It is still worth discussing, however, what the teen's primary motivation might be if he were to agree to take the heaviest bag. If it were primarily to avoid guilty feelings, I would call this a dysfunctional family. My partner came from this kind of family and now she is so overwhelmed by constant guilt it is truly debilitating for her. But if they teen were to be motivated say, 90 percent by knowing he will feel good after he helps his mother and only 10 percent by the thought that he will feel guilty if he doesn't, then I would say this is a psychologically healthy relationship.

From a discussion board

I'm wondering what methods are available/recommended for keeping a child under control, or for getting them to listen to you? I guess this topic segues into discipline as well, so I'm happy to hear suggestions on that front.

My sister seems to use a mix of anger, threats and bribes with escalating volume/passion, and I see that her son pretty much just ignores her (it's like she doesn't even register on his radar at times) until she is furious... this seems quite exhausting to go through each and every day!

This mainly springs from my own feelings of helplessness and fear... when he's run off ahead and is moving towards a road, or about to get lost in a crowd, and we have to shout multiple times for him even to acknowledge us--it's horrible. Luckily most of it is the everyday struggle--getting him to eat his food for instance. I know it's not my place to discipline my sister's child, incidentally... she's pretty defensive of her parenting skills and style so I wouldn't even go there. This question is mainly for the benefit of those reading the forum.

So for
INFPs (and others) who have brought up kids, looked after kids, seen other people bring up kids or taught kids, what experiences can you share? How do you enforce discipline/obedience while allowing a child to express their natural curiosity, individuality and exuberance?

Or more generally, for those who remember their childhood, who did you listen to, and why?

I was like a dog -- I responded best to positive reinforcement. Besides rewards, this could include how I felt about myself and/or opportunities for privleges or special attention. Also known as bribes. "If you behave and stay by me and don't whine for candy while I'm grocery shopping, we'll stop at the playground on the way home." "If you pick up your toys, I'll read you a story." "That was very brave of you to not make a fuss when the doctor gave you a shot."

Even at a very early age, I listened carefully to adults who talked to me like a human being and tried to reason with me. "If you leave your crayons on the floor, they'll get stepped on, and then you won't have as many colors." "If you eat your spinach, you'll be strong, and soon you'll be able to go all the way across the monkey bars."

I didn't do well at all with threats or being yelled at -- I tended to withdraw into my own little world. For example, if someone yelled at me to do something, I wouldn't do it, I'd hide. Not a useful outcome.


I was a very silly toddler ... I'd listen to people, but I always found loopholes in the rules. I wasn't trying to, I just took everything at direct face value, so I didn't realize that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to.

For example:
My mom used to tell me I was not allowed to go outside without my shoes on. So I would go outside with my shoes on, and then take them off as soon as I stepped onto the grass.
I didn't paint on the walls, I painted myself.
When my mom told me "No buts!" I would say "But mommy, I wasn't talking about that kind of butt!"

It's very important to make everything clear, and like Fern said, (some) kids are more likely to listen to adults who speak to them thoughtfully.

With picky eaters, I tend to either make up a story about the food, enjoy some myself, or (for vegetables) ask if they want to play bunny rabbits during dinner. It's also good to give limited choices,like "Do you want chicken nuggets, or pasta for dinner?"


I was a very similar child to Fern, but I think probably most children are, and would prefer to have the opportunity to grow by responding to positive reinforcement rather than negative correction.

I recently read an excellent and very relevant book on just this subject! It's called "
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk", by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Paraphrasing an Amazon review to explain the premise of the book, the authors teach you how to treat your child like a capable and worthy person, when you may be treating them as irresponsible, unimportant, or unlikeable. They first convince you to stop criticizing your children for what they think or feel, and to acknowledge how they might be feeling when they tell things to you. Acknowledging feelings doesn't mean giving your kids any leeway in their behavior - you can be permissive with feelings whilst still being firm on discipline. For example, instead of saying "You shouldn't be mad at your brother, he's only three!" you say "I can see that it makes you angry when he messes up your things. But yelling is not allowed in our house." or, "He's too young to understand how special those are to you, so how can we keep your things safe?" You let your child know you are paying attention to how they feel, BEFORE you focus on solving the problem. The second thing they emphasize is to make correcting behaviour about the behaviour, and not about the child. Instead of "Get your homework! You always forget things!" you just say, "Homework needs to go to school with you."

Another helpful review that explains what the book is about:

If I could entice every new parent to read just one book, this would be it. Thousands of children's lives have been improved, and in some cases transformed, as a direct result of their parents reading this book and practicing its kid-tested, non-punitive approaches to discipline. The authors have little time for abstract theorizing, concerning themselves with down to earth practical issues of parenting, using sensitivity, empathy, communication skills, and humor. This book is crammed with invaluable suggestions, techniques and ideas for parents committed to raising great kids without resorting to discredited, harmful, pain-and-fear-based methods of the past.

This book is in its twentieth edition for a reason: these methods WORK. I personally know a mother who formerly used the harsh, punitive methods of James Dobson, only to find that her problems with her daughter became worse and worse over time rather than better. After she read "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk" and put its suggestions into practice, she literally threw Dobson's volume into the trash. And after a year and a half, she told me her relationship with her daughter had improved so much that she'd previously had no idea that it COULD be that good. The fact that the problems she'd been having had vanished now seemed almost an afterthought compared to the deepening of their parent-child bond. Their communication had improved profoundly, opening up previously unguessed levels of richness in their relationship. "She is such a terrific kid," my friend once told me, and with genuine incredulity added, "I can't believe I actually used to HIT her!!"

Another acquaintance of mine, who is raising two great kids using non-punitive methods of the sort Faber and Mazlish recommend, summarized her entire philosophy in just one sentence: "I don't want obedient children, I want COOPERATIVE children!" I think the great majority of parents, if they thought about it, would realize that this is what they too would prefer. Faber and Mazlish show the way.

This book appears at first glance to be a collection of non-punitive discipline techniques, but it is actually much more: a whole new way of thinking about the parent-child relationship which transcends the permissiveness vs strictness continuum with an approach to parenting based on neither punishments nor rewards. Authoritarian methods use coercion to make the child lose and the parent win, while total permissiveness makes the parent lose and the child win. Faber and Mazlish's methods, on the other hand, show the way towards families in which everybody wins.

When I read this book I was struck by how much of a crossover there was with the subject of invalidation, an issue that was discussed on globalchatter that I had never even heard about and which affected me profoundly upon learning of its existence. (Link to a page all about invalidation here: http://eqi.org/invalid.htm.) To explain in these terms, the book sets out to teach parents that invalidating their child's feelings is where they have been going wrong all along, and offers them lots of practical suggestions on how to interact with their children in ways that are respectful but firm.

The next step is how to get the frazzled parent of your acquaintance to read said book without undermining them or them thinking that you are criticising their parenting skills (especially if you have no children yourself) . One method I have found effective is to wait until a conversation about discipline or behaviour is initiated and then say 'ah I was reading a great book about this...' and offer to lend them your copy. Or if they know of the 'verse, say that somebody on the forum you frequent was raving on about this amazing book. I'm sure there are other ways too, depending on the nature of your relationship with the intended reader.

Oh and one other thing - the techniques apply not only to children, but to everybody, and will work equally well with friends, family, partners and difficult colleagues


This was one of the most important things I learned from the Montessori teachers I worked with, and from interacting with the preschool kids. Don't invalidate the child's needs - emotional and otherwise. Love is the foundation of obedience. If the child consistently feels that you have his best interests in mind, he will listen, because he will be naturally afraid of breaking the emotional bonds you've built up.

How to get a child's attention immediately - use a big, low, voice. Sound urgent, serious, and firm without sounding angry or annoyed.

Another way to get a child's attention is just the opposite - stare at him. Look him in the eyes. But look serious and firm nonetheless.


Families and Common Goals

I was just thinking about why I would not want to judge Hillary Adams. I would not want her to feel judged. Because we have a common goal.

In a healthy family either the parents and children/teens select goals together freely and safely, ie no pressure or abuse of power and influence from either side, or the children/teens set the goals and the parents support that goal. But if the parents select the goals alone, there will most likely be ongoing problems.