It is far too easy to view discipline strictly in terms of punishment, especially in early socialization or in fields where full immersion into specialized social environments is involved.
But discipline comes in a more complex form than the mere act of providing negative consequences for failure to behave as required. Discipline can be defined both as a process of punishing or discouraging undesired behavior as well as a teaching and learning process where desired behaviors, thought processes and actions are taught, developed reinforced, and tested.
In transitioning into the military, a normal person must rapidly adopt some of the strangest and seemingly most useless behaviors, thought processes, and activities that they have ever encountered. From the forms of speech, to the exact way that the little decorations are placed on the uniform, to saluting and addressing superiors, military disciplines are plentiful, mandatory, and must be incorporated quickly. As a result, all forms of discipline are used in the military basic training process: There is a full immersion into an environment of full time teaching as well as behavioral modification.
But there is also repetition, practice, testing, critique, demonstration and reinforcement. When successful, the end result is a fairly well socialized individual who is fine for military duty, but who is also very different from the average citizen in their social construct and behavior.
In higher education, developing a discipline of thought is as important as building a body of rote knowledge. It is no longer acceptable to merely memorize material and to test well. In fact, most first year college students are not “smarter” than a fifth grader, because they must dump a lot of the irrelevant material that they previously had to memorize so that they can focus more on critical thinking, correcting cognitive errors in thinking, and in developing better ways of expressing their unique take on newly learned material. The rapid change from childhood to adulthood, where the student must be responsible for all aspects of getting to school and taking care of life, also provides requirements for more self discipline in the college socialization process. An average person who tries to fake having a much higher education will fail, because the lack of discipline of thought will give them away.
In transitioning into the workplace, the individual must learn and incorporate general and specialized disciplines of thought and work, while demonstrating that they can perform the assigned tasks. Each workplace has it’s own culture of discipline, including those unwritten rules for conduct and action. The environments for learning and adopting acceptable behavior and actions, as part of the workplace socialization process can be wildly varied. The workplace socialization process can be disorganized, chaotic, or even very formalized and well developed.
Discipline is also an act that is done to punish. Punishment is a necessary part of socialization when the individual is headed for serious trouble. When confrontation is not appropriately handled, required duties are not completed, or rules are broken, then discipline as an action must be applied. However, depraved individuals take a deviant approach and administer punishment without cause, or for it’s own sake, while defining the punishment as “discipline”. What they are actually doing is manufacturing situations where they can justify indulging themselves in abusive behavior.
Discipline as an action is abused by authorities at work, in schools and in the military, who are racist, sexist, or who have personality issues that result in confrontations that never should happen. When a subordinate reacts improperly, it is the subordinate who is punished. Of course, it is imperative that subordinates learn and demonstrate the proper responses to confrontation, no matter how unfair the confrontation is, but it is also imperative that abuse of power be looked into when there are too many confrontations in the first place.
Fortunately, the military tends to handle complaints and to look for problematic patterns of disciplinary action. When there are too many of these situations, further investigation will eventually identify that there is a dysfunctional subordinate or a poorly controlled and abusive superior.
In general society, anything goes. A household where the parents demonstrate the healthiest and most functional of processes for teaching and reinforcing social disciplines in their children will sit next to a household where the most horrific forms of abuse, disguised as “discipline” go on for years. A close and large extended family may share similar values regarding proper socialization and the methods used in teaching and reinforcing internal social discipline. Even a severely mentally ill person may have wildly varying capacities to exercise social discipline.
But, ultimately, the earliest external sources and methods for teaching and reinforcing basic social discipline are the source of all success and failure in an individual’s basic ability to move on and to incorporate the advanced social disciplines that are required to function well in life.