Reality Check: What’s in a Bribe?

When you think of bribery (if you ever do) what comes to mind? Scenes of brown paper bags stuffed with cash, surreptitiously dropped into the hands of corrupt, powerful people?
In his book, “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Glasser refers to seven deadly habits that destroy relationships. The last habit in his list is, “Bribing or rewarding to control.”
What might that mean? Is it, “If you do something I want, then you will get a reward”? Could it also include, “If you don’t do something I want; then you will be punished”?
Looking around, it seems that we could interpret a lot of what happens in everyday life as “bribery.” Many of us try to get people to do what we want them to do. It’s not necessarily because we’re evil, but because we have a belief that we know what’s best.
And when we are convinced that we know what’s best, it’s not too easy to change
our mind, is it? Regardless of whether the intention is good or evil, bribery is an attempt to control someone else’s behaviour.
Here’s a blatant example. The boss tells the employee, “If you support my idea, I’ll put in a good word for you in the promotion list.”
However, attempts to control using bribery are not always so easy to spot. Rewards are not always clear; maybe there’s just a vague implication of potential favours in the future. Punishments are also not necessarily clear. A subtle implication of embarrassment or lack of group acceptance can be much more intimidating than any literal slap on the wrist.
Consider this example, “You don’t have to work. I’ll take care of you.” In one situation, that’s a simple, positive statement of care and compassion.
However, in another situation, the identical statement is coercive. If the implication is, “Providing you do what I want, I’ll take care of you,” then it becomes a bribe. It’s an attempt to control.
There can be many implied rewards and threatened punishments, ranging from physical threats, financial threats (fines, theft), security threats (job loss) or esteem threats (embarrassment, shunning, degrading comments, labeling).
This behaviour is so prevalent that we might even perceive it to be common sense—an accepted way to “make” people do the “right” things. Bribery, whether it promises good things or threatens bad things, seems to work in the short term. Is it effective in the long term? Or does it breed resistance and resentment?
Glasser’s deadly habits refer to bribery in the context of relationships. Some behaviours help relationships; others hurt. Bribery hurts.
How? In a personal relationship, consider the factors that bring you closer together or drive you apart. When your relationship includes having one person bribe another to get the behaviour they want, does that bring you together?
If bribery is a destructive, deadly habit as Glasser puts it, then what can we do instead? One alternative is to negotiate differences. That is, persuade. Make your case. Keep the long-term goal in mind.
Looking at the long-term is hard, especially if there’s a quick bribery-fix staring you right in the face. Is it worth it? That’s a choice, isn’t it?

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