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How "If____________, then______________" has sabotaged your relationships

Most Christians, most people in fact, live with what one educator calls, ""Compliance Acquiescent Disorder  (CAD)."  An individual with this disorder, "defers to authority,"  "actively obeys rules,"  "fails to argue back,"  "knuckles under instead of mobilizing others in support,"  "stays restrained when outrage is warranted,"  and so on.  Compliance Acquiescent Disorder goes far beyond a proper sense of authority and mutual respect.

I just spoke with a mother today, who told me that her daughter [a responsible kid] was put into time out by her teacher for sharpening her pencil while the teacher was on the phone.  The mother was incensed.

Norm Diamond, who coined the term, Compliance Acquiescent Disorder, was speaking of an educational environment that prizes compliance over almost everything; but C.A.D is an accurate term for what has happened to most of us.  (1)

Most of our relationships: 

  • parent - child,
  • boss - employee,
  • teacher - student,
  • spouse - spouse

operate around an "If __________________, then ___________________" dynamic:

If you behave well, I"ll reward you.  If you misbehave, there will be "consequences."

If you put in over-time at work, you'll receive a bonus.

If you don't complete your homework, you will be penalized."

If you don't meet the expectations I have for marriage, then I'll withdraw as well.


At the expense of our hearts
Because we've gone to schools, worked in jobs, and learned parenting habits where compliance ["Just do what we tell you, whether it's reasonable or not"], always operate around "If ___________, then________," we've gotten used to pleasing others even at the expense of our own hearts.

We've caved,  knuckled under, and refused to challenge the reigning assumption that controlling others and being controlled by others is normal.  It is not.

Our jobs have taught us that workers produce more when there are "carrot and stick" incentives for performance, forgetting that most people want to do good and meaningul work, and don't need to be prodded or "managed" in order to do so. (2)

Our schools have taught our children to comply with every expectation of the teacher -- whether reasonable or not, whether actually good for them or not -- even when it is an assault against our child's will and dignity.

Our inherited parenting habits have taught us to shut down anything messy, anything disruptive, loud or unexpected; oftentimes simply because it's inconvenient for us, or we're just plain stressed. 

"If ___________, then _________________" is everywhere, and it's killing our hearts.  Worst of all, law-based distortions of Christianity have taught us that God only blesses people who comply with his will; and that pleasing him is a matter of getting things right.


(1) From Feel Bad Education, by Alfie Kohn

(2)From "Drive-The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," by Daniel Pink


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Reader Comments (7)

Great post Jim. No wonder we struggle to accept the grace of God on face value.....very true what you share here. Thank you!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPablo

Hey Pablo. We have trouble accepting much of anything at face value, because it's either filtered through fear or shame. Great point.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Sadly, that's the case when it shouldn't be....

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Paxton

Hi Denis. True: There's way too much of this going on in our culture and sadly, within the Church, in many cases.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

So very true Jim, and so very sad. There are so many "systems" that keep everyone in compliance...yet then people wonder what happened to creativity...shocking! What, I can only express my heart. my desires in a certain way....just crazy.

Too many people think that in order to get God's love we have to do something, behave a certain way....so sad, they miss out on the true grace and love of God.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug G

Hey Doug! Great point about connecting a loss of creativity to environments that demand compliance over thoughtful and meaningful autonomy.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

I didn't know this was a disorder and that there was a name for it. Is there a disorder which makes one only react to the "carrot-on-a-stick" approach? I think if I believed something was wrong and someone wanted to make me do it just because they said so, I wouldn't do it even if they penalized me, but if they offered, for example, a pearl necklace in return, I would be more inclined to do it. However, blindly doing whatever someone tells us can't be good. I believe that earned authority is more effective than forced authority.

December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFlora Rouse

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