Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Carrots and sticks

It’s interesting to hear the carrot/stick metaphor in use.

Or, maybe it isn’t…  I dunno, maybe it’s more of a pet peeve than something that’s interesting…  whatever.


Picture the man coaxing the donkey with the carrot and the stick.  The carrot is dangling from a string and is being held out in front of the donkey by a stick.

THAT is the carrot and the stick.  The reward is there, just out of reach, walk forward and grab it.  Once the desired behavior is achieved, then you get the reward.  No beatings with a stick…  merely a promised reward for proper actions.


At least that’s what I originally thought.


Then I read this German saying:  mit Zuckerbrot und Peitcshe.

Or, in English:  with sweetmeat and whip.


That would suggest reward on the one hand, punishment on the other.  Unless they’re swinging sweetmeat at the end of a whip (doubtful).


And I saw this explanation:

The carrot and stick approach was first used by owners of donkeys in order to keep their animals moving.  Whenever the animal stopped, the rider used to dangle a raw carrot in front of the animal’s nose.  And if the stubborn animal still refused to move, then guess what happened?  The owner gave it a sound thrashing with a stick!


The thrashing with a stick part still doesn’t quite sit right with me, though.  It seems to me a perversion of the original statement, not unlike the “you can’t eat your cake and have it, too” saying that has been perverted into “you can’t HAVE your cake and EAT IT, TOO”.  Of course you can have your cake and eat it…  you can’t eat it otherwise.  Once you eat it, though, you can no longer have it.  Duh.


But to coax someone with a carrot and a stick…  I don’t know.  The carrot/stick apparatus is a single unit.  Sweetmeat is distinctly separate from the whip, and the two are not combined for the reward portion of the process.  However, the carrot is ATTACHED to the stick to make the donkey move.


Maybe if it were “carrot and stick, and stick” it would make more sense to me.  I still think the saying has been perverted.


But foul is it to suggest that the adversary you’re coaxing is metaphorically equal to a donkey?


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