Nothing to Be Ashamed About

Over the last 50 years there has been, especially from our brothers and sisters of the USA, an increased tendency to find shame, well, a shameful thing. And in finding it a shameful thing, have rejected it as a virtue. A recent ‘meme’ I read on facebook had shame characterised as a barrier to spiritual  transformation. This rejection needs revisiting, as much because there is a misunderstanding about what shame is, and also, because, in this misunderstanding, it is not recognised that much of the world’s travails are directly related to a lack of shame.

Let me start this exploration with the words of Baha’u’llah from the 19th Century. “Verily I say: The fear of God hath ever been a sure defence and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed, and do not possess, it. It is incumbent upon the kings and the spiritual leaders of the world to lay fast hold on religion, inasmuch as through it the fear of God is instilled in all else but Him.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 27)

Two ideas stand out from Baha’u’llah’s disposition here. The first is pointing to a definition of shame, which I take as meaning that there is an ability to: recognise what is unworthy and unseemly; and the result of this is that SHAME prevents a person from acting in that manner. In other words, without performing any unseemly act we can recognise the possibility of it within us, and SHAME is a tendency to avoid those acts. The second point is that Baha’u’llah recognises that FEW have a sense of SHAME. So, rather than being something that the mass of humanity is beset by in some way, shame is a more like the name for a natural supreme talent in recognising unseemliness and being that it is something one does not take into one’s present or future relationship. Rather than being a less transformed person, a person with shame has the Olympic athlete potential for transformation.

Therefore, to the rest of us, Baha’u’llah encourages to some competency through the fear of God and obeying God’s Law.

Returning to the power of shame, then, what would be that something a shameful person would recognise with themselves that they avoid taking into their future. I suggest that this something correlates to another of Baha’u’llah’s teachings that, “To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214)

Perhaps the shameful person recognises, with a certain acuity of insight, that within themselves is a ‘beast’. Surely that ‘beast’ is none other than the beast neurological scientists have described by labelling the fundamental human brain processes as ‘reptilian’ and ‘monkey / paleo-mammalian’.   And surely that beast is the one we all recognise as that rageful, lustful, covetous being who, after we have acted in its name, dissolves in the shadows, leaving only our tears in anguish for the hurt and separation we have caused. Yet to bring clarity to the definition of shame, SHAME is when the rage, lust, and covetousness is being recognised but not being acted upon.

On the other hand, the shameless are all lust and rage and covetousness. So why do some who believe they are on a path of transformation reject the value of shame? Here we must see where the ‘beast’ become a clever ‘EGO’ and as a clever ego, manipulates the discomforts of real transformation against us.

Many contemporary transformative ideas have come to the misunderstanding on shame through the work of Helen Shucman and William Thetford who developed ‘A Course in Miracles’ (ACIM) based on the dreams of Helen Shucman. In an attempt to show that reality is not as we think or see it is but rather a perfect realm from which the ego hides for the sake of its own persistence. Schucman, like mystics of the past including Sufis, recognise the fundamental barrier to ‘seeing’ reality is our tendency to pick a fight with ourselves. The solution to this is to recognise that we are already created ‘sons of God’ and that there is nothing to fight. By their commentary, Schucman and Thetford seem to define ego as the ‘making distinctions in order to make separations and fight ourselves’. Well so far, so good. However in this, Shucman and Thetford seem also to be influenced by the psychiatric notions of the early twentieth century and conveying the idea that shame is at the heart of neurosis, and therefore is a fight-related element that can be disappeared by shining a light on it.

However, there is another way to look at shame, which I have pointed to above, and also explain why shame is likely to be seen at the heart of neurosis. The ordinary shameless mortal, looking at a child with the tendency to shame will see a shy creature, keeping its own opinion, perhaps demure, and over time, certainly long-suffering. Trapped at every turn by the shamelessness around it, the shameful creature has no options except to turn unto its own loops of logic, becoming trapped by its own ego into a resentment for and fight against the shameless. Indeed, in the paradox that Shucman points in ACIM is present here. The shameful person also recognises the shamelessness of themselves and so, under the conditions of entrapment, shame and shameless fight into an embittered resentment.

Rather than victimise the shameful one, Baha’u’llah sees that this one is the potential olympic champion of the whole world of human extraordinariness, and points to us that the great power of the shameful one lies in their natural attraction to nobility. Baha’u’llah also rejects the proposition that people, by recognising that they are sons of God, for indeed we all are, is enough to restrain most of us from shameful actions. Rather the presence of the shameful person is the exemption that makes the rule, the clear distinction that most of us will reach extraordinariness through submission to the laws of God.

The challenge for the shameful child is that most of us have missed the point of the shameful child. In other situations, ordinary parents, seeing that their child can do calculus or run like the wind at age 8, do as much as possible to encourage them, and look around for a great teacher and trainer to assist the burgeoning potential. However, in missing the point that shame is an indication of a great spiritual potentiality, we fail to encourage the child’s exploration of that shame, nor look around at for a great trainer for their burgeoning spiritual potentiality.

This is becoming a thing of the past under the development of the children and youth training programs of the Baha’i Faith. However let me make some comments on things that might inform the development of children’s training from shame. The first is that any valuable spiritual training provides the child access to the source of its own nobility. For the child of shame this is like the sun shining on to both the beastly recesses and the mirror mosaic of virtues. Here the child of shame sees the beauty and nobility that they have only vaguely deduced. Access to the source of nobility comes from two integral disciplines: prayer and meditation; and the spiritual teachings of Baha’u’llah and other manifestations of God and even lesser teachers. From these sources, the child of shame, already able to recognise the ‘beast’ now learns how to tame it, placate it, exploit it effectively for the great game ahead. Like any trainer of ‘beast’ the child learns to speak softly, calmly, laughingly to the beast within. The child doesn’t reject the beast, for this is a fine beast, a wonderful beast. And in accepting the beast, the child of shame finds an extraordinary powerful friend, protector, and supporter. A beast that can be ridden into the arena of endeavour.

Shame’s great resolution is to be able to look upon the beast with confidence and capability, to find accountability in being noble. Not to fight the beast any more than one would hit or chastise a young working horse or dog for being unruly, but to look for the source of that unruliness and find that training method that directs the energies into great feats and great exhilarations. The child of shame, growing into an extraordinary adult, will always be acutely attuned to the restless power of the beast, know its awful potential, and be ashamed.

Ultimate Empowerment Lives Beyond Choice

We make choices. It is the only method for a common human to nurture a pure heart “Sow the seeds of My divine wisdom in the pure soil of the heart, and water them with the waters of certitude, that the hyacinths of knowledge and wisdom may spring up fresh and green from the holy city of the heart.” (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words) and, in doing, so soothe the requests and proddings of an older worldlier creature that speaks to our breasts.

Yet of those vehicles of purity that are born into the world for our guidance, the word, ‘choice’ is simple distinction of the clay for which they have no vernacular. “I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty,  the All-Praised, have stirred. Can it be still when the tempestuous winds are blowing? Nay, by Him Who is the Lord of all Names and Attributes! They move it as they list. The evanescent is as nothing before Him Who is the Ever-Abiding. His all-compelling summons hath reached Me, and caused Me to speak His praise amidst all people. I was indeed as one dead when His behest was uttered. The hand of the will of thy Lord, the Compassionate, the Merciful, transformed Me.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 11)

Theirs is not a place for choosing, theirs is a place of knowing and being and powerfulness. Theirs is a reality in which the world is a shadow of ‘unawareness’. “Know thou that the Kingdom is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out. A shadow hath no life of its own; its existence is only a fantasy, and nothing more; it is but images reflected in water, and seeming as pictures to the eye.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 177) “Know ye that by “the world” is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The “life to come,” on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable. Whatsoever deterreth you, in this Day, from loving God is nothing but the world.”  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 275)

For we common humans, we need words of ‘sacrifice’, to distinguish between the dull demands of that old creature and the illumined treasure room of love. Those vehicles of love, born in the world to map the way to the treasure room, have no vernacular for sacrifice. “I have renounced My desire for Thy desire, O my God, and My will for the revelation of Thy Will. By Thy glory! I desire neither Myself nor My life except for the purpose of serving Thy Cause, and I love not My being save that I may sacrifice it in Thy path. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 36) They are the treasure room of love. “We, verily, have come for your sakes, and have borne the misfortunes of the world for your salvation. Flee ye the One Who hath sacrificed His life that ye may be quickened? Fear God, O followers of the Spirit, and walk not in the footsteps of every divine that hath gone far astray. Do ye imagine that He seeketh His own interests, when He hath, at all times, been threatened by the swords of the enemies; or that He seeketh the vanities of the world, after He hath been imprisoned in the most desolate of cities?” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 10)

For we common humans, we need words of ‘justice’, to claim a right among the stronger old creatures among us. Those vehicles of justice, seeing the shadow beneath them, casts a law to protect the embryonic humility and insightfulness growing within our being. Theirs is a chastisment of the unjust from a place of power where imprisonment has no meaning. “My imprisonment doeth Me no harm, neither the tribulations I suffer, nor the things that have befallen Me at the hands of My oppressors. That which harmeth Me is the conduct of those who, though they bear My name, yet commit that which maketh My heart and My pen to lament.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 23)

I could go on in this vein, through all the characteristics of progressive civilisation and virtuous humanity. For the philosophy of the human being is founded in the desire to have an equitable place, a place with choice, a place without domination. While the Manifestation of God lives in a place of power beyond such philosophy of equity. On one hand they submit to a position of the greatest inequity. On the other hand, they prove that this position, far from being powerless, is the position from which the empowerment of all humanity can emanate. This is their way and their proof.

What is the Ego?

This question recently came my way, with the questioner admitting that although they thought they knew, on thinking about it, they finally felt they had no idea.

So here is my attempt to shed some light. Sorry if it just looks like I’ve thrown mud all over it.

There are two levels we can define a human behaviour: functional (the what) and physiological (the why). Ego is a term for a functional level. Specifically the ego is the habitual emotional and behavioural response to any event.

As to the why. We can consider that our fundamental psychology is based on the evolutionary development of the brain in 3 phases: reptilian, mammalian, and human. The first two phases provide us with survival, namely killing and eating and avoiding being killed and eaten. Being good at this leads to access to procreation and propagation. Mutations which give an edge on this in any context (environment) create new species. Eventually we mutated a very large brain, a wonderfully agile opposable thumb, and a voice box, that together could really deliver hundreds of adaptive strategies to make sure we were very, very good at killing, eating and avoiding being killed. In exploring these possibilities, we mimicked the noises of the environment and, while that enabled us to become very fabulous team hunters and attractors of prey, we went beyond that to create speech and language.

Language has not only giving us an extraordinary ability to communicate with each other, it gave us the ability to talk to ourselves, to think. However, consider that our emotional birthright is to filter everything by its threat (could kill me) or reward (could be food), and provide rapid response. This is ego, and it is so rapidly responsive that every experience creates an emotional state that selects our response before we are consciously aware. This  emotional response and action is reinforced from the earliest stages of life. As language develops in the child, it fundamentally co-exists with those emotional messages as a vehicle to kill (dominate) and avoid being killed (avoid domination). It’s responsiveness is reinforced either way by the experiences of the growing child.

The preponderance of our experiences and responses are through language with other humans. Our ‘human’ brain has become so extraordinary in its ability, through reiterative process, to have moved from simple mimicry to metaphor to the abstract though, that our rational consciousness seems to ‘float’ above, quite detached from, our physical nature. This is far from the reality. Our rational consciousness, playing catch up with our automatic response via the emotional-action system, usually just rationalises what we have done. However, if we become mindful of that initial emotional response, as we look at it which is happening through language, we will ‘hear’ ourselves translate that emotion into a ‘voice’. The little voice will be in one form or another be saying, “Let’s get out of here” or “I’m gonna kick your …” Of course it has been harping for so long while we build our rational faculties that it has become quite sophisticated itself. This older, subtler, ‘little’ voice has made choices for us from an early age, and from those choices we have created our identities.

Meanwhile, depending on the access, the human brain is exploring more abstract concepts. The abstract concepts such as mathematics and morals, are supported by the development of increasingly sophisticated language. So the little voice applies itself to the building of identity by using the individual best possibilities of the human brain to dominate others and avoid being dominated. In this manner, the ‘little’ voice can even mimic behaviour that looks like a ‘higher’ abstract concepts. In this way, it offers aggression as righteousness, hides rage in depression, and proffers withdrawal as humility.

Yet the big voice of the human brain has a trump card. It can look at itself and it can find and look at the little voice. But this is no easy task. As the little voice camouflages itself in so many ways, the human perception often slides off it. So responsive is our ego to any semblance of threat, it will equally respond to our more rational voice as an external threat, if that rational voice creates concepts of denial or suppression. Rather the way to quietening the ‘little’ voice is to accept it and look at it clearly. By avoiding denial of the ‘little’ voice, we talk with it out in the open, without it escaping into sophisticated mimicry. Then a simple acknowledgement, perhaps an enquiry about the ‘truth’ behind the emotional interpretation. Then a consideration about alternative possibilities to look at the event, which can induce alternate ways of feeling, and thus alternate responses. Here, higher order thought co-exists with lower order responses in a more reliable state for the development of higher order thought and behaviour. From this perspective we can see that, releasing the higher order thought through language from the little voice of ego has been a critical aspect of all spiritual teachings over time.

The ‘There-Is-No-Evil’ Paradigm

To understand the ‘There-is-no-Evil’ paradigm of the Baha’i Faith, we must first understand that the physical reality does not occur, for the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, as real. Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and successor, explained, “Know thou that the Kingdom (Spiritual World) is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out. A shadow hath no life of its own; its existence only fantasy, and nothing more; it is but images reflected in water, and seeming as pictures to the eye.”1 From this perspective, physical reality is not evil but an ingenious device through which the Divine Will trains us to understand the nature of the spiritual world.

Abdu’l Baha, in stating the purpose of the Baha’i Faith, defines evil as the “insistent self”2 whose submission is the only crusade and victory. To understand what he means by the ‘insistent self’, we need to look at the  numerous other talks and letters, in which he explains the nature of Child and human development.

In a commentary on the development of the child, made much before Western psychologists had developed their own theories, and long before the current understanding of the how the human brain develops, Abdu’l-Baha pointed to a number of issues relating to the diversity of character of the human being within a paradigm of ‘there is no evil’.

  1. Characteristics seen in the ‘nursing child’ are neither evil nor good until they are realised in a type of behaviour. “you can see in a nursing child the signs of desire, of anger, and of temper”, He says, “desire is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably (eg) to acquire science and knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous, and just, it is most praiseworthy. If he exercises his anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy.3
  2. All characteristics vary in degree, creating diversity of capacity and worthiness. “One has the highest degree, another the medium degree, and another the lowest degree. So man exists, the animal,  the plant, and the mineral exist also — but the degrees of these four existences vary”4  
  3. Capacity, though, ” is of two kinds, natural capacity and acquired capacity. The first, which is the creation of God, is purely good;”5. He also seems to equate this with a concept of “divine ego”10  
  4.  The determination of individuality comes through different habits and training. Training can pervert the natural capacity or “crowd out the qualities of the divine ego.” “One does not criticize vicious people because of their innate capacities and nature, but rather for their acquired capacities and nature.” 10 In the same vein, Abdu’l-Baha directs training of habits toward “a way of life will be firmly established that will conform to the divine Teachings in all things.”11 “Good character must be taught. Light must be spread afar, so that, in the school of humanity, all may acquire the heavenly characteristics of the spirit.  Thus will be kindled the sense of human dignity and pride, to burn away the reapings of lustful appetites.”13  Without the correct training or with the wrong training a person becomes “a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness.”10   Ultimately, “evil is the state of man in the world of the baser nature, (imbued with) defects such as injustice, tyranny, hatred, hostility, strife.”12
  5. The judgement of whether some behaviour is evil or not, then relies on divine law. “It is evident that in creation and nature (and all the natural qualities of man) evil does not exist at all; but when the natural qualities of man, which constitute the capital of life, are used in an unlawful way, they are blameworthy”.5

He goes on to promote the necessity of law to apply degrees of prohibitions from acts that are so ” so vile that even to mention them is shameful”; and “things which do not cause an immediate evil and of which the pernicious effect is only gradually produced” such that “cleanliness and sanctity, spotlessness and purity, the preservation of health and independence are required by these interdictions.”6 Other prohibitions include slander and backbiting, wishing evil to the government7, dissension and discord8. Abdul-Baha notes that Baha’u’llah has prohibited war, “the greatest evil.”9

Divine Law, therefore is ultimately educational in nature. “It is evident therefore that man is in need of divine education and inspiration; that the spirit and bounties of God are essential to his development…. the divine gardeners who till the earth of human hearts and minds educate man, uproot the weeds, burn the thorns and remodel the waste places into gardens and orchards where fruitful trees grow. The wisdom and purpose of their training is that man must pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until perfection is attained.”14

Likewise the created world is also educational in nature. “Man must walk in many paths and be subjected to various processes in his evolution upward. Unless you have passed through the state of infancy how would you know this was an infant beside you? If there was no wrong how would you recognize the right? If it were not for sin how would you appreciate virtue? If evil deeds were unknown how could you commend good actions? If sickness did not exist how would you understand health? Evil is non-existent; it is the absence of good; sickness is the loss of health; poverty the lack of riches. Therefore on the one hand we have existence; on the other, nonexistence, negation or absence of existence. The pathway of life is the road which leads to divine knowledge and attainment.”14


  1. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha p 150
  2. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 256
  3. Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 320
  4. Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 318
  5.  Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 320
  6.  Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 334
  7.  Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 440
  8. Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 442
  9. Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 45
  10. Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 133
  11. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 125
  12. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 177
  13. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 136
  14. Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 77

The Demise of Guys

New TED ebook warns of the demise of guys.

Have boys bottomed out? A new TED Book says yes. The culprit: the rampant overuse of video games and online porn.

In their provocative ebook The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, celebrated psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say that an addiction to video games and online porn have created a generation of shy, socially awkward, emotionally removed, and risk-adverse young men who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school, and employment. Taking a critical look at a problem which is tearing at families and societies everywhere, The Demise of Guys suggests that our young men are suffering from a new form of “arousal addiction,” and introduce a bold new plan for getting them back on track. The book is based on a popular TED Talk which Zimbardo did in 2011, and includes extensive research as well as a TED-exclusive survey that drew responses from more than 20,000 men. We recently spoke with Zimbardo and Duncan about their ideas.

Why are guys failing?
Duncan: There are many factors that play into a general loss of motivation in guys. If you go beyond the symptoms — performing poorly in school, failing to transition into adulthood, flaming out socially and sexually with women — and into the causes, guys are living in an environment that’s hostile towards men. We make men feel expendable, unneeded, and like they can’t be themselves. When you think about the fact that 85% of all stimulant medications are prescribed to American boys, for example, you can’t help but wonder about why there is such a disproportion. No doubt there’s some legitimate cases of ADHD, but we’re basically telling high-energy males that it’s not okay to be that way and there’s something wrong with them. We’ve also canceled most gym and recreation time in schools — an important way guys used to be able to release some of that energy. The list goes on.

What age group of men are we talking about?
Zimbardo: We focus primarily on guys in their teens and 20s, although guys of all ages are certainly affected.

What’s causing this? Tech? Media?
Duncan: Technology is not the issue. Rather, it’s the misuse of technology. There’s a general overuse of video games and porn — especially in social isolation — which is not balanced out by other activities like exercise, face-to-face socialization with peers, or individual time with any kind of male mentor. The average teenage guy spends 44 hours a week in front of a television or computer screen and half an hour in one-on-one conversation with his father. And that’s the boys who actually have a father around. Fatherlessness is another huge factor; America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness — 40% of children today are born to unwed mothers, the rate is 50% for women under 30. This in turn affects guys’ school performance. Boys that grow up without fathers around do not do as well in school and are not as well adjusted socially. They’re also far more likely to have attention or mood disorders and more likely to play excessive amounts of video games.

Each generation seems to think that the generation following them is headed for ruin. Couldn’t this just be adult fears based on not understanding the youth?
Zimbardo: There’s no doubt every generation is different from the last. However, this generation is very different from any other before it. Guys’ brains are being forever altered with prescription drugs, illegal drugs that have ever-increasing potency, and overstimulation from enticing images and games. All of this make them less motivated to deal with a quickly evolving reality. Young men are getting left behind socially, sexually, and financially.

Has something changed to worsen the challenges that young men have in creating solid interpersonal relationships?
Zimbardo: The most popular answers from our 20,000-person survey was that widespread hardcore Internet porn is wreaking havoc on relationships. Women said it’s made guys emotionally unavailable, and guys said it made them less interested in pursuing a relationship in the first place. The terrible economy doesn’t help, because of the current financial situation many guys can no longer see a family in their future. Relationships used to be viewed as a precursor to setting up a family together, but today, with fewer reasons to become romantically committed, young men don’t need to look beyond women as sex objects.

Can we slow the demise of guys?
Yes. These trends can be reversed, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and involvement from parents — both mom and dad, educators, video game producers, and guys themselves. We started a forum on our website to get these discussions going.

The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It is part of the TED Books series, which is available for the Kindle and Nook as well as on Apple’s iBookstore for $2.99.