SHAME – THE WRONGLY WRONGED EMOTION.

It is common, now, for personal development gurus and psychologist, to deplore the emotion of shame. Today, when even anger has been brought in from the cold, among all the emotions, shame stands alone as being known as the ‘wrong’ emotion. This infographic from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine that usually exhibits excellence in the analysis of people in distress, portrays the confusion around the vital emotion of shame.

NICABM-Infographic-Shame

I have been unable to understand why this confusion exist and why shame is considered a ‘wrong’ emotion until a recent Bliss and Grit podcast revealed the extent of the passion and that, indeed, personal development gurus are bewildered by the existence of shame. In this podcast, although the presenters state they will go down the rabbit hole of the origins of shame, actually they throw up their hands in despair. To their praise, they did fall back on the most sensible advice for people and emotional states, to look at it, sit with it, explore it, question it.

The most revealing question asked in the Bliss and Grit podcast is “What’s it for?” In this question, I think I’m finally coming to understand why mental health professionals and personal development gurus have got shame all wrong. Indeed, being ashamed of shame is the perfect vehicle for shame.

“What’s it for?” is a fundamental question for understanding EVERYTHING. There is a single premise that I work with for EVERYTHING that exists: that neither God nor evolution makes mistakes. Or rather, when mistakes are made in the functional apparatus of the organism, those mistakes become, quite literally, dead to the world. Of course, you could argue for the vestigial apparatus, however truly vestigial organs (perhaps not as common as once thought) are truly lacking in function and therefore make no impact on the organism at all. So We can disregard shame as vestigial.

Shame is a very important human emotion. To understand how important, we need to understand that our evolution from primates to becoming the best survivals in modern evolutionary time and evolving to outstrip evolutionary constraints has been markedly assisted by shame. We need to understand that our evolutionary success has not because we have evolved as special individuals but that we have evolved a special social capacity. Our special social capacity has enabled the vulnerable human infant to be protected for many years of its life by, not only the mother, but the community. Our evolution from the primate seems to have come with a polygynous social structure based on an alpha male killing machine and a harem of females with additional lesser males and females. Our early social structures which are still evident in the rule of society, today, have been built on subservience to the alpha male.

The alpha males ability to bring violence to external competitors stimulates the emotions of attachment and desirability in females and lesser males and females. Therefore the alpha male creates the social collective by his external violence. His ability to bring swift discipline, even rage and execution, on that social network calls the social group to subservience.

The alpha males offering of long term protection for the social group, so important to the nurturing of the baby and child to some level of independence verses his tendency to, even inadvertently, kill such an infant, or its mother, is the tension of threat and abundance that has enhanced our human sense of shame.

Shame is, like the other immediate emotions, anger and fear, has a very important role in internal social regulation. It provided immediate subservience from the individual challenged by a more dominant member of the group. It is probably stimulated from the earliest moments through mother’s and other siblings’ behaviours and by their interactions with the Alpha and other dominant members. The purpose of this early training in shame would be, in large part, to prevent the infant coming to the negative attention of the Alpha. It also creates a regulation for the growing person within the larger social group. Even if the person grows to become a large male itself, the shame response will be effective as a simple regulation against that male becoming violent among most other male and female members of the social group. Except that, sooner or later, the Alpha male gets older and weaker and the strongest mature male will usurp and kill that male, other males are happier to be part of the supporting social group.   For females, the shame creates an avoidance of conflict with most of the members of the social group, invaluable in maintaining a position within the group.

Early human alpha males carry a personality that we would now call psychopathic. The successful alpha male could kill without compunction. However, although some of his kin may be, he wasn’t an irrational brutalizer, rather intelligently calculated in most of his manipulations. The young alpha male, gathering a group of young females and other males, would detach themselves from the original family group and strike out for new territory. This is likely the reason for the rapid and vast distribution of humans across the world.

With population growth, and increasing success of women who probably hybridized the earliest grains through their attention to herbage through gathering. It is more than possible that it was women who invented pottery and writing. The temptation for the alpha male to acquiring more ‘stuff’ and status has also been the downfall of the alpha and the tribe. In acceding to the demands of new technologies to come together with other tribes, forming towns, meant that the alpha male has been delegating aspects of his role ever since.

Nonetheless, while second ranking males and females gradually found more power, and religion became more sophisticated, bringing philosophy that increasingly raised the status of the lowest ranking of the town and city, shame continued to play a vital role in establishing for the young humans of every generation, signals that they weren’t fitting in or weren’t playing their role.

Like many immediate emotions, a certain abuse went along with their inculcation. The degree of bullying from intimates establishes the level of shame felt with any reprimand from authority figures. It is important to note that the inculcation of shame has a future context. In that it is closely related to anxiety. The futurist imagination of the human allows shame to be attached to the idea of infringement, rather than the act of infringement. Depending on the level of imagined shame provoking failure, marked anxiety can also be provoked. It is important to maintain the distinction between shame and failure although both emotions can often be present, together and both are responses to dealing with an unrealized future. Shame is provoked by the imagined loss of ‘fitting in’ the social group, that people might deride the person, and will loose status. Anxiety is provoked by the implication that a failure will mean not surviving. Anxiety and shame hark back to a time when failure to ‘fit in’ was a literal expulsion and, as a single vulnerable human, a failure to survive.

Nonetheless, at the lower or manageable levels of emotion, shame continues to play a valuable role as a signal that we have not complied with social norms, that, perhaps, we don’t fit in. As a signal, we may tend to want to restore our calmness and protections by ‘fitting in’ which means withdrawing from what ‘out of norm’ activity we were proposing or doing. On the other hand, the astute human can take notice of the signal, note its relevance to the step out of norm and choose to restore calmness through the use of reflective practices and language that supports the venture while minimizing shame and anxiety. Similarly, the astute human might concede that their ‘out of norm’ practice was, indeed, a fruitless venture and that moving back to the norm is the more correct response. In either case, it is the reflective work towards restoring the calmer equilibrium that is the more valuable for the person wanting to live fully in this modern world, much less supported by the social group, more likely that you are doing something different to the values of the group, and with more choices to explore.

The alphas still try to control everything and everyone. People have a tendency to shame their others in simple genetic habit to keep each other protected within a close knit group and to fall under the protection of the alpha. As the regulation of the alpha, the psychopaths, are falling away many people find themselves acting, quite literally, shameless. Shameless action include: bullying, damaging, over use of reward stimulation, and a falling away of responsibility for the social group. Shamelessness is nihilistic, leading to a materialistic society marked by dysfunctional human development and ideation around sexuality and wealth, and avoidant of any complex responsibility eg for the environment. Paradoxically, shamelessness is responsible for harmful levels of shame among those people who are, naturally sensitive with shame. I say paradoxically, because the shamers are often shameless in their own immoral and unethical behaviour.

While the person who is hurting with marked chronic shame, it is toward reducing the shamelessness and, actually, increasing the overall shame in society that we will get the greatest benefits for everyone and for the future.

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DOES GOD EXIST?

The word EXIST, like all words, stands as a symbol of a symbol, in this case an idea of phenomenon. As a word, it is, itself, a phenomenon. As a word it points for me to something that I am experiencing, that can, therefore, be said to be a phenomenon. The word God and Exist in the same sentence, for me, falls away, awkwardly, to the degree that I am leant to declare, God doesn’t Exist.

In the Baha’i Faith there are two words that stand for the idea of God: UNKNOWABLE and ESSENCE.

Unknowable, in the sense it is used for God, is an absolute feature. It is not like the idea that I know I don’t know, or even that I don’t know that I don’t know. It is not the mathematical idea of nothing in the set, zero. It is an idea that anything I can be, anything a sentient being will be, will not come any closer to knowing. It is that there is no set to hold no items. The word God, itself, is a placemark for the unknowability of, and here the second word comes into play, Essence.

Essence is the idea of the merest hint, the barest sense, a fleeting awareness. The fleeting awareness is a register of an ocean of power that is itself something manifest, something phenomenal. This ocean of power exudes both an awesome potentiality as well as a deeply inviting calm. An awareness of the ocean of existence only points further to the hint of an infiniteness of existence that, nonetheless, has certain regulations, a way that it works. And, there, as the way it works, lies the essence of the unknowable. The bringing of existence into existence is tangible as that it works the way it works, and that it is not ours to expect differently, nor decry that it works the way it works, for it works for we.

When I bring up the word exist, it is if essence ceases to exist. The word ‘exist comes up like an impenetrable wall which shuts out all merest hint, all barest sense. Exist not only has no capacity to speak of, to point to God, it is a heavy veil between my sense and the essence. To seek for the merest hint of the unknowable essence, put away all thought that God exists. Sit with your sense of being, ranging widely and seekingly, without any more purpose than just broadening the range across the ocean of power.

Punishment Doesn’t Work

On 8th March 2018, the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ran this story of a father punishing his son for bullying by making him run to school. I am actually appreciative that this dad took a video of him driving behind the child and posting it, so that we can learn from it.
It and the supportive responses for it, does show the failure of most of society to understand the idea of consequence. This failure is not only why our child raising has created bullies and addicts but why prisons are overflowing with recidivists. Below is my take on it.

In the ABC article, bully experts like Dr Hannah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Queensland, said “punitive strategies like making the boy run were an attempt to teach the child to be accountable for their actions, but they didn’t always work.”They use shame, humiliation and guilt to try to motivate change in future behaviour,” she said.”This generally never changes behaviour in the long-term. It gives the child very limited opportunity to learn and acquire new skills — i.e. ways to interact in more positive and social ways with their peers.”Dr Thomas said these kinds of strategies can also have flow-on effects.”Children who are humiliated or shamed can internalise negative feelings about themselves that hinder their healthy development,” she said.”Children misbehave as they learn and develop. They need parents to be supportive when they make mistakes and to take a practical role in teaching their children how to behave more respectfully.”
What I see is that it gets down to consequences. There are two things to know about consequences: Punishment is not a consequence of someone’s action; and all actions come with unintended consequences.
Punishment is an indirect consequence of an action, and in many cases, that ‘indirectness’ is confounded by a complexity of agendas and motivations, often to the extent that it is of no consequence at all. If anything, punishment is often a pathway to a whole complexity of unintended consequences, the least of which is that the punished get that they are responsible for other’s distress and that they can be a different type of person in the world.
In this case there was a direct consequence to the boy’s bullying, he was put off the bus. The boy would have understood the relationship.
A consequence of the complaint to the parent was that the parent went into bullying mode. It seems Dad doesn’t have a conversational relationship with his son, probably an authoritarian one. His son is learning that authoritarian method, the being a three year old for the whole of your life, that is, of course, it is signified by bullying anyone as a control mechanism, a fabulous way to teach the next generation how to be a bully.
The consequence of the bullying mode by this parent is the boy being forced to run to school.
I have no problem the boy running to school. Great thing!
However, attached to that running to school is a punishment, is a bad idea!
This is where we have to get better at thinking through about unintended consequences. If we have learnt anything by listening to each other about why we find ourselves poorly motivated around some things as adults, it gets back to the unintended consequences of, sometimes, the most trivial thing a parent has done that has been completely misunderstood by the child. The consequence of establishing for your 10 year old son that running is what you do for punishment, when you do something wrong, can be that, later on in life, you run a lot and you do nothing wrong (even though you are really an A-1 tyrant), OR you do nothing wrong (you’re a nice guy) and you don’t run (you are fat, have a chronic disease by your 40s). Ultimately this boy is on a path to being either a bully for life or a failure to take-off.

The real issue though is of parenting. Parents who are in conversation with children from the time they are in the womb, parents who are self reflective in that conversation and can acknowledge with children where they messed up as well as taking a firm and clear stand with their children, parents who are up to something bigger than themselves and their family, in life, have children who aren’t bullies and grow up to be contributors to society.

You WILL Choose.

This week a team of three of us had approved our application to facilitate a workshop on accomplishment at the 2018 Global Transformations Conference in Monterey, California. The full title of our topic is “Living the Dream: A Life of Accomplishment”. During the process of putting together the application, we (the team) have had weekly conversations about what accomplishment means and where it all came from. Looking at a thread of accomplishment that I am calling ‘creativity’, and how I might address it from my view of my own biography, I can hear any number of people who might present alternate viewpoints of what accomplishment is and how it ‘should’ work. In pondering those potential ‘alternatives’, ideas I have already heard from various sources, I began to realise that we are all just be standing in the path of our own choices. For all of us, there is only that, given whatever we think we know and much we don’t, we will choose as we will choose.

A couple of years ago, The Poetry Foundation post a commentary by David Orr, that we often fail to fully read this famous poem by Robert Frost. When we just read the beginning and the end we come away with the common interpretation that Frost is encouraging us to take the more arduous looking path. However in the middle two verses he regales that neither path is really any different to the outward glance but that only one of them can be taken. In this case, when we read the last verse we can see he is being ironical about how we will dress up the story of our life, in the future, as one that was the more adventurous.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

David Orr tells that Frost actually wrote the poem as a tease while in England and going for regular walks in the countryside with another poet, Edward Thomas. Frost told that, after the walk, Thomas would often complain that he should have chosen different pathways because of what they missed out seeing. So, Frost wrote the poem just to say, a choice is made, and that is that. Everything else afterwards, is just a following along that path, as it has to be.

For a Treaty

My middle class status, career, wealth, comes from that my grandfather was able to get away from the early 20thC steel mills of Hull, UK and come to Australia where he could pull down a forest and take up farming. The family stories tell that indigenous people’s roamed through that land, they knew the new farmers, and then were picked up by government officers and placed on missions. My life, as it is, is the life created by divesting indigenous people of their land with no agreement or recompense. There are some who believe that they can make this work without attention. I caution against this as the view of disassociation. Perhaps under hypnosis we can cut gouges out of our body and pretend we are ‘okay’, but we will surely become debilitated with the loss of our life force that ebbs from the wounds. To me a treaty is the only healing act, an honouring in financial recompense for the resource we stole, a belated conversation in attempt to come to an agreement about who we are to each other, and what we can be for each other. “Sorry’ was the first step. However there is no true sorry without cleaning up our relationship messes to the satisfaction of those we have distressed.

in Australia we have the benefit of just having to look at a very immediate past and it’s ramifications for the people living today. We can address this immediately and completely, if we choose. Otherwise, all over the world, people are in conflict around deep ancestoral issues because we refuse to entertain the notion taught and stood for, by all the Great Educators1, that some call radical forgiveness2. Even here, though, radical forgiveness can only truly take place when every cruelty is owned and spoken.

Any harm, not resolved, causes an ongoing conflict in the body politic. That will occur many generations after anyone even knows the original harm. LOOK CAREFULLY at the human dynamics that are unleashed with every instance of harm, and you will realise that the major harm been done to the indigenous peoples of Australia, is, right now, both overtly and insidiously, eating away at the possibility for Australians to achieve their greatest potential. It is a disease like having a bacterial infection. Ignore it at peril. Our ‘body’ is ringing alarm bells every day and trying to fight the attack. But, being unsupported by the neglect of “nothing happening here’, the disease encroaches. The burden we carry both spiritually and materially because we haven’t been responsible for the damage, has slowed the whole nation down into a sloth of failure to create or produce. As soon as we waken to that our future is completely founded on our recompense for the harm and theft that we are living off, we will embrace our responsibility with enthusiasm. Not because we are doing something special, but because we will be bringing our body politic into full performance.

1. Great Educators is a broad term for the founders of the major religions who all stood for justice and forgiveness as cornerstones of healthy and progressive societies. Continue reading