GUILT IS A FORM OF SHAME

I previously wrote, decrying the modern tendency for personal development gurus and psychologists to deplore the emotion of shame. Shame stands alone, among all the emotions, as being known as the ‘wrong’ emotion. These same professionals of the emotional state, tend to honor guilt, although they may make a distinction with extreme guilt. I believe the confusion around the vital emotions of shame and guilt lies in a failure to fully appreciate the internal affective state that we experience as shame and guilt.

Unable to appreciate the affective states of guilt and shame has lead to some exerts asking about shame, “What’s it for?” Previously I discussed how shame is a very important human emotion to our ‘fitting in’ to the tribe from the earliest human evolutionary period. This is very important for the survival of everyone in a tribe whose real power and security is found in the collective. The weaker the tribal member, the more necessary they must ‘fit in’ and in fitting in, be submissive to anyone else in the tribe who might ultimately protect them. Submission includes all types of usefulness such as skills and sexual favours, but also the appropriate courtesies toward the tribal leader. It is more than likely that tribal leaders have always been, and still largely are, of a psychopathic nature. A slight against such a leader is very likely to lead to swift justice only too readily enforced by sycophantic seconds whose desire to curry favour has no boundaries. Shame is an emotion of attitudinal checking, shutting down any impetuous behaviour that might attract negative attention from protectors or the leader, least that protection is immediately withdraw or worse.

Shame and guilt are not two distinct emotions. They are founded on the emotion of shame, with guilt having the added emotion of remorse. Shame is an inherent emotion activated by the child’s observance of ‘how things are done’ by their parents and siblings. It is foundational to the child behaving as ‘fitting in’ without any other necessary education although parental and sibling reinforcements through language and demonstration are certain to enhance the shame feature. The shame emotion is setup as a predictive emotion. It has an activation through future thought and imagination. Shame is like a tonus running everyone’s life. Building on early objects of shame, such as nakedness or talking loudly and freely, other complex objects eg sex outside of marriage, doing well academically at school, might be raised in family or social education. Indeed, in our complex society, there appears to be competing shaming among children, youth and adults, in the organisation of economic and social sub-tribes or cultures. Ridicule is the main form of complex shaming designed to elicit a ‘fitting in”. Low level ridicule is a constant and obvious tone from the mainstream of society. For those who don’t ‘fit in’, the shame elicits an avoidance reaction leading to the person finding another ‘tribe’. The ‘right tribe’ is the one that will utilize a ridiculing of characteristics that don’t apply to the person enrolled into that tribe, but may apply to the mainstream social group.

Some objects of shame can apply across all social groups eg not murdering others, not stealing from others. Not all objects of common shame are felt equally. For example, people have greater or lesser shame responses to being naked in public or on stage. At one end of the human shame spectrum are people who are burdened by deep bouts of shame that incapacitates them. At the other end of the spectrum, are people who have little shame around a certain behaviours. Psychopaths are people who are genetically predisposed to a lack of empathy, manipulate others to their personal ends, and exhibit a lack of shame and guilt. Psychopaths have a capacity to act, quite literally, shameless. Intelligent psychopaths are found in control roles in, probably, all public and private sector institutions and businesses, large and small. However it would be inadequate to blame shameless behavior on psychopathy and most acts of: bullying, damaging, over use of reward stimulation, and a falling away of responsibility for the social group, is performed by very ordinary people as part of the natural ridiculing tendencies. Some shameless behavior is quite harmless and may even have a contributive role in society eg in artistic expression as a mechanism for looking at the implications of specific taboos. Social and cultural taboos are noted for their inducement to shame.

Guilt is a subset of shame that occurs on the actual trespassing on the object of shame. Guilt is an emotion that rises from a past event as a combination of shame and remorse. The shame comes from the ‘knowing’ that the trespass has been committed. In a sense, shame is felt by moving the memory of the past event into the present or future. If the shame registers without remorse, then it cannot be said that guilt has been elicited. Sometime remorse is elicited as an internal state, and sometimes only with the disclosure to others of the trespass.

Guilt as an emotion should not be confused with legal guilt. Legal guilt defines an objective state of trespass. The ‘guilty’ party may or may not feel guilty or may experience any of the combinations of feel shame or not feel shame, with feel remorse or not feel remorse.

Shame is a valuable social tool for assisting people to fit into our complex society in a workable manner. Like all emotions, shame works best at low to medium levels, and can set up behavioural dysfunctions at medium to high levels. If there is a problem with shame, it is that our complex societies continue to add competing objects of ridicule as a point to that we should be behaving or allowing certain previously taboo behaviours to become mainstream, without that we really can evaluate which of these objects are unworkable or workable. Therefore we might be persuaded to enter activities that conflict with more important values or just be shown to be unworkable. Shame is mediated by have a clear set of socially bonding values that can be applied to all circumstances in social life. For most people, this means being raised by those values so that, not only are the values part of our internal locus of control but that we are privy to a ‘tribe’ of our family and others of like-minded values who can support us against the ridicule of others who hold to other values.

GUILT

Let me try to be clear. I did it. I am guilty.
Of what? Of spending a great deal of time daydreaming and writing blogs and ignoring the people in my life. And, taking it up a level, of yelling in anger.
The creation of God is perfect. So, is what I am guilty of, part of perfection or an error? Is the ‘computer program’, ‘the matrix’ a perfect program or does it have errors?
The creation of God is perfect. What I am guilty of, is part of that perfection. And so why would I even say there is something of which to be guilty?
Within the perfect creation is an unfoldment of consciousness in me to the wonder of creation and God. The consciousness was provoked by my early teachers – my parents and family and family friends; my school teachers and religion teachers; the bullies and the abusers; the attractive girls (a tautology, nonetheless …); my intense or rampaging university friends and co-students; my co-workers.
Within the perfect creation, I was provoked to ask ‘why’ and in the authentic search, against much mundane advice, I recognised Baha’u’llah. In Baha’u’llah’s own words, I had fulfilled my first duty, “… recognition of Him Who is the Day Spring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 330).
Of those laws, Baha’u’llah provokes my consciousness, again. “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.”(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 332). Against the outpouring of His laws, the fountain of choice wine, there I am guilty, there I am in error.
Yet, what is that guilt, that error, in the perfect creation? Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and mystery to the world, noted that there is an insistent self which the Cause of God is charged with bringing to yield, to selflessness, and, in that, to its everlasting glory, spirit on spirit. (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 256)
What is that insistent self? Abdu’l-Baha provides two distinct contributions to this question. Firstly, that there is no evil in the perfect creation. However, an evil occurs in the failure of a spiritual quality to show up. “the qualities and admirable perfections of man, are purely good, and exist. Evil is simply their nonexistence.”(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 261) Secondly, there is a perfect lower animal nature at the foundation of the material, physical, capacity of the human. “Each creature is the recipient of some portion of (God’s) power, and man, who contains the perfection of the mineral, the vegetable and animal, as well as his own distinctive qualities, has become the noblest of created beings.” (Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 22). This is human’s ‘natural’ capacity, “the creation of God, is purely good”. However, Abdu’l-Baha point to an acquired capacity that is like being accustomed to poison, “by taking a small quantity each day, and gradually increasing it, until he reaches such a point that he cannot live without .. the natural capacity and constitution can be changed, until by different habits and training they become entirely perverted.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 319)
Baha’u’llah, addressing the nature of the soul, confirms that it is “is exalted above, and is independent of body or mind” but that we show signs of weakness “is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 153) He goes on, “ (God) hath entrusted every created thing with a sign of His knowledge. This sign is the mirror of His beauty in the world of creation. The greater the effort exerted for the refinement of this sublime and noble mirror, the more faithfully will it be made to reflect the glory of the names and attributes of God, and reveal the wonders of His signs and knowledge. There can be no doubt whatever that, in consequence of the efforts which every man may consciously exert and as a result of the exertion of his own spiritual faculties, this mirror can be so cleansed from the dross of earthly defilements and purged from satanic fancies as to be able to draw nigh unto the meads of eternal holiness and attain the courts of everlasting fellowship.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 261)
So if we bring the analogies of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha together here we have an image of the ‘Light of God’ ‘The Holy Spirit’ reflected in the pure mirror. Yet in the habituation to poisonous or unseemly activities we are creating like a dross to form on the pure mirror. Dross doesn’t prevent the light shining but like a shadow appearing on the mirror, our life shows up as an insistent self, an evil.
Yet, we might ask, doesn’t the appearance of dross mean that the creation is imperfect. However, there is way in which the dross showing up is part of a perfect creation. This is when the view of perfection is not our view of some perfect comfort, but when it is a view that we are created into God’s great training ground. Here it is time to bring in another concept about our purpose in this world, “the appearance of the spirit is this: (it) is a Divine Trust, and it must traverse all conditions, for its passage and movement through the conditions of existence will be the means of its acquiring perfections. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 199) “This world is not much of a place for the realization of truth. This world is but the womb of the world of reality.”(Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 112) “The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother. When the soul attaineth the Presence of God, it will assume the form that best befitteth its immortality and is worthy of its celestial habitation.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 156)
In this view, as demanded by Baha’u’llah it is our effort in cleaning dross that creates spiritual being, a being that is in proximity with eternal holiness and fellowship. The ‘dross’, the animal, the habituation to the world, is, therefore, the perfect methodology for the showing up of the soul’s qualities while in this world. Indeed the effort itself seems to be the key to the ultimate nourishment and formation of the soul.
So, having now formed an idea that we are a state in light and shadows that shows up distinctions between a clear mirror to the light and a shaded portion. Baha’u’llah’s Law and teachings define the clear surface like rainbows reflecting across the mirror, while the insistent-self defines the shadow of evil by creating a barrier to that light. Where does guilt lie? The insistent-self, recognising the play of light and its own shadows upon the surface, does despair. It knows that it cannot be as shadows and simultaneously revel in the light. Therefore it creates a wonderful trick. It takes its despair and turns it on itself in a story of unfulfilled yearning for an unattainable light. Not only yearning, but effort is constructed, for the self knows that effort, the law of God, is required. And so, guilt is born as an intricate looping act of effort on an unattainable goal, a Sisyphus-like activity which allows great strength to the insistent-self, which feels fully justified as a spiritual actor. Yet, the light is not unattainable, it is just there, where there is no despair.
The insistent-self, creating the trick of guilt, takes the past, the animal, and the habit, and shows it the Law of God, so that it can despise the self, and avoid cleaning the dross that is itself. The spiritual-self cannot destroy the insistent self for that is not possible in the light. The spiritual self can only love the creation of God that has created the insistent self, the past, the animal and the habit. In this moment of love, the spiritual self runs a rainbow along the loops of guilt, bringing sweet savours and joyful lilting. This effort offer no force, is an effort of love and compassion that feels more like a ‘giving way’ to an openness for everyone else and God. Guilt Is not wrong, it is just that it is an imaginary fight with itself. Like all things ‘drossful’ of our spiritual lamp, guilt requires a spiritual method, a knowing that guilt can be loved as it is. Guilt is not wrong, it just goes away in love. And in love, there is the resplendent, sweet-smelling garment of the Law of God.

Child Abuse – Do we want an answer or a scapegoat?

Painting of Abused Child

Abused Child

We seem, in the west, to live in a world in which we, adults, believe parents are child abusers, and child abusers are around every corner. Perhaps we have come to that perception because of the meaning we have given the circumstances of our own childhoods. It is true some of us were badly abused as children, some of us moderately abused, some of us more susceptible to even milder abuse, some of us had parents who did not engage with us, some allowed us such latitude that we did not learn boundaries or responsibility or consideration. Many of us, however, had patient, loving parents who encouraged us toward achievement. Some abusive parents also were this. The way the world occurs to many of us as child unfriendly, is mostly untrue. Rather, we allow ourselves to be guided to this belief by a cultural story provided by the media, to avoid looking at our own shortcomings.

To be sure, the nurturing of the child is the cornerstone of a resilient society. Not only because the nurtured child become a more resilient adult, but because the adult who is nurturing has set the benchmark for resilience. Yet there is a paradox between our anger toward child abusers and our ability to nurture. If we take a look at another another benchmark of social resilience, justice, we begin to see the problem more clearly.

A case highlighted in the ‘Slate‘ by Emily Bazelon, in which Drayton Witt, an 18-year-old charged with shaking his 4-month-old son, Steven, to death in 2000, and subsequently convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years, has been found to have ignored the severe ill health of the child including epileptic seizures. There were no other signs of abuse nor any other history of abuse by Drayton on Steven. Now, 12 years later, many doctors allow that a history of illness like Steven’s can account for the subdural and retinal bleeding, and brain swelling, that used to be blamed exclusively on shaken-baby syndrome. Drayton and others like him are still in prison.

The problem is not that doctors once had a particular diagnosis called ‘shaken baby syndrome’, but that the justice process was not able to work in a community environment in which it occurred to doctors, social workers, policemen, jurors, judges, politicians, and a self-righteous community, that the only way a baby could die like that, was by its carer to shake them severe enough to cause a brain injury. Within this occurrence, many intelligent person involved in the case, were unable to apply the standards of justice, to remain open to possibility, to prove without doubt, to weigh up all the evidence.

So the discussion comes full circle. What is it among all of us that allows us to shut off a goodly portion of our reason, when faced with such a major incident, in this case, the death of a child? Is it our care for the child? I propose it is not. After all, the child is dead, and, apart from his well identified health conditions which were treated as well as any caring parents and doctors could find treatment, there was no other real care coming from the community. Real care might have seen wonderful community support for the parents, for the whole of that child’s life. Indeed, if such care was present, the community itself would be fully apprised of the character and behaviour of Drayton Witt towards his child. In fact, the lack of community care is why the community of law professionals and doctors were so lead to shut their minds away from justice. Self-righteousness, and readiness to blame, comes from our own guilt. We do not care. To ‘not care’ is evil. A child died. We feel guilty for not caring.We are evil. We must punish the evil person. Well, not ourselves. But look, here is a scapegoat. We can place all the punishment on him.We can say, “He is Evil”. We can imprison him in his sadness and away from his own progress in life. We can feel well-comforted. We are not evil after all. We, of course, do not care about children. We are still guilty and angry with ourselves about that. But soon we shall find another scapegoat, maybe even someone who really did kill a child, to represent the punishment we believe we deserve. And we will go through that same process until we feel, for a time, well-comforted again.

The lack of a sense of the nurturing of children and families aligns itself with a failure to enact justice in the community. It is best for us to acknowledge that we do not care, that carelessness and injustice is our own problem. Once acknowledged, we might then clearly address whether we want the problem or the answer. If we continue to accept our carelessness, we accept the problem. If we become caring, then the answer has declared itself.