Man is a Mine Rich in Gems…

Nature or nurture?  Are we empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and virtues or is there at least some stuff we might already have inside us that could be accessed?  A seam of gold?  A mother lode of virtue?

Perhaps if we had a little confidence that the good is there, deep inside – especially in children – we’d be pleasantly surprised?  And more likely to find it.

Here are two true stories…

And now for something completely different…

In July 2009, Jill Petersen and Kevin Heinz posted a video of their wedding on YouTube so that their families could see it – within 48 hours 3.5 million people had watched it.  By August 2011 68 million people had watched it.


Definitely.  But then they did something really constructive.  They used the attention to raise money for charity.  To quote Jill and Kevin –

We hope to direct this positivity to a good cause. Due to the circumstances surrounding the song in our wedding video, we have chosen the Sheila Wellstone Institute.

Sheila Wellstone was an advocate, organizer, and national champion in the effort to end domestic violence in our communities.

We are so grateful for all the love, kind words, and joy that have been shared with us from around the world. It has moved us deeply and filled our hearts.

By October 2010, they had raised almost $35,000 for the Sheila Wellstone Institute.

I wasn’t one of the 68 million people who saw this video until recently – I first saw it thanks to sufilight at Love is the Answer –

If you’ve seen it before you might like to watch it again.

If you haven’t seen it, watch and enjoy!


We have come to believe that having complete freedom is the road to complete happiness – but is this true? In reality, even the most capable of us is limited.

Limitation is natural.

To begin with we are mortal, therefore there is a limit to the length of our lives.  But we are also limited in other ways.

As Jordan Peterson says in his talk, Virtue as a Necessity, some things about us are neither our fault nor to our credit, they are just arbitrary facts of being –

…a human being is predicated on a fundamental limitation – you are what you are and you’re not other things…

This might seem like a bad thing but I don’t think it’s at all bad – just a fact.

If there are no limitations, then there are no boundaries. If there are no boundaries then there is no being and everything is just one mush of reality.

This is not the same as oneness. Oneness means that we are all distinctive parts of a whole.

Mush is just mush.

Is there some part of us that instinctively knows that human beings really excel within limits?

If not, why is it that when we invent games we arbitrarily create ‘rules’? (see Virtue as A Necessity).

Is a dance still a dance without ‘rules’ and ‘limits’?

Or a football game?

What are the challenges we face when dealing with limits?

How do we distinguish a real limit from a limit imposed by ourselves or our societies?

For example, because immortality is not an option we can’t just choose not to die ever, on the other hand many people have achieved great things by overcoming apparent limitations.  How can we tell the difference?

It is clearly difficult to find a balance between over-control and the natural, healthy limits that we need in order to keep everybody safe and help our societies to function – so how do we do that?

When does free speech become incitement to hatred, for example?

Is there a natural line?

If so, where is it (and how do we recognise it)?

(Answers on a postcard…)


Interesting Discoveries About the Brain (2)

We are more than just a collection of cells and matter – but our physical reality may be better designed for unity and cooperation than we imagine. Given the day that’s in it,  I thought the video below might be a good way to honour the many millions of people who have suffered – and still suffer – as a result of our collective failure to learn how to live together.

Jeremy Rifkin describes here how, contrary to what we believe about our species, we are physically designed to work together.  It’s very informative (and mostly about the brain!)

The Still Face

Humans are social beings.  We’re not the only ones on the planet but we most definitely belong to that group.

Our interactions with other people do more than just shape our manners and our view of the world, these interactions actually shape our physical brains.  As the saying goes, neurons that fire together, wire together. 

As we lumber about in our lives, we often believe, erroneously, that only our big actions count.

If I don’t hit you or shout at you or curse or show my disdain I can tell myself I haven’t revealed anything of myself – or done any damage to you.

But what if that isn’t true?

What if our sensitivity to response is so ingrained in us and so long-standing that we don’t consciously recognise how subtly influenced – or influential – we can be?

Everybody knows that new-born babies respond to the world around them and we instinctively try to interact even with the youngest babies.  But do we realise how vital this seemingly trivial interaction really is?

Watch the video below – if you can handle it – it tells a very interesting story.

Suffering…what is it good for?

Evil causes suffering and evil is preventable, but even in a paradisiacal world without evil, suffering would still exist.

In the most wonderful and peaceful of worlds, completely free of war and violence and famine and prejudice, children will still die and be bereaved, people will become ill and have accidents, make mistakes – there will be natural disasters and unfortunate events. Suffering will still exist.

So.  What is the point of suffering?

Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said that suffering should be alleviated whenever possible but when it isn’t possible it presents us with an opportunity for change.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. (1)

What does this mean?  Perhaps it means that suffering changes us anyway and we can either be a part of that change or allow ourselves to be formed against our will by circumstances outside of our control?

The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes…Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows. (2)

Maybe the purpose of suffering is so incredibly individual that there is no one answer other than that its very inevitability suggests it does have a purpose – however hidden?

Maybe it exists so that we’ll question the things around us that seem real and permanent and important and learn to distinguish between them?

Maybe our suffering can soften our hearts so that when we see others suffer we respond?

I don’t presume to know.


(1) Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, published in “Star of the West”, volume 14, number 2, May 1923.

An Answer to Evil

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.  To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Bertrand Russell

Dear Anders Behring Breivik,

A lot of the friends I met at Utoya are dead and you are the perpetrator. You are the man who, by coincidence, didn’t kill me. I was lucky.

You might think that you have won. You might think that you have ruined something for the Labour Party and for people around the world who stand for a multicultural society by killing my friends and fellow party members.

Know that you have failed.

You haven’t only made the world stand together, you have set our souls on fire and should know we’ve never stood together as we do now. You talk about yourself as a hero, a knight. You are no hero. But you have created heroes. On Utoya that warm day in July, you created some of the greatest heroes the world has seen, you unified people from all over the world. Black and white, man and woman, red and blue, Christians and Muslims.

You made your victims martyrs, immortals, and you have shown the world that when one person can show as much hatred as you have done, imagine how much love we can show when we stand together? People who I thought hated me have given me hugs on the street, people I haven’t been in contact with for years have written 300 to 400 words about how much it means to them that I survived. What can you say about that? Have you broken anything? You have united us.

You have killed my friends, but you haven’t killed our cause, our opinions, our right to express ourselves. Muslim women got hugs of sympathy from random Norwegian women on the street and your goal was to protect Europe from Islam? Your actions worked against its purpose.

You deserve no thanks; your plan failed. A lot of people are angry, you are the most hated person in Norway. I am not angry. I do not fear you. You can’t touch us, we are greater than you. We do not answer evil with evil, as you wanted it. We fight evil with good. And we win.

Benjamin Ostebo, aged 16.


Courage is not the opposite of fear – it is the defiance of fear. Looking fear in the eye, we gird up our loins and act anyway.

However, to be courageous doesn’t mean to be reckless.

Recklessness is thoughtless.

Courage is thoughtful.

When we are reckless we don’t recognise – or acknowledge – the dangers, therefore it requires no courage to act recklessly.

Courage is what’s needed when you know what you stand to lose and act anyway.  We admire courage in others and, if we want to feel good about ourselves, acting courageously will generally help with that.

It’s easy to say we should have courage – we’d all like to think of ourselves as courageous – but if it was that easy to have we’d all be brave all the time.

Still, we can but try…

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.  John Wayne


Why We All Need Science and Religion to Work Together (even if we think we don’t)

Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. Albert Einstein (1)

Everyone would agree that we are material beings but we also know that much of our experience of life is not material.  We love, hate, imagine, dream, think, guess, wish, hypothesize – and there is no one way to explain it all. Along with our material reality we have another reality – a transcendent reality. Which is why we need as many paths to knowledge as we can get.

Because, as Albert Einstein also famously said –

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. (2)


Photograph – A glowing emerald nebula seen by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

(1) This article appears in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp.41 – 49. It is taken from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939. It was published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

(2) Albert Einstein“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941

Related articles

Hard-Wired for Oneness?

Neuroscientific research shows that when we see someone in pain, the same areas are activated in our brains as when we ourselves are in pain. This is called automatic empathy and though, in itself, it doesn’t result in any change of behaviour, it does suggest that we are not as cut off from our fellow humans as we sometimes imagine.  While our prejudices and belief systems may lead us to think that other people are not like us, our physical brains are busily recognising our common experiences – not our differences.

To take this automatic empathy to the next level, a place of compassionate action, is called deliberative empathy and this doesn’t just happen without effort on our part.  Our neurons may light up when we see suffering but what we do about it is very much a choice. Nevertheless, at a purely natural level, it does appear that we have the basic circuitry necessary for compassion, empathy, co-operation, reciprocity and all of the productive characteristics we need if we are to learn to live together.  Which means that, whatever obstacles are blocking our attempts to build a better, happier and safer world – our ‘nature’ isn’t one of them.

…the evidence reveals that such conduct, far from expressing man’s true self, represents a distortion of the human spirit. Satisfaction on this point will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature, will encourage harmony and co-operation instead of war and conflict.(1)

If we start to look for possibilities other than the incorrigibility of human nature to explain human dysfunction perhaps we will have a better chance of discovering the real causes.  Because if we’ve been misdiagnosing the problem it might explain why our remedies aren’t really working.

Tomorrow –

(1) The Promise of World PeaceThe Universal House of Justice, October 1985.