The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Is It Right To Forgive?

It seems right to forgive, doesn’t it?  After all, we hear such proclamations often from pulpits and religious sectors.

We also hear calls for apologies to be made.  Within the public domain we often hear these couched in phrases such as “we call on him/her to apologise, and to withdraw.”

Forgiveness and apology seem to go together.  One person apologises and the other forgives.  Sometimes, forgiveness is not offered until such time as an apology is given.

Then too, there are times when we hear that forgiveness cannot, or should not, be given because the crime has been too horrific, or the hurt too great.

In all these situations, forgiveness is thought of as something offered because someone has done wrong.  A hurt or crime has been committed and the “victim” is sufficiently humane, or compassionate enough, to forgive the “offender” for the wrongdoing.

Apologies, and forgiveness, are couched in the framework of right/wrong and victim/offender.
Is that really what forgiveness is?  Is forgiveness about righting a wrong?  Is forgiveness about a victim forgiving an offender?

Not really.

Forgiveness is really about healing a damaged relationship.  Forgiveness is about recognising our common humanity and restoring balance when harmony is disrupted.  Forgiveness recognises that, being human, we all make mistakes.  Think of it like the making of a movie.  Various takes of scenes are made, sometimes dozens before the final, picture-perfect (excuse the pun) take is accepted.  Each of the takes before that final take can be thought of as mis-takes.  In each of those takes, the actors, the camera crew, the extras, the make-up artists, the director, the producer, and everyone else on set did their job the best they could at the time.  Each of those mis-takes were accepted and the next take was ordered up by the director.  In the same way, our mis-takes can be accepted, we can learn from them, we can acknowledge to those around us that we made a mis-take, and we can yearn for better in the next “take.”

So it is with forgiveness.  True forgiveness is offered (given) even before the mis-take is made.  Indeed, the etymology of the word embodies this idea.  The word forgive comes to us from the Latin word perdonare.  Doesn’t sound or look like it does it?  However, if you trace its journey perdonare was translated into the Germanic precursor of English.  Per became for and donare was translated as giefan, so we got forgiefan, and from there the modern English word forgive.

In Latin, per means with or before, and donare means completely, without reservation.  Hence, we could define forgive as “to give completely, to give without reservation, and to do so beforehand.”

Looked at this way, forgiveness becomes something we do for ourselves, rather than something we do for the person who we perceive to have harmed us in some way.  As too, is apology.  We apologise because it is healing for the relationship, not because it may heal the perceived hurt of the other person.

Whether we perceive ourselves to be the victim or the offender is largely immaterial.  When either, or both, parties make a mis-take, then the relationship between them is knocked out of balance.  The key to restoring balance, as with so many things in life, is honest and transparent communication.  Taking the time to offer an apology or to for-give allows for a restoration of balance and perhaps even, a more satisfying relationship.

Forgiving then, is not right, or wrong.  Forgiving helps to restore a relationship that has become unbalanced.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Just Breathe

Our aspirations often get phrased in the future tense.  We aspire towards something off in the future.  Aspirations are thought of as a synonym for dreams – something yet to happen.

Dreams are necessary.  Where would we be if we did not dream?  Where would we be if we did not dream of things to improve our lives, individually and collectively?  Without dreams we may not have invented the wheel, the printing press, or iPhones.  Without dreams we would not have abolished slavery, women would still not be eligible to vote, and the Berlin Wall would not have fallen.

Dreamers – there have been many.  We know of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech.  George Bernard Shaw, later quoted by JF Kennedy, famously asked “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  And, of course, John Lennon acknowledged the many dreamers, singing:
“You may say that I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one.”
Yes, dreams (or aspirations) are useful.

We can think of an aspiration in another sense too.  One that is much more immediate.  To aspire also means to breathe.  Not surprisingly really, for it comes from the same Latin root, aspirare – meaning to breathe at, or blow upon.

When we consider our breath we are brought to the here and now.  Our breath is immediate.  We breathe now.  We aspire.  We breathe in, we breathe out.  Our breath also connects us to the cycle of life of which we are a part.  The oxygen in the air we breathe now was once the oxygen released by a tree on the other side of the planet.  At some stage that oxygen has breathed in by another human being somewhere in the world, and sometime in the past.  Our breath connects us to everyone and everything and roots us in the present moment.

Teachers of mindfulness and meditation often get us to use our breath as a tool.  It is the one tool we have access to all the time.  By concentrating on, or focusing upon, our breath we bring ourselves into a space of mindfulness on what is happening here and now.  Our mind begins to let go of its clutter and chatter.  We begin to find a peacefulness and a clarity that is often not there in our busy, hectic, future-oriented days.

Often our community development or social justice work can be future oriented and focused upon our dreams – our aspirations.

Maybe we would benefit sometimes from slowing down and concentrating upon our breath – our aspiration.

By doing so, we may find that what we really want is right here and now.  We may find that by paying attention to the present we become mindful of the opportunities that exist right in front of our (breathing) nostrils.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Compassion Book (updated information)

This is a quick update on the review of The Compassion Book for those of you who have already read that review.

As a note to that review I said that enrolments for this years online compassion course had closed.  I have had a message from the team to say that enrolments for this years course have been extended to 19 June.  The course itself begins on 20 June.  I thoroughly recommend this course. 

Here is the link again.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Compassion Book (Book Review)

Are you interested in exploring more helpful, more satisfying ways to communicate with those
around you?  Who wouldn’t?  This book, by Thom Bond, does just that.

Over a course of 52 chapters – conveniently a year’s worth of weeks – The Compassion Book1, is full of ideas, theoretical background, practical advice, and sufficient exercises to get you started.  Based on the philosophy and practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), introduced to the world by Marshall Rosenberg, this book is a welcome addition to the growing body of resources for the learning of NVC.

Bond helps us understand the basis of NVC, which could simply be summarised in 3 tenets:
  • All our actions are taken in order to satisfy needs.
  • If our needs are met, then “good” feelings arise: joy, happiness, satisfaction, relief…
  • If our needs are not met, then “bad” feelings arise: resentment, sadness, disgust…, up to and including anger.
From this base understanding, Bond guides us through and explanation of feelings and needs.  He helps us gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of the diversity of needs and feelings.  In the process he teaches us a greater vocabulary (the book includes helpful lists of needs and feelings.)  By doing so we come to better understand ourselves, our feelings, our actions, and reactions – as well as the feelings, actions and reactions of others.

Bond shows how this understanding leads to greater compassion, not only for others, but also towards ourselves.  We can, according to Bond, move beyond the constraining dualities we were taught: should/shouldn’t, right/wrong, good/evil.  These, and others, often burden our thoughts and hence our actions.

He also helps us to understand that our feelings, once we become attuned to them, are helpful messengers – they point us to our underlying needs.  The, acknowledging our needs, we are better able to act with self-compassion, self-awareness, and communicate with others in more helpful and satisfying ways.

Working through each chapter, and undertaking the exercises in each, allowed me to gain a greater understanding of my feelings and needs, how these are connected, and how I can have more satisfying connections with others.

Many of my needs were met by reading, and working through this book: clarity, understanding, awareness, learning, acceptance, and self-respect come to mind.

There is just one need I would have liked to have been more satisfied:  the need for greater challenge in the examples given.  Many of Bond’s examples are on the “easy” to “middling” end of the spectrum of difficulty in encounters.  I would like to hear of examples where NVC is applied to the “difficult” end of the spectrum of interactions: e.g. dealing with bullies (at school and in the workforce), racist abuse, all the way through to international conflict.  (These may be the stuff of another book).

My challenge then, is to understand the principles from Bond’s simple examples and discover how to apply these principles in the more “difficult” situations.

These 500 or so words have been unable to fully justify this book.  You’ll just have to buy it, or enrol in Thom Bond’s year-long online course.

Thank you Thom Bond.

1. Thom Bond, The Compassion Book, One Human Publishing, Orange Lake, New York, 2017

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Authentic Authority

Roman Senate
How authentic are our authorities?  How authentic do we want them to be?  If we are going to accept someone’s authority, then surely we would want them to be authentic in exercising that authority.  Ideally, we would want authority to come imbued with authenticity.

Perhaps the two concepts – authority and authenticity – have similar roots.  Tempting as this thought may be, the etymology of each are quite different, and may, coincidentally, offer an insight into two differing approaches to our democracy.  I will return to that later in this blog, but first, let us look at the two concepts and their derivations.

Authority has its roots in the Latin word auctontatem, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, command.  By the time the word entered the English language it had come to mean the power derived from a good reputation, the power to convince, or the capacity for inspiring trust.  Hmmm… glimpses of authenticity there!

However, by the 1600s the concept of authority moved closer to the last of the original Latin meanings and came to indicate those in charge, those with police powers.

Today, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, authority is defined as a) the power or right to give orders, make decisions, enforce obedience, b) right to act in a specific way, and c) official permission.

Authenticity, on the other hand comes to us from Greek.  The Greek word authentikos is a compound word made up of autos (self) and hentes (doer, being).  Adopted into English it meant trustworthy, reliable, real, genuine.

It has a similar meaning today, as well as meaning to represent ones true nature or beliefs, and being true to oneself.

Are we now able to answer the original question: how authentic are our authorities?  If trustworthiness is a measure then we would have to say “not very.”  The Readers Digest has been surveying the trustworthiness of various professions for a number of years.  Politicians are regularly found at the bottom of the list.  In 2014 politicians were ranked at 49 out of 50 in terms of trustworthiness (just one place above door-to-door salespeople.) 

Do we want our authorities to be more authentic?  If so, then how can that be achieved? 
The differing derivations of the two words – authority and authenticity – may offer an often unseen insight. 

When the founders the United States became the first western nation to reject the rule of the monarchy they searched for an historical precedent upon which to draw.  They looked to the Roman Republic, where Latin was the language of administration.  Perhaps the most obvious method they borrowed from the Roman Republic was that of electing representatives.  And, true to form, just as in the times of the Roman Republic, getting elected was more often a case of knowing the right people, and/or having enough money.1  Somewhere along the line, the word democracy was attached, unfairly and misleadingly, to this.

We often think of our modern democracy as deriving from the Greeks.  Indeed, the word democracy does come from Greek.  But, what the Athenians and other Greek city states understood as democracy, is not the form that was adopted in the United States and then transferred to other western nations.

The Athenians rejected elections as the method of choice in selecting their representatives.  They chose selection by lot, today known as sortition.  Aristotle, one of the most famous of Greek philosophers described the selection of officials by lot as being democratical, and the selection by election as being oligarchical.2  Hardly an endorsement for elections as a means for selecting authorities.

The Greeks used a more authentic approach to selecting their representatives.  The sortition method had much going for it according to them.  Primarily, it meant that anyone could have the chance to be a representative.  it meant too, that because the outcome was random the possibility of influencing the outcome ahead of time, or corrupting a potential candidate, was heavily reduced.  Sortition also meant that a greater diversity of opinion, experience, and knowledge was introduced.

And, importantly, the system engendered a greater degree of trust.  The Greek democracies were more authentic.

Perhaps we should consider this option – sortition – today, so that our authorities become more authentic. 
1. For a fuller description and analysis of the links between the US founders and the Roman Republic see the book Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed its meaning and lost its purpose, by Dr Roslyn Fuller, Zed Books, London, 2015.

2. Aristotle, Politics Book IV.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Mediocre Democracy

Let’s face it.  Most of us are mediocre.  Most of us lie within two standard deviations of the mean (average).  Most of us reside in the middle of the classic bell shaped distribution curve so beloved of statisticians.  That means most of us have an IQ of between 70 and 130.  Most of us, too, have average EQs (Emotional Quotients).

Our elected politicians are also mediocre.  The reality of this hasn’t really occurred to us, though.

For example, most politicians believe themselves to be way above mediocre, or at least, act as if they are.  But, who can blame them?  When we vote for them, we have an expectation that they are above mediocre, and are able to make decisions that are better than mediocre.

Yes, we have higher expectations of elected politicians.  We expect them to be more than mediocre.  Then, we get disappointed, or frustrated, when they don’t meet this high expectation – when they act and make decisions that are mediocre.

Mediocre comes from Latin roots.  Medius meaning middle, and ocris – a jagged mountain.  So, we could metaphorically consider ourselves, along with our politicians, to be part way up a jagged mountain.

Yes, most of us are mediocre, just like our politicians.  Except in one crucial sense.  Our politicians are not representative of the general, average, citizenry.  If we look closely at our politicians, we will find that most of them come from privileged backgrounds and with a narrow range of experience.  There are financial advisers, teachers, business managers, academics, or the occasional celebrity.  How many plumbers, hairdressers, posties, bank tellers, or caregivers are there?  How many common folk are there?  Very few.

The common folk – the commoners – are little represented.  Commoners are the mediocrity of society, and in this sense, are not represented in our parliaments, senates and congresses.  These institutions are more and more unrepresentative, and in doing so, becoming less and less “mediocre” – or “common.”

Beyond Mediocre Politics

Therein, lies the issue at the heart of democracy – our elected politicians are not commoners, they are not representative of the mediocrity.

Yet, we should not despair.  Mediocre has a lot going for it.  If we think of mediocre as being a synonym for common, then let us go back over one hundred years to a story of a country fair and a retired English statistician and hereditary scientist, Francis Galton.  When he walked to his local county fair, Galton, then in his 80s, had spent his life attempting to prove that most people did not have enough intelligence to lead society.  Wandering around the fair he came across a competition to guess the weight of an ox.  Amongst the entrants, there were a few cattle breeders, butchers, and farmers who, Galton surmised, would be expert (better than mediocre)enough to guess fairly accurately the weight of the ox.  However, most of the almost 800 punters were common folk, with no apparent expertise in ox-weighing.  After the competition had ended and the prize-winner announced, Galton obtained all the winning entries from the organisers.

Being the statistician that he was, Galton calculated the average guessed weight. Before doing so, Galton hypothesised that this average guess would be a long way from the true weight because most of the punters were non-experts (simply mediocre commoners).  However, what Galton discovered staggered him and challenged him to re-think his ideas about expertise and “common” knowledge.  The true weight of the ox was 1,198 pounds – the average vote turned out to be 1,197 pounds. This average was closer than that of any of the individual “experts” who had entered the competition.

On that day in Plymouth, 1906, Galton discovered what has since come to be known as “the wisdom of crowds.”  Since Galton’s time, many researchers and activists have sought to discover what can happen when a group of ordinary, common (mediocre) people are brought together for some specific purpose.  These activities and experiments have suggested that Galton had only scratched the surface of the “wisdom of crowds” phenomenon.

How do we tap into this wisdom of crowds?  How do we discover the expertise lying in wait amongst the mediocre?  How do we bring commoner-sense into our collective decision making?  How do commoners become involved and represented in our public decision-making bodies? 

Elections, voting, and so-called “representative democracy” are not answering those questions. 
The simplest way of tapping into that wisdom, and enabling common-folk, is to use random selection.  Yes, randomly select decision-makers from amongst the mediocre.

Wait, don’t dismiss this option too quickly.  It has been used many times throughout history, most notably in the very birthplace of democracy – Athens.  Athenian democracy used voting only in special cases.  Most of their public decision-making bodies were made up of randomly selected commoners.  This method is known as sortition.  I will not go into further depth in this blog, as I have written much on this in past blogs.  Readers interested in searching further may wish to search this site using the keyword sortition.

Perhaps mediocre democracy has a future.