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, 20 June 2017

Two Faces of Empathy

Empathy – the ability to understand and to feel the emotional state of another.  Sounds like a helpful state to be in doesn’t it?  Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.

Empathy can lead towards healthy states of understanding – except when it doesn’t.  Sometimes it can lead towards aggression and even violence.  “What?” I hear the cries.  “How can empathy lead towards violence?  Surely stepping into the shoes of another leads us to understanding their situation more clearly and hence to trust them as if they were ourselves?”  Yes, I can hear those questions of doubt.  I had them too until I came across some research that suggests that empathy can, indeed, create harm.

The conundrum arises when the person whose shoes we are stepping into is a victim.  With an empathy for that person we can come to identify with them and their pain so much that we want to right the wrong, perhaps even to the point of inflicting violence on the perpetrator.

History abounds with instances of empathy dissolving into righteous anger and violence against perceived perpetrators of oppression, exploitation, or simply disregard of another.  When the invasion of Iraq was being planned, one of the methods used to get support for the invasion was stories of the abuses committed by Saddam Hussein and his sons.  We empathised with the victims and became complicit in the invasion of Iraq as a a result of our empathy.

Our criminal justice systems are awash with this phenomenon.  A young man punches another in a drunken brawl on a Saturday night, the victim sustaining broken teeth and a fractured jaw.  Our empathy for the victim leads us to wanting the offender to be locked up and punished because of the compassion we now have for the victim.

Our compassion in each of these examples leads us to aggression and violence (of varying degrees) towards the perpetrator of the abuse.  The justification for such aggression can be argued back and forth, and I do not intend discussing that here.  What I do want to point to is that our empathy can become so attached to a victim that we may even wish an aggressive response towards someone who is not the perpetrator – even towards someone who is removed from the situation.  This is the research carried out by Anneke Buffone and Michael Poulin and reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.1

In their research Buffone and Poulin told experiment participants that two (fictional) strangers were to take a test that if they won would give them a financial reward, whereas the other would receive nothing.  The participants in the study pre-read an essay by one of the two fictional competitors in which they talked about the financial and other hardships they were experiencing.  One half of the participants read an essay in which the concluding remarks were fearful with the fictional person wondering “What if I need to pay for something else I didn’t expect?”  The other half read the same essay except that the concluding remarks were hopeful and claimed “I’m pretty sure things will get better soon.”  The participants then had the opportunity to administer pain (by way of getting the fictional competitor to eat hot sauce) on this person’s competitor, should they wish to do so.  The researchers discovered that participants were likely to administer the ‘hot sauce’ treatment to the competitor of the person experiencing financial hardship – even though that person had no relationship with the other and had nothing to do with the supposed hardship of the other.  The likelihood of the participants administering the ‘hot sauce’ was increased in the case where the essay concluded on a fearful note.

This research suggests that our empathy can lead us towards an aggressive response towards someone unassociated with a victim.  Thus, our compassion for a victim could lead towards creating further victims.  We see this occurring too.  The current anti-Muslim crusade in the wake of terrorist attacks is a highly visible one.  Muslim people are becoming victimised, even though they have nothing to do with the perpetrators of terrorism.

So, what to do about empathy?  The first thing we can do is to understand that everything is connected and that there cannot be a single pathway towards social justice.  Empathy is not a single pathway.  Many centuries before Buffone and Poulin carried out their research the difficulty of working with empathy on its own had been given consideration by Zen Buddhist monks.  Within that practice there is a saying that “For the bird of enlightenment to fly, it must have two wings: the wing of wisdom and the wing of compassion.” 

Acting only from a sense of compassion, fuelled by our empathy, we can easily lose ourselves in aggression, a desire for retribution or even violence.  We need to fly with both wings.  The wing of wisdom allows us to bring a full understanding to events and situations.  Wisdom allows us to see the big picture, to recognise the inter-connections, to appreciate our common humanity.  Yet, wisdom alone can become dispassionate, detached or aloof.  Traditional western thinking separates compassion and wisdom, the former being consigned to emotional states and the latter primarily of an intellectual nature.  Eastern psychology (as exemplified in the Zen saying) recognises that the two “wings” are required to allow us to fly.

When we fly in such a way we do so with grace and purpose.  We fly with greater awareness. 

Notes:

1. Anneke E. K. Buffone, and Michael J. Poulin, Empathy, Target Distress, and Neurohormone Genes Interact to Predict Aggression for Others–Even Without Provocation, in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2014, Vol. 40(11) 1406–1422

Monday, 12 June 2017

Remembering the Grandfather of Nonviolence

This week I am re-posting a blog that I wrote four years ago.  Four years ago I wrote about the "Grandfather of Nonviolence" and his nonviolent resistance to British colonisation in New Zealand around half a century before Gandhi.  Now (June 2017, almost 136 years later) the government of New Zealand formally apologised to the inhabitants of Parihaka and to the descendants of Te Whiti, Tohu and those that followed them.  For interested readers here is a link to the news item about this historic apology.

Below is the blog I wrote four years ago.

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Mohandas K Gandhi has often been referred to as the “father of nonviolence.”  Certainly, Gandhi did much to make nonviolence a recognised and moral strategy of conflict and resistance, but he did not invent it.

Te Whiti o Rongomai
Almost half a century before Gandhi on the slopes of Taranaki (one of the highest mountains in New Zealand’s North Island) two Māori leaders, Te Whiti o  Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, were utilising nonviolent resistance methods against British colonisers.

Prelude

During the 1860s New Zealand had witnessed land wars between the colonising Europeans and the indigenous owners, the Māori.  With the Māori largely militarily defeated, the government confiscated large areas of land, including land around Taranaki.

In 1867 Te Whiti and Tohu founded the village of Parihaka on land that had been “confiscated.”  They declared that they would not use weapons to hold onto the land that they had occupied for centuries before the coming of the European.  Initially this action was of no threat to the government as there were too few colonial settlers desiring land.  The village of Parihaka flourished.  Taranaki’s Medical Office visited in 1871 and described the village as having an abundance of food, no disease and that they were “the finest race of men (sic) I have ever seen in New Zealand.”

The Ploughmen

However, during the 1870s Taranaki was experiencing a surge in immigration.  In 1879 surveyors were marking out roads and plots for European settlers.  In May of that year Māori ploughmen began ploughing the fields that were supposedly “owned” by white settlers.  The government responded by arresting the ploughmen, who offered no resistance.  As soon as they were arrested others took their place.  Te Whiti encouraged them to nonviolence by exhorting
“Go put your hands to the plough.  Look not back.  If any come with guns or swords, be not afraid.  If they smite you, smite not in return.  If they rend you, be not discouraged.  Another will take up your good work.”
By August that year, over 200 ploughmen had been arrested.  Fearing that if brought to trial many would be freed the Native Minister (John Bryce) introduced a Bill to Parliament that ensured that the prisoners would be held in custody indefinitely.

The Fencers

1880 saw the government building roads in the area including one that led directly to Parihaka.  These roads were built mainly by unemployed men with the promise of free land.  The Māori response, under Te Whiti’s leadership, was to erect fences across the roads.  Again, as soon as the fences were pulled down, Māori quickly re-erected them.

With the government continuing to sell “confiscated” land in the area, Te Whiti’s followers continued to fence, plough and cultivate the lands paying no heed to survey pegs or notices of sale.

Invasion

By October 1881 the New Zealand Premier (Richard Hall) with the re-imposed Minister of Native Affairs (John Bryce) completed plans to invade Parihaka.

At dawn on 5 November 1881 almost 1,600 armed constabulary and volunteers encircled Parihaka.  Although settler newspapers were claiming that Te Whiti was fortifying and arming Parihaka, the troops were met by “a line of children across the entrance… (who) sat there unmoving… even when a mounted officer galloped up.  There were skipping-parties of girls on the road.”  (first-hand account given by Colonel William Bazire Messenger)

Arriving at the centre of the village the invaders found 2,500 Māori sitting together.  The soldiers were offered food and drink by the Parihaka inhabitants.  Te Whiti and others put up no resistance to their arrest.  Te Whiti was charged, cynically, with “wickedly, maliciously and seditiously contriving and intending to disturb the peace” and held without trial.

Upon his release in 1883 Te Whiti returned to Parihaka and continued to lead nonviolent protest at colonist occupation.  He was arrested and imprisoned again in 1886 for six months.

Parihaka continued as a centre of nonviolent resistance until the death of both Te Whiti and Tohu in 1907.

Epilogue

Between 2001 and 2006 the New Zealand government formally apologised to four of the tribes involved in the resistance.  Redress amounting to millions of dollars was paid out.

Followers of Te Whiti and Tohu continue to meet monthly, proudly wearing the white albatross feathers – Te Whiti’s symbol.

Was Te Whiti o Rongomai the Grandfather of Nonviolence?  Perhaps he was.  There are suggestions that Gandhi was aware of Te Whiti and his teachings, via a couple of Irish journalists who had visited Parihaka and later met with Gandhi.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Why Wait for the Revolution?

Just a short musing this week.

Many years ago when I was a young, idealistic, impatient activist I recall attending meetings of groups committed to social justice or similar causes.  In many of these groups we discussed our vision for the future, and compared the present times with the times that were to come “after the revolution.”  Those three words – after the revolution – may not have been expressly said, but the sentiment was there.  Somehow, after all the strategies, goals and objectives had been completed then the world would be a much better place.

What was this new world going to look like?  It was going to be more egalitarian, there would be no sexism, no racism, no oppression of any form.  People would be tolerant, caring, and loving.  The world would be full of joy, happiness and contentment.  War would cease, peace would break out.

I remember thinking at the time that there was something odd about waiting for this new world to appear.  Why can we not do this now?  I said to myself.  And I did just that – kept it to myself.  I didn’t share my doubts.  I feared ridicule.  I feared being told that I did not understand the dynamics of social change.

Over the intervening decades I have re-membered more about myself and about how we interact with one another and the world.  I have also discovered links between what is going on in our hearts and what is going on in the world.  That has been quite a journey.  Often that journey has been joyful or exciting.  Sometimes it has been scary or frightening.  A few times it has been painful – physically, mentally, and especially emotionally.  But it has been worth it.

That journey has led me back to the same thought.  Why wait for the revolution?  Why not do this now?  Why not be this now?  The difference now is that I am unafraid to speak this out, to declare it.  I am not fearful of being ridiculed or told that I do not understand.

Of course the other aspect to this question of “why wait for the revolution?”  concerns the word revolution itself.  It is an unfortunate word.  It brings with it connotations of overthrow of governments, bloodshed, violence, upheaval, pogroms, retaliation, reprisals and ultimately, a replacing of one form of oppression with another, one set of oligarchs with another set.

The interesting thing about this is that if we act now and be now, then there is no need for revolution.  There is nothing to overthrow any more.  There is no need for violence.

This understanding may be the most revolutionary thinking that any of us can do.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Opportunity in Collapse

Source: pixabay.com
When we look at what has been going on in the world since the new millennium began we could be excused for thinking that everything is collapsing.  What was normal and safe is no longer so.  The institutions that held society together no longer seem to do so.  Our belief systems are threatened – from within and without.  Indeed, do we know what to believe any more?

We sense betrayal.  Our political leaders have betrayed us so we reach out desperately to another political voice.  We close down and choose to “go it alone.”  We reject our commonalities in favour of building  physical, ideological and emotional walls.

It’s frightening, because we don’t know where the safe ground is.  Just when we think we have found it we find that it is just a mirage.  The promises of change by our (new) leaders turn out to be just that – promises with no substance.

What do we do when everything is collapsing?  Where do we look for some safe ground?  How do we return to normal?  When the unthinkable happens, can we imaging the thinkable?

That is the question for us:  how do we imagine something different?  Can we find the opportunities in the middle of this collapse?  How do we respond?

Fear or Love

It has been said that humans respond from two base feelings – love and fear.  All other feelings are derivatives of these two.

We could respond with fear and there are signs that many of us are doing that.  When we allow our fears to take over then we respond with one of the three classic responses: flight, fight or freeze.  If we choose to flee then we attempt to do so back to where we came from.  It was safe back there so we try to rush back.  We look for the old story, the old story of how the world was, or at least, how we thought it was.  But the old story no longer satisfies, it doesn’t tell us how to respond in this new millennium.

If we choose to fight then we easily fall into the trap of hatred.  We find enemies who have “done this to us.”  We look around and find “others” to blame.  As many teachers have taught for centuries, hatred is not the answer.  When we hate others, we become hateful (even hating ourselves) and all that happens is that hatred is perpetuated.  It is certainly not reduced.

And freezing?  That is no solution either.  We slip into despair, frustration, depression, and withdrawal. 

If we flee we go searching for old saviours.  If we fight we look for new saviours who are going to lead us against our enemies and make us great again.

There are no saviours.  There are knights in shining armour.  There are no Amazonian warrior women who will defeat our enemy.  There are no rescuers – be they political leaders (or parties), business leaders, religious teachers or sports stars. 

What happens if we respond from a feeling of love?  One of the first things we remember is that we are all in this together.  There is no “other.”  When we recall this we can respond with empathy and compassion.  We open up to our vulnerability and recognise that being uncertain is not a burden.  Vulnerability allows us to connect with one another, as well as to connect with our own soul and spirit.

Uncertainty allows us to ask questions.  It allows us to ask “what is the new story that is emerging here?”  And when we remember that we are all in this together we begin to look towards the margins.  We begin to find answers amongst the dispossessed, the unacknowledged, the despised.  We find answers amongst the admonished, the forgotten and the exiled.  We even find answers in the forgotten parts of our selves.  We find answers in our souls. 

It is no coincidence that there is a connection between finding these answers and vulnerability.  To be willing to go to the margins of society or to search our deep souls requires us to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable allows us to recognise that answers lie in places that do not exist in the old story.


When this happens we begin to create, and co-create, our new story.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

This Time We've Gone Too Far

Source: http://www.ecoticias.com
“You’ve gone too far this time!”  How many of us remember hearing this phrase when we were growing up? Perhaps we still hear it.  The speaker wants us to know that, up until now, they have generally tolerated our behaviour, but now, we have pushed just too far, and there will be consequences.  “There will be hell to pay,” or maybe it will be something like, “just wait until your father/mother gets home.”

The words indicate that a tipping point has been reached, or surpassed.  The proverbial last straw has been placed upon the camels back.

If we are sensitive enough we might hear the Earth telling us the same – this time you’ve gone too far.  Have we?  We have been slowly (or speedily) developing our capacity to consume.  We have been developing our technologies, often for our betterment.  Our technological development has enabled us to do a lot more than we could even just one century ago.  We can travel quicker and further.  We have eradicated a number of diseases.  We can live more comfortably.  We can be entertained at the touch of a button on a hand-held phone. 

But, have we now gone too far on this path?  Consider a few examples:

Earth Overshoot Day

Living upon this planet we use resources and create waste which are regenerated.  However, what happens when the amount we consume and waste exceeds the amount that is being regenerated?  Its a bit like having an income and having savings.  If you spend within your income you will continue to grow your savings.  But, if you spend more than your income you will deplete your savings – a recipe for financial collapse.  So it is with Earth Overshoot Day.  As global citizens we have been consuming and wasting more than is regenerated since 1970.  What’s more, we have been doing so at a faster and faster rate.  Using the metaphor of savings it is as if each year we dip into our savings more than the previous year.  It is unsustainable.

350 parts per million

In 2007 Jim Hansen, a NASA scientist, co-authored a paper that suggested that if the atmosphere contained more than 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide then the earth would possibly pass through a threshold from which it may not recover.  In the abstract to that paper he wrote that at such a level we can’t have a planet “that is similar to the one on which civilisation developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

Yet we have already surpassed 350 ppm and have even gone beyond 400 ppm.  Furthermore, notwithstanding Paris Summits and the like, we are adding more parts per million every year than were added the previous year.  Currently we are adding over 2 ppm every year.

Biodiversity Loss

Attempts to measure the amount of biodiversity loss attributed to human behaviour is not easy.  Estimates vary between 4 and 10 times the natural background extinction loss.  Some estimates even suggest that the loss of species is as high as 100 times the natural background loss.  Anyone who has studied ecology knows how devastating the loss of even one species (particularly predator species) can be for a whole ecology.  When we extrapolate that understanding to the whole planet we have to ask ourselves – have we lost too much biodiversity already?

Land Use

Currently over 40% of the earths land area is taken up by agriculture or urban use, with much of the remainder criss-crossed and cut into by roads.  Estimates are that by 2025 the amount of land devoted to agriculture and/or urban use will be over 50%.

Inequality

On one level it seems that the worlds wealth and income has increased, and that may be so.  However, inequality levels are increasing.  In some parts of the world inequality (measured by the gini coefficient1) are at levels approaching, or surpassing, the levels just prior to the Great Depression.  Even in those parts of the world that are experiencing levels less than pre-Depression days the gini coefficient is on the increase.  It may just be a matter of time.  In much of the western world plus China, Russia and India, the gini coefficient has been steadily rising since 1980.

Have We Gone Too Far?

Each of these examples suggests that we are getting close to some tipping point, and possibly have already surpassed some.  We’ve already seen the consequences that followed high inequality levels in the early part of the 20th century – the Great Depression.  We are starting to see some of consequences of an atmosphere with more than 350 ppm of carbon dioxide – more and worse weather related catastrophes.

This time we’ve gone too far.  Can we recover?  That is up to all of us, individually and collectively.

Notes:

1. The gini coefficient was developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912 and is a measure of the inequality within a nation or between nations.  The coefficient is expressed as a number between 0 and 1 where 0 represents perfect equality and 1 a situation where one person has all the income/wealth and everyone else has none.  

Friday, 19 May 2017

6 Possible Causes

Having recently published a book that speaks about social justice, sustainability and community development I now wish to find a cause to which a  percentage of the profits can be channelled.  I would like to ask your help in deciding upon the cause.  Here are six possibilities:

Fair Trade

This organisation works with farmers and other producers in developing countries to get better trading conditions and to promote sustainable farming practices.  The organisation believes that fair trade is a better way to bring about social justice than traditional charity or aid models.  The organisation provides a certification that enables the buyer to know that what they are buying is of benefit to farmers in developing countries.

Rainforest Alliance

This organisation also provides a certification that means that businesses that receive the certification practice sustainable forest management practices.  The Alliance seeks to preserve biodiversity and encourages long-term sustainability.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Now known as the World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF is over 50 years old and seeks to reduce the human environmental footprint.  Most people are aware of the work WWF does to protect endangered species and ensure biodiversity.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders)

MSF is an NGO providing medical assistance in war-torn areas and countries affected by endemic diseases.  In 2015 over 30,000 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals worked in over 70 countries.

Greenpeace

Founded in Canada in 1971 Greenpeace is possibly the most recognised environmental organisation in the world.  Globally the organisation campaigns on issues including: climate change, whaling, genetic engineering, deforestation, and anti-nuclear issues.  It uses a variety of tactics including direct action campaigns.

350.org

Very firmly based on the recognition that we need to reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.  The 350 of the name refers to a 2007 paper by scientist James Hansen who proposed that 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is a safe upper limit to avoid a climate tipping point.  The current level of CO2 ppm is over 400!

Help Choose


Those are six possible causes for a percentage of profits to go to.  If you would like to help me decide then please take a survey at Survey Monkey.  The link is https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/739YWKV  The survey also has a section where you can nominate another cause if you wish.

Friday, 12 May 2017

OPPORTUNITIES EMERGING: Social Change in a Complex World (Book)

My book, OPPORTUNITIES EMERGING: Social Change in a  Complex World is now available to purchase online.  For a limited period there is a 20% discount as an opening special.  In the Preface I make mention of who might find this book useful.  This is an excerpt from that Preface.

The people I most expect to read this book are those who in some ways want to change the world or at least a tiny corner of it. Perhaps you are fearful of the effects of climate change and have become disturbed by the endless outpourings of carbon emissions into our atmosphere. Perhaps you are concerned about the number of people attempting to escape the horrible destruction of war in their homelands. Maybe you are angry about the exploitation of peasant farmers in India or Africa and the uninformed way in which western consumers are complicit in that exploitation.

Maybe your concerns are closer to home. Perhaps you have witnessed or experienced the horrors of domestic violence and want to ease the burden of victims or find ways to stop the endless cycle of abuse. Perhaps you are concerned that your children have nowhere to play and that businesses and huge corporations are encroaching upon playgrounds and open spaces in your neighbourhood. Maybe you want to bring back the neighbourliness and friendliness that has been exorcised from your local community.

Perhaps your concerns are for the non-human species living on our planet. Perhaps you want to save the orangutans, whales or tigers from extinction, or help preserve a patch of native bush that is the habitat of many species of insects, birds and fish.

Whatever your concerns, you will find that there are others who share them. There will also be those with contrary concerns, perhaps even antagonistic. How do you go about resolving these concerns? How do you work with those who agree with you? Importantly too, how do you work with those who disagree with you? How do you obtain answers when you don’t even know the right questions to ask?

This book may help you.

At present the book is only available via this link.  Later it will be available through the more commonly known web-based booksellers.  The opening special will be available for only a few weeks, so get in now at the discounted price.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/bruce-meder/opportunities-emerging-social-change-in-a-complex-world/paperback/product-23127543.html