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.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Back To Basics

Graphic by gratuit
(www.freeimages.co.uk)
Some say the world is in a terrible mess.  Some say that we are on the brink of catastrophe.  Some point to disaster after disaster. 

Others look at the beauty of the world and see a rosy future.  Others are optimistic about the future of the human race.

Some point fingers at our political leaders and say that they are not doing the jobs for which they were elected.  Our political leaders are not facing up to the realities of the world. 

Others start campaigns and join groups to fight against; corruption, big business, pollution, poverty, hunger … you name it, there will be a campaign to oppose it.

No matter what view you have or what your political leanings are, all of this basically comes back to how we make collective decisions.  No matter whether you worry about the disasters befalling us, or whether you seek harmony, peace, and prosperity, the question remains: how do we make collective decisions?  How do we collectively make decisions for our “social” welfare?
 
This is the realm of politics.  Before moving much further, let me refresh our memories as to the origin of the word politic.  The word comes from the Greek polis, meaning a city.  Polis then provided the Greeks with the word politikos (πολιτικός) – meaning “of citizens, or pertaining to public life.”  Politic then, in its most basic meaning, is about how we come together as citizens to make decisions for our common good and welfare.

This is at the base of all of the above.  If you see the messiness of the world then at the base of that mess is how we make collective decisions.  If you are otherwise inclined, and wish to disregard the disasters, and seek positivity, then how do we make the decisions to bring that about in our public and collective spaces?

Irrespective of your worldview or philosophical stance, our present public and collective decision-making structures do not allow this to happen.  Politics has come to mean government by elected representatives over the past few centuries, particularly in western-influenced nations.  However, this system has run its course, it no longer – if it ever did – provides a mechanism for collective decision-making.  It fails for one very good reason.

It is not representative.

Take a good look at your parliaments, senates, congresses and council chambers.  How many “representatives” come from amongst the common citizenry?   When was the last time the plumber, the hairdresser, the garbage disposal worker, or unemployed person, got to represent us?  Very rarely.

Our “representative” democracy has become less and less … representative.  The representativeness of governments has become highly contracted and restricted.  Indeed, we no longer have representative government – we have restrictive government.

This lack of representativeness is not only a diminishment of fairness, it also seriously restricts our capacity to make wise and informed decisions.  Why?  Simply, because we no longer gain the benefits of diversity and “common” sense.  Yet, these benefits are exactly what we need in a world of growing complexity.

A Systems View

If we step back and take a look at democracy from a systems approach, particularly using the insights of Chaos Theory, then it is possible to discern a change coming in our public and collective decision-making systems.

Chaos Theory tells us that a dynamic system is self-organising, unpredictable and spontaneous.  The theory also tells us that prior to change in a system the system will undergo fluctuations, sometimes enormous fluctuations. 

Looking around our political and governmental systems, this is what we see – fluctuations.  Think of Brexit, the Trump presidency, the calls for independence in Catalonia, the rise of extremism in political parties throughout Europe.  All examples of chaotic fluctuation.  If you look closely within your own communities you may even see such fluctuations occurring at local or regional levels.


So, maybe within the so-called chaos of the world we can glimpse some hope for a new form of democracy that allows for full representation, and one that utilises our collective diversity, wisdom and common sense.  We just have to see the chaos for what it truly is – Chaos Theory playing out in our most basic social system of how we make collective decisions.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

What Came First: Word, World, or Worldview?

According to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word.”  Translated from the Greek word,  λόγος (logos), many consider the “word” here to mean God.  However, the Greek logos can also be translated as thought or meaning.

What does come first?  Do we create words to describe the world we see?  Do the words we use influence our perception of the world?  Or perhaps, the way in which we understand the world (our worldview) shapes the way we view the world, and hence, the words we choose to describe it?  No matter which come first, we cannot deny that each influences and is influenced by the other two.

Sometimes we forget this, and when we do we can slip into a ego-centric or culture-centric viewpoint.  Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean.

Consider the western view of past and future.  In the western cultural worldview the past as viewed as being behind us, whereas the future is in front of us.  So, we say things like: put the past behind you, look to the future, don’t look back, leave the past behind.  Yet, not all cultures see things in this way.  I can think of at least one language in which the word for past is the same as the word for in front of, and the word for future is the same as the word for behind.1  Hence, in this worldview, the past is in front of us, and the future is behind.  Thus, it is easy to see the past – its right there in front of us.  And the future is somewhat murky – its behind us after all.

So, the question remains:  In the western cultural setting, did we think of the past being behind us before we came up with the words past and behind, or did we have the words and then the words shaped our thinking of where past and future lay in relation to us?

This may be a simple example, yet we are consistently applying our language to the world we see, and creating our worldview from that, and then our worldview shapes the way we think of the world and the words we use.

What is the point of this?  Dr Wayne Dyer put it succinctly when he noted that when you “change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  This has important implications for our work for social justice or community development.  For example, if we think of people as victims, needy, or disadvantaged, or even as clients or customers, then that is what we will see.  We will miss seeing the person with skills, knowledge and wisdom.  Yet, if we change that thinking (worldview) then we will be surprised at what opportunities can arise or emerge from our interactions with others.  Not only will creative opportunities emerge, but the interaction itself will be healthier, more respectful, and enjoyable for all concerned. 

Becoming more aware of how we use words to describe our world and in turn how that influences our worldview can help us become more conscious of the limitations of our beliefs and cultural patterns, habits and mores.

Notes:

1. The Māori language.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Let's Try Something Different

How long have we been giving away our decision-making power?  How long have we thought that others have more ability to make decisions?  How long have we negated out own expertise?

In the western world we have been doing all this for centuries.  Over one thousand years ago feudalism in Europe began to impose its rule over common folk.  Feudalism morphed into the system of royalty – the supposed “divine right” of kings and queens to rule.  Under these systems, the power of common folk to make their own decisions was wrested from them, often brutally.

Around 2,500 years ago, in the bottom right hand corner of Europe, a different form of public decision-making was being tried out.  Athens and other Greek city states created the world’s first democracies – literally rule of the people.  The Roman Empire saw democracy being tested and eventually done away with.

The Middle Ages saw some small pockets of democratic experimentation.  In 1215 the Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for Great Charter of the Liberties) paved the way for the establishment of the English parliament.  Democracy was given another go.

Following the American Revolution the United States Constitution of 1787 provided for an elected government.  Two years later, Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, and set up the short-lived National Convention.

Modern democracy has evolved from these various experiments into the representative democracy that many of us know today.  Representative democracy owes many of its features to Athenian democracy, although, arguably, more to the Roman Republic.

The representative democracy of today has morphed yet again into a beast that steals our decision-making power yet again.  Certainly, we get to vote in elections.  But, can we truly say that a tick or cross next to a name on a ballot paper once every three or four years is a satisfactory level of engagement in our collective decision-making?  No wonder many around the world are withdrawing from the voting process.  Even in Australia, the 2016 federal election saw fewer people cast a vote than in 1925, when it became compulsory to vote.  In the US which portrays itself as the guardian of democracy, voter turnout for the Presidential election is less than 60%.  Although the past couple of years have seen the trend bucked slightly, voter turnout in Canada, the UK, and New Zealand has been declining since the 1980s.

A measure of dissatisfaction can be found also in the Brexit vote in the UK, or the claims by Catalans for independence from Spain.

Even once we have cast our vote, do we really believe that it is our voices which get listened to in the parliaments, senates and congresses of the world?  The voices that get heard and acted on are those of the trans-national corporations and their lobbyists.  In her 2015 book1, Beasts and Gods, Roslyn Fuller showed that the more money someone spent on a political campaign the greater their chance of being elected.  In other words – money buys political power.

Yet, we persist in thinking that our vote will change things.  We persist in thinking that if we elect a new set of politicians then we will get better decisions.  It is a little like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So, lets stop this insanity.  Lets try something different.

Lets ignore politicians.  Lets ignore elections.  Lets ignore political parties. 

Lets try direct democracy.  If we need to find a representative group to make public decisions, then lets try selecting them by lot (see here, here, and here for some posts about this process).  Lets hold onto our personal and collective decision-making power.  Lets explore together ways to utilise and optimise our decision making power.  We certainly could not do worse than the decisions that currently come out of the parliaments, senates and congresses of the world.

Lets try.

Notes
1. Roslyn Fuller, Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed it’s meaning and lost it’s purpose, Zed Books, London, 2015

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Model Making

Buckminster Fuller and geodesic dome
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
So Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller is quoted as saying in 1999.  Bucky Fuller was a remarkable man, an architect and systems thinker, who coined the term “Spaceship Earth,” and popularised the geodesic dome, amongst other things.  Concomitantly, more than sixty years earlier he had advise, “don’t fight forces, use them.” 

Fuller’s observations remain as relevant today as when they were uttered.  I watch as activists fight against systems, rally for causes, or decry the public decision-makers (a.k.a. politicians).  Yet, things don’t change, at least not greatly.  Are we falling into the trap that Fuller warns against?  I suggest we have.

If we step away from fighting the existing reality, then what sort of model do we want to build?  Perhaps, more importantly, how do we build it?

Perhaps the first thing to discover about a new model is that it looks nothing like the one we presently have.  Therefore, we may not even know what it will look like when we have finished building it.  Indeed, we will never finish building it.  Or, if we do, it will then become the model that future generations will want to make obsolete.

This new model will be something like putting together a jigsaw.  There is no Master Jigsaw Director.  I remember sitting around a table with the rest of my family putting a jigsaw together.  No-one directed how the pieces were fitted together.  Each of us picked up a piece and attempted to find a place for it to fit.  If we found that place, we would combine it with the pieces already there.  If we could not find a place, we didn’t despair, we just put that piece aside and picked up another piece.

It didn’t matter if one person worked on the sky, another on the people in the foreground, and yet another on the hills in the distance.  As we progressed the jigsaw came together, piece by piece.

I suspect that a process like that will be how the new model gets built.  All of us have a piece to offer, all of us have a part to play.  No-one can be shut out of the process.  If we stop to think of how this new model is to be built, we will discover some features of the process, including:
  • a tolerance for all those involved in building the model,
  • recognising that all of us have skills, ideas, knowledge, and understandings to offer,
  • creating non-hierarchical decision-making processes,
  • focusing clearly on what we do want, not what we don’t want,
  • being present and accepting what is happening here and now,
  • practising creative listening skills,
  • being willing to engage with those with differing views,
  • perseverance, building the model simply because it seems the right thing to do.

That’s just a few.  I would be keen to hear from readers what else would be involved in how we build the model.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Raising Children

When do we know enough to pass our knowledge on to our children?  When are we wise enough to raise a child?  These questions are not often asked in contemporary western societies.  Perhaps they are not asked because the answers seem self-evident.  We pass on our knowledge to our children from the time they are born.

Yet, the questions are useful to ask.  Indeed, there are prior questions that need to be asked.  When do we become wise?  Do we become wise when we reach the age of 21?  Do we become wise with the birth of our first child?  I would humbly suggest that the answer to these last two questions is: No.  No, we do not become wise just because we attain a certain age, nor do we become wise just because a baby has been born to us.

Into this mix, let me throw another observation.  There is much talk today of the ageing population, and especially, how the economy and society is going to  support these elders.

Could there be a link between the two observations? 

For centuries, in western civilisation at least, the ages at which we give birth to children has been the same as the ages that we raise children.  In other words: those that give birth to children also raise them.

Yet, for many indigenous societies, this arrangement is not the norm.  For many such societies, children are raised by the elders of the community, not by the birth parents, even thought the birth parents may be closely associated.  There is a famous African saying, oft quoted:
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
This concept is at odds with the present-day western view, whereby a child is raised primarily by its birth parents.

The effect of condensing the role of raising a child to that of just its birth parents is that the knowledge, values, ideas, and identities are shaped by those who themselves are often still discovering who they are, what they believe, and what their values are.

Yet, there is a whole sector of society who are ideally situated to raise children, and this sector is largely excluded from society, ignored, told they are no longer productive elements in the cultural economy.  They are the elders. 

Although it would be a mistake to claim that because someone has attained a elder age they are therefor wise; that they have lived for a lengthy period of time has usually endowed them with much life experience.

Perhaps western society needs to re-look at how children are raised.  If it was the elders of society who had greater responsibility for raising children then the benefits of that would be spread amongst the whole of society.  All would benefit.  The children would benefit from being raised by those with a long life experience and who have gained insight and wisdom along the way.  Birth parents would benefit from having greater time to devote to their economic roles as well as their own discovery of who they are.  Elders would benefit by remaining productive and valued members of society, as well as having the joy of passing on the wisdom they have gained.

Western culture has looked at indigenous culture all around the world, and often labelled those cultures “backward,” or “primitive.”  Yet, these cultures have a greater understanding of the full journey of life and the roles that each generation can play within that.  In this respect, indigenous cultures are progressive, life-affirming, and respectful of all members of society.


Western society has a lot to learn from indigenous societies.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Cooperating For The Fun Of It

Many years ago I undertook study for a Certificate in Community Education.  One of the concepts that stuck in my mind from then was this: people may come along to a community course to learn something, but what keeps them there is often the connection they make with other participants.  This simple observation is not just true of education.  It applies in many aspects of human endeavour.

We cooperate with others because we enjoy their company, because we want to share with them – we want to share good times, we want to share happiness, we want to share our humanity.

We may think that we cooperate in order to achieve something, or to accomplish goals; but if we dig further, we find something else going on in the human psyche.  We cooperate because we want to cooperate – it’s as simple as that.

One of the reasons we want to cooperate is because it makes us happy.  In research studies, neuroscientists have found that when participants cooperate, then the part of their brains that generate good feelings are activated.

We are also more inclined to remember people with whom we have shared pleasant, happy, and rewarding times, rather than those who have treated us badly.

Cooperation is also why we have survived.  Although many contemporary ideologies tell us that progress is achieved through competition, it is our cooperative tendencies that have allowed us to survive and evolve.  The diminutive saying that supposedly summarises Darwin’s theories – survival of the fittest – is a misunderstanding and misreading of Darwin.  Not only did Darwin not utter that phrase, neither did he mean “fit” in the sense of fastest, toughest, strongest.  He meant it in the same sense that a jigsaw piece “fits” into a total picture.1

Yes, it seems we cooperate for the fun of it.

Leaders and facilitators of groups do well to remember this.  If groups, communities, or societies are coerced to focus on goals and accomplishments and admonished to cooperate to do so, then those groups, communities, and societies, will begin to lose their zest for life. 

So, let us remember that by cooperating we find our happiness, and this is a greater motivator than are goals or targets.

Notes:

1.  See an earlier blog for a more thorough discussion of “survival of the fittest.”

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Simply Start With People





Community Development has a tradition of starting where the people are.  Lao Tzu said it some 2,000 years ago:

“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will
say 'We have done this ourselves.”

Many have followed his advice and have stated similar concepts over and over.  The great American radical educator, Myles Horton, recognised that
“you can’t want to change society if you don’t love people, there’s no point in it.” 
All too often as I look around at social service agencies I see references to: outcomes, KPIs, targets, goals, and perhaps worst of all, clients.  It is as if the purpose of community is not people at all, but recipients of services – clients.

Its back-to-front.  When people are listened to, when people are trusted, when people are respected, then some creative, sometimes amazing, things can happen.  When they are not, it is just the same, tired old programs that are placed in front of them, rather like limp cabbage on a dinner plate.

Start with people.  That should be the mantra of all community development workers, social service providers, and social justice advocates.  What’s more – its simple.  There is no need to make things complicated.  There is no need for jargon.  There is no need for projecting into the future and devising spreadsheets with rows and columns of what is to be achieved or what has been achieved.

Just – go to the people, as Lao Tzu said.

The simplicity of this suggests to me that the most important skills that a community development worker, social justice advocate, or any social service provider can acquire are the skills of:
  • Listening with an openness that does not impose one’s own beliefs or judgements.
  • Empathising with the emotional content of what the other is saying.
  • Showing respect and trust.
  • Being patient with ourselves so that full stories can be explained and fully heard.
  • Recognising our own thoughts, judgements, feelings, and belief systems.  Then getting out of our own way.
Simple really.  Start with people.

There is a famous, and oft quoted axiom in the land of my birth – Aotearoa (New Zealand).  It comes from the indigenous people of that land, the Māori.
He aha te mea nui?  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
What is the most important thing?  It is people, it is people, it is people.

So true, so simple.