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, 22 August 2017

Don't Blame It On The Children

Malala Yousafzai (left) and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.
“Don’t blame it on the children,” Sammy Davis Jr sang in 1967.  His refrain could have been sung today, or it could have been sung two centuries ago, or even two millennia ago.  The older generation have oft complained about “the youth of today.”  Plato and Seneca, living in the 5th century BC both complained that the young of their time had “bad manners.”

In the 11th century Peter the Hermit regaled against the young:
“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no respect for their parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone know everything and what passes for wisdom in us foolishness in them. As for the girls, they are foolish and immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour, and dress.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar – yet it was said one thousand years ago.

The sad aspect of this unfair complaint is that young people are dismissed and not listened to.  Yet, young people, all over the world, are inspiring us with their dreams and their desire for a more just, fairer world.

Two Well Known Young People

Most of us by now will have heard of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban at just 15 years of age, because she spoke out about the injustice of girls not receiving an education.  Miraculously, Malala survived and went on to become a global spokesperson for the rights of girls and women everywhere to receive an education.  In 2014 she was nominated, for the second time, for the Nobel Peace Prize, this time winning it – becoming the youngest person to ever receive that award.

In April this year (2017) Malala was appointed as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls education. The appointment is the highest honour given by the United Nations for an initial period of two years.  Recently Malala announced that she has been accepted by Oxford University to study philosophy, politics and economics.

Perhaps also, the name Xiuhtezcatl Martinez may be known.  Xiuhtezcatl is an indigenous environmental activist who has been speaking about environmental matters since he was six years old.  Now aged 17, Xiuhtezcatl has spoken at the Rio UN Summit as well as the UN General Assembly,  He is the youth director of Earth Guardians, a world-wide movement of young people dedicated to growing a resilient leadership co-creating a future they know is possible.

Many Many More

There an many many more young people the world over who defy the myth that young people think of nothing but themselves.  Here are just a few of them:

At just 11 years old, in 2004, Kendall Ciesemier, founded Kids Caring 4 Kids, an organisation of young people in the US who raise money for clean water, healthcare, and education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Valens Ntamushobora is a young Rwandan man who founded LUSA (Let Us Stay Alive) to help young women who are mothers, not in school, or living on the streets.  Now with over 300 member cooperatives, LUSA provides access to land, seeds and future for young women.

NETwork Against Malaria was founded by Madelyn McGlynn when still a teenager,  It’s purpose is to supply bed nets in Uganda to help stop the spread of malaria.  With over 35,000 volunteers, the organisation has provided around 12,000 nets, potentially saving the lives of 35,000 people.

When the Gulf oil sill occurred in 2010, 11 year old Olivia Bouler wept for the plight of the birds of the gulf.  By using her paintings, Olivia raised $200,000 towards Gulf recovery within a year.  Her book, Olivia’s Birds, a collection of her paintings, helps to raise funds for ongoing recovery.

Kyle Weiss is one of the founders of FUNDaFIELD, an organisation that builds soccer fields in Africa in places where young people.  In 2006, at the Soccer World Cup, Kyle met soccer fans from Africa and discovered how the game helped to break down barriers.  The following year, he and his brother set up FUNDaFIELD.  He is fond of quoting Nelson Mandela, especially “sport has the power to change the world.”

Let’s Listen

Young people are inspiring, and they are challenging those of us in the older generations to listen.  Instead of thinking that young people have no respect for their parents or old age, let us, their parents and those of older age, find some respect for young people.  They are worth listening to.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Survival Shelter Simulation Game

With all of the rhetoric coming from both sides of the Pacific (ironically – peaceful) Ocean at the moment (August 2017) I was reminded of a decision-making game.  This simulation game explores co-operative decision-making and what role our individual values have in that.

Materials Needed

All that is needed is pencil/pen and paper for each person.


Participants are told that a nuclear attack is imminent and that everyone will be sharing a survival shelter.  The shelter is equipped with basic requirements for physical survival and health.

Even though it will be cramped it is anticipated that everyone will be able to bring 10 items with them.  Spend 5 minutes coming up with a list of these 10 items – for the purposes of the game, ignore the size and weight of items.

Once participants have their list of 10 items, tell them that there may be a need to prioritise what can be brought into the shelter, so they should spend another 5 minutes listing their items in order of priority from 1-10.  All this is to be done individually.

Then, new information comes to hand.  It is now apparent that time and space will not allow everyone to bring their 10 items into the shelter.  The group as a whole must now decide on priorities, although the exact number of items is still uncertain.  However, it can be assumed to be between 5 and 10 items in total.  The whole group must now draw up a prioritised list of up to 10 items, taking into account each items value to the individual and value to the group.  Voting is not permitted, decisions must be reached by some other method.   Allow up to 15 or 20 minutes for this.


Once the group has come up with its list of 10 items in prioritised form, the following questions can be posed for discussion and reflection:
  • On what basis were decisions made?
  • How seriously were individual priority lists taken?
  • Were the items finally chosen done so more for their importance to certain members of the group, or because they were of value to the group as a whole?
  • How difficult was it to decide?
  • Did everyone have an opportunity to plead for items on their own list?
  • Did people listen to what others had to say?
  • Were everyone’s needs considered?
  • Did anyone think the final decision was unfair?
  • How did people feel about the decision-making method used?
  • How could the decision-making method be improved?
  • How do you think the group would function if this was “real” rather than a simulation?

I have used this, and similar, games many times, and am always amazed at the depth of discussion in the debrief.  Have fun with it.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Paddling Towards Social Change

Those of us working in community development, social justice, or environmental work often have a vision that we strive towards.  We have goals, objectives, outcomes that we wish to achieve.  It is a wonderful vision of the future.  Let’s not get attached to it though.

When we become attached to our goals, objectives, and outcomes we miss the opportunities that exist in the present moment.  We can also become critical and judgemental of those who do not share our vision.  Furthermore, when our goals seem to get no closer we can become despondent.  We then beat ourselves up and tell ourselves we have to work harder, become more committed.  If we do that for too long we may eventually find ourselves in the classic social change activists nightmare – burn out. We have burnt ourselves out.  We question not only our goals, but our selves as well.  We ask “what is the point?”

What has happened?  What became of our idealism?  Where are our “dreams of youth”? 

The problem is often one of attachment.  We can envision the future and then we attach our purpose and our self-identity to achieving that vision.  That is a trap.

To counter-act this trap we need to discover non-attachment.  Before proceeding, let me be clear that non-attachment is not the same thing as detachment.  Detachment is a non-feeling, dispassionate, somewhat heartless, non-caring state.  Detachment is often a closing in, a removal from the world and from feeling.  Non-attachment, however, is spacious and opens up to possibilities.  Non-attachment remains passionate, yet without imposing expectations on oneself or upon the outcome.  Non-attachment says, “wow, isn’t that a marvellous vision, let’s see what happens if we take a step towards it, and if the vision changes then I’ll go with that.”

When we approach our visions and goals with non-attachment we find ourselves opening up to all sorts of possibilities and opportunities.  We notice that there are many people with creative ideas that we have never thought of before.  Using a metaphor of a kayaker may help to explain this concept.

Kayaking Down River

When I was younger I participated a few times in an iconic multi-sport race in New Zealand called the “Coast-to-Coast.”  This race included a 67km kayak section through a gorge with rapids, whirlpools, and eddies along the way.  When I got in my kayak at the start of this leg my goal was to get to the end, 67km away, in the safest and quickest way possible.

If I had been attached to the goal (in this case, a bridge across the river 67km away) then I quite possibly may never have got there.  I had to focus on the here and the now.  I had to concentrate on my paddling technique and my body posture.  I had to watch out for rocks, rapids, eddies.  I had to keep my kayak in the flow of the river.  I also needed to be aware of other kayakers around me, making sure that I gave them space and that my paddling was not disrupted.  Coming to rapids I had to concentrate on my technique even more so, perhaps even upping the tempo to keep me in the flow and not get dashed against the rocks or turned upside down.

With non-attachment to the end goal I was able to give my attention to what was happening right now.  I was then able to proceed towards my goal.

Possibilities and Opportunities

The world is full possibilities and opportunities.  If we become too attached to our goals then we can miss these.  We need to learn to hold our visions, our goals, our objectives with a lightness that allows us to let them go if we find more useful or healthy opportunities.

When we do that we will discover that what we truly want is right here, right now.  Our vision for the future exists right now, it exists with whomsoever we are relating with now, it exists in our present time relationships.  It even exists, right now, with those whom we thought we were in conflict with. 

When we hold our goals and objectives lightly, we also lighten, we become more at ease with ourselves.  And, when we do that, we find that we are less antagonistic towards others, we are more willing to forgive, we are open to learning from each and every person that we meet.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

We Doth Protest Too Much

Queen Gertrude
Sometime around 1600 William Shakespeare wrote his famous play, Hamlet.  In that play, Hamlets mother, Queen Gertrude, drolly answers Hamlet with the line“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  The word protest may have undergone some changes since Hamlet’s day, however, we can apply the sentiment of protesting too much in todays world.

What do I mean by that?  Protest too  much?  Surely, one could say, there is not enough protestation in the world.  Just look at the world: rampant injustice, rising temperatures leading to climate change, war and terrorism continuing unabated, famine in a world of plenty …. This list goes on. 

Protesting is a form of resisting, and in that resistance may be our undoing.  Carl Gustav Jung is said to have formulated the statement, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”  Now often abbreviated to just “what you resist, persists,” Jung recognised that what we think about is played out in our reality, even if we are thinking that we don’t want something.  We all know this apparent conundrum.  Try to not think of an orange.  Can we do it?  Can we not think of an orange?  Difficult isn’t it?

In our abbreviation of the Jungian phrase we have forgotten the second part of the phrase – but will grow in size.  Maybe, just maybe, all the issues and concerns of the world, are growing in intensity and danger, because of our collective resistance to them, just as Jung suggests. 

Since Jung there has been a mushrooming of research into the brain and mind.  Modern neuroscience arose in the second half of the 20th century and has contributed immensely to our understanding of the brain, mind, and consciousness over the past 50 or 60 years.  We now know, for example, that there is a strong correlation between what the mind tells us and what or where our body follows.  A tightrope walker was once asked what made him so good.  He replied that he kept his eyes fixed on where he was going and not looking down.  “Where your head goes, that is where your body is going too,” he answered.

Some Questions?

This psychology, whereby what we resist, persists, and what we don’t want tends only to focus our attention upon it, thus creating it, raises some serious questions for social activists.  Here are just a few:
  • By resisting politicians and governments are we only prolonging the myth of democracy?
  • By resisting big business are we only entrenching consumerism and exploitation further?
  • By protesting against war are we only ensuring that we will continue to attempt to resolve international conflicts by violent means?
  • By putting up barriers against refugees are we only ensuring that their plight will deepen and intensify?
  • By proclaiming that we don’t want what we have had in the past, are we only more likely to create the same past in our present and future?
I don’t know the answers to these questions.  What I do know, however, is that social change movements must begin to incorporate many of the truly revolutionary findings coming out of neuroscience, neuro-plasticity, and the spiritual understandings of laws of attraction and how we collectively co-create our universe.

Another Model

One alternative to re-focus and re-frame our thinking is that of Buckminster Fuller who said1
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Fuller is one of the most influential futurologists, systems thinkers, and inventors the world has ever seen.  Ever dismissive of politicians and entrenched authority, he sought a more expansive understanding of who we are and where we are going.  He is known as the inventor of the geodesic dome and also devised a game he called The World Game which would:
"Make the world work,
for 100% of humanity,
in the shortest possible time,
through spontaneous cooperation,
without ecological offense
or the disadvantage of anyone."
Imagine what could happen if we stopped putting our energies into what we don’t want, and directed our energies towards what we do want.  Instead of railing against the system and out-dated authorities; what if we began to construct new paradigms, new belief systems, new ways of being together.

Perhaps it is to our benefit to withdraw from protesting and resisting, and to put our energies into building a new model, through spontaneous cooperation.  A model that could work for 100% of humanity. 


1. Quoted in Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization : Humanity's Next Great Adventure, Harmony Books, New York (1999).

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Climbing a Group Process Ladder

Anyone who gets into community development, social justice or other community work will end up working in groups.  An understanding of group dynamics and group processes can be beneficial.  There are many models that attempt to describe or explain the stages of a group coming together (being born), living together and ending.  One of the earliest, and still useful, is Cog’s Ladder – a model proposed by George O. Charrier (hence the c.o.g.) in 1972 when he was an employee of Proctor and Gamble.

Cog’s Ladder has five stages:
  1. Polite stage
  2. Why We’re Here stage
  3. Power stage
  4. Cooperation stage
  5. Esprit stage
Let’s look at each of these stages briefly.

Polite Stage

This initial stage is marked by cordiality, simplicity, lack of controversy, and (of course) politeness.  It is a time for group members to acquaint themselves with one another, or perhaps to become re-acquainted.  Most individuals in the group are keen to be liked and not cause waves.  Self-disclosure is kept to a minimum and ideas and actions are simple ones.

Why We’re Here Stage

In this stage people begin to leave aside their concerns about being liked to focus more on the purpose of the group.  There can be much discussion about group goals, agendas, and processes.  If a facilitator or leader is not already present, one may emerge at this stage who will set agendas and the topics for meeting and discussion.  It may also be a stage in which cliques begin to form, although often not rigidly so.  On a personal level, it is the stage at which people will begin to feel that they “fit in” and that the group is one they wish to remain part of.  This stage can see some members drift away.

Power Stage

This is the stage that requires patience and tolerance to get through.  It is the stage at which some group members may attempt to convince, or coerce, others into adopting their solution or way ahead.  There are bids for control of leadership of the group, with others forming alliances around the various power-players.  Many may go silent in this stage, wishing to stay out of the power games.  Conflict in the group rises and decisions taken in this stage may not be optimal.  The unity of the group that seemed to be emerging in the earlier stages dissipates and there is little sense of group identity.  For a facilitator of group processes this is possibly the stage at which your knowledge, skills and wisdom will be at their most useful.  Using this model can help a facilitator remain focused, at ease, and not get caught in a “what the hell is going on” merry-go-round.  it is not a time for a facilitator to step in and save a group.  Doing so could well back-fire.   The needs of the group at this stage are wide and include individual and group needs.  Individually, people may be in need of reassurance, acceptance, being heard.  The group may be in need of reframing its purpose, defining its structure, sharing of skills. 

Cooperation Stage

If a group can enter into a problem-solving mindset towards the end of the previous stage then it will be ready and willing to the cooperative stage.  In this stage, the conflicts of the previous stage are seen as opportunities to learn and to improve rather than as win-lose power battles.  A sense of group identity emerges, and leadership begins to be shared.  Solutions and decisions are better developed in this stage.  Solutions posed in the power stage that were initially rejected or resisted, may re-surface in this stage and be creatively explored.  Hallmarks of this stage are greater levels of listening and accepting of differences.  Once a group gets to this stage it is difficult for new members to fit in and be accepted.  To enable new members to fit in a group may need to go back to an earlier stage and repeat those stages.  Induction and/or mentoring practices may be of assistance in enabling new members to join without the need for the group to go back to earlier stages. 

Esprit Stage

The French word esprit means the quality of being lively, vivacious or witty.  Such liveliness certainly captures the sense of this stage well.  It is a stage at which groups feel as if they could do anything – almost take-on-the-world.  Not all groups reach this stage.  In order to get here they usually must pass through the previous four, including the power stage.  Once at this stage, the sense of cohesion is at a peak with contributions from members building on the contributions of others.  Creativity is high and the group often achieves more than it ever expected to.  Loyalty levels are high and the sense of satisfaction and achievement for individual members can be significant.  It is almost impossible for new members to join at this stage without the group having to go back to an earlier stage. 

Do you recognise these stages?  Have you experienced a group, or groups, that have attained the Esprit Stage?  For a facilitator of group processes and understanding of these stages can be useful.  Remember, however, that this is only a model of group process.  It works well – unless it doesn’t.  There will be times when it doesn’t.  That is the magic of human group processes.  None are ever the same, and none can ever be predicted in advance.  Where this model is useful is in allowing us to become comfortable with a process, including during the times of conflict, turmoil and disruption, knowing that we are all on the same journey.

Play with the ideas, and if you find them useful, it may even be worth outlining this model to a newly formed group early in its life so that group members are also more comfortable with the journey.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Questioning Memorials

Someone once said “what we memorise, we memorialise.”  Just five words, yet they summarise an unhelpful approach to our unfolding social development.

When we memorialise something we place it on a pedestal, or put it in a museum, and accord it an unquestioned status.  We place it in a state of reverence, locked away to be looked at and memorialised.  We place it beyond question.

Our memorialisation of war is a classic example.  Look around the countrysides and city squares of most nations and we will see statues, plaques, and other memorials to battles, famous generals, or memorials to the victims of those battles.  Some historical battles will be memorialised and remembered by services or parades.  We memorise – we memorialise.

But, do we question, do we learn, do we seek alternatives to war?  Mostly, the answer is no.

Questioning our past battles is often derided as being disrespectful towards those who fought for our country and our way of life.  Yet, is it not more respectful to acknowledge those who went before, and honour their memory by asking how their sacrifice can be something we can learn from, something we can build on.  It was the 18th century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, who noted that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Yes, we must know our history.  If we do not question it then how can we ever learn from it, so that we do not become doomed to repeat it.  The example of war, is only the most glaring of our cultural avoidance of questioning our past.  We must learn, or rediscover, how to question.  Not by forgetting or dishonouring, but by being respectful in our questioning. 

Our culture, however, steers us away from questioning.  Beginning in school, sometimes even earlier, we are told, as children that “kids should be seen and not heard.”  We are told to not ask so many questions, yet it is how we learnt as children.  We asked: why is the sky blue? why does grandpa use a walking stick? how do birds fly? what’s that?  Questions, questions, questions.  By the time of the age of four most children are asking around 300 or more questions each and every day.  School drums that out of us – answers become more important it seems.  If we don’t get the right answers then somehow we are unintelligent, or perhaps lazy. 

Once out of school, our culture doesn’t relent.  Our culture reminds us that our job in life is to toe the line, not question.  How many of us have been told in a work situation, “don’t ask questions, just do the job,” or “that’s not the way we do it round here.”  Follow the rules, don’t ask questions.

It is no wonder then, that when it comes to us attempting to learn from our past, from our history, we don’t seem to be able to do it.  Most of us, by adulthood, have lost the art of questioning.

We need to rediscover the art of questioning.  We need to be asking questions like: is there a better way? can we find alternatives to war? how do we avoid famine and poverty? how do we avoid species loss? how do we ensure a brighter future for the generations to come?

We start with each and every one of us not giving in to a  culture that says memorise this and don’t question it.  Then we move on to our families; we encourage our children to keep questioning.  We don’t stop there though.  We teach the art of questioning, the art of thinking for ourselves.  We teach and expect critical thinking.  We teach and encourage creative thinking.  In everyone!

We stop memorialising.  We start honouring our past so as to build on it.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

This week (12 July 2017) marks the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau.  Thoreau is generally acknowledged as one of the prominent forerunners of the modern day environmental and simplicity movements.  He also influenced many of the great civil disobedience activists such as Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  The anarchist movement also claims him as an ancestor, although his writings are sometimes a bit ambiguous in this regard.

To acknowledge Thoreau Rainbow Juice decided to interview him on his 200th birthday.  What follows is a (fictional) transcript of that interview, using Thoreau’s own (italicised) words from his many writings.1

Rainbow Juice:  Happy birthday Mr Thoreau.  May I call you Henry?

Henry David Thoreau:  You may, and I thank you for the felicitations.

RJ:  Henry, you have been described as a forerunner of today’s environmental movement.  When you look around at the world today, 200 years after your birth, do you have any observations to make?

HDT:  I do.  Here is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of human on human, – a sort of breeding in and in, which produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilisation destined to have a speedy limit.  I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.  Yet, adults become disconnected.  Girls and boys and young women generally seem glad to be in the woods.  They look in the pond and at the flowers, and improve their time.  Men of business, even farmers, think only of solitude and employment, and of the great distance at which I dwell from something or other; and although they say that they love a ramble in the woods occasionally, it is obvious that they do not.

RJ:  You speak of a civilisation destined to have a speedy limit.  Do you think that limit is closer now than at your time?

HDT: I cannot say whether we are closer to that limit, however, I will say that in Wildness is the preservation of the World.  All good things are wild and free.  There is something in a strain of music, whether produced by an instrument or by the human voice, which by its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds me of the cries emitted by wild beasts in their native forests.  It is so much of their wildness that I can understand.  Give me for my friends and neighbours wild people, not tame ones.  I would also say that if a person walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, they are in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if they spend the whole day as a speculator, shearing off these woods and making earth bald before her time, they are esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.  As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down.

RJ:  So, you’re saying that we should calm down, take it easy, enjoy the woods and Nature.  And, in doing so we might discover something about ourselves?

HDT:  Indeed so.  This world is a place of business.  What an infinite bustle!  I am awakened almost every night by the panting of the locomotive.  It disrupts my dreams.  There is no sabbath.  It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once.  It is nothing but work, work, work.  I cannot easily buy a blank-book to write thoughts in; they are commonly ruled for dollars and cents.  If I were to offer one piece of advice it would be this: You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.  But lo! people have become the tools of their tools.  We no longer camp as for the night, but have settled down on the earth and forgotten heaven.

RJ:  Thank you.  You mention becoming tools of our tools.  You might have noticed how many people today are hastening around with tools stuck in their ears or their eyes gazing at a tool in the palm of their hands.  And those are just the more blatant examples of our tool-bearing culture.  Is there anything further you would like to say about tools and technology?

HDT:  Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.  They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at.  Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?  We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.  Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.  People say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches to-day to save nine tomorrow.  When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.  By consenting to be deceived by shows, people establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations.  Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than adults, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.

HDT:  You make it sound so easy.  You seem to be suggesting that we re-discover our childhood innocence and take it easy on ourselves, and in the doing of that we will naturally take it easier on the earth.  What is the essential message you would have for those of us living 200 years after your birth?

HDT:  Simplify, simplify.  I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.  It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.  I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. 

RJ:  How do you suggest we begin to forget?

HDT:  First, it is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.  It is a matter of shifting consciousness.  Once you can do that you will find that by living your beliefs you can turn the world around.

RJ:  Thank you so much Henry.  Thank you so much for spending this time with us on your 200th birthday.


1. Some of the works from which Thoreau’s italicised words are taken include:  Walden (1854), Walking (1862), Life Without Principle (1863), Autumnal Tints (1867).  Thoreau wrote many other works for publications and magazines as well as the highly influential Civil Disobedience (1849)

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Devotion to Voting

Every few years we head to the local church hall or community centre.  We get handed a slip of paper and are pointed to a private cubicle in which there are pens with which we can put marks on the paper we’ve just been handed.  We dutifully place our ticks or crosses on the sheet, leave the cubicle and drop the slip of paper into a box with a slit in the top.  Our slip of paper drops into the box and mingles with hundreds of other, similar, slips of paper.  We leave the hall and go back to our homes, our jobs, our families, our lives.

We have just voted.

What have we done in those few minutes that we were inside the polling booth?  Some say we have exercised our power.  Some say we have done our civic duty.  Others claim it as our democratic right.  Still others suggest that it is a waste of time.  Have we achieved what we intend?  And, what really is our intention?

In the western world power was wrested away from the monarchs and landed gentry and placed within the hands of ordinary people in what we call democracy.  And it did what we intended it to do – at least for awhile.  But, can we truly say that democracy fulfils our intentions today?  Take a good long hard look at democracy and we may just find that we have to answer that question with a resounding NO!

No, democracy no longer fulfils the intention of equality.  No, democracy no longer fulfils the intention of fraternity.  No, democracy no longer fulfils the intention of liberty. 

When we vote we are voting not for the wellbeing of all of us, we are voting for power.  We vote for ideologies.  We are voting so that one political party can win, and the others lose.  We are voting for winners and losers.  No longer are we part of “we the people” – we are now caught in the trap of dualistic power plays: National/Labour, Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative, Tories/Whigs.  If we are part of the majority then we come out as the winners.  We shout and rejoice.  If not, we are losers.  What happens to the losers in our current democratic system?  More so, what happens to the minorities who cannot even aspire to being losers?  Often they are completely excluded.

In a winners/losers game what happens to the intention of wellbeing for all?  It is sidelined, and mostly completely ignored.  The winners come to power to implement their agenda.  A big part of that agenda is to gain more power, or at least the chance of more power at the next election.  The best that can be achieved in terms of wellbeing for all under that scenario is short-term decision making.  Decisions are made with the intention of consolidating support from those who are likely to vote for the winners at the next election.  Hardly a scenario for healthy long-term planning and decision-making.

Yet, we remain devoted to voting.

Democracy is No Longer Representative

Our elected representatives have become less and less representative.  Our representatives more and more come from wealthy backgrounds, high status occupations, or from the realms celebrity-hood.  Ominously, our representatives are more and more likely to represent a newly emergent occupation – the career politician.

Yet we continue our devotion to voting.

Democracy should not be considered a static thing.  Democracy can, and should, evolve and change.  Unfortunately, it is presently moving in unhelpful and unhealthy ways.  No longer are we the people exercising our power – we are throwing it away.  No longer are we doing our civic duty - big money and big business are draining democracy of any civics that may have been there.  

What To Do

What then to do in the face of the collapse of representative democracy?  Campaigns to get people out to vote are only going to exacerbate the problem.  People are deserting the voting system in increasing numbers – certainly in the western democracies.  Many would claim this is because of widespread apathy.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  What if the decline in voter turnout is due to dissatisfaction and disgruntlement with politics, politicians and the voting system itself.  There is evidence to suggest this may be the case.

If it is the latter, then what are the next steps for the democratic journey?  This site has previously suggested sortition (the selection of decision-makers by lot) as worthy of consideration.  Previous posts can be see here, here, here, and here.

In the meantime we will need to let go of representative democracy, reject electoral politics, and give up our devotion to voting.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Creating Us (Book Review)

In a world in which the neo-liberal globalising project robs us of our creativity and our souls, a book titled Creating Us is worth checking out.  So it is with Peter Westoby’s latest offering.  The sub-title - community work with soul - suggests that this is a book worth more than checking out – it is a book worth relishing.

For decades, centuries even, community workers and social justice activists have sought a better world.  We have sought that world in the mountains of idealism and the peaks of activism.  Community work has been redolent with visions, goals – an ever upward striving.

Westoby, in this book, encourages us to divert our gaze (at least occasionally) from the mountain tops towards the valleys and dales where soul resides.  He succinctly notes that “soulful energy within community work practice is … oriented towards gravity and earth, thereby implying a depth perspective.” 

Why is it important, or useful, for community workers to descend towards soul?  Westoby offers a number of answers to this question.

Soul allows us to experience life in greater quality.  Much of our socialised life is quantity driven – the need to get results and to make things happen.  Soul, Westoby claims, wants us to let go and “invites an embracing of community work as a responsive dance.”  Perhaps tragically, community workers can become so locked into making things happen that we forget the meaning of what we are doing.  That is what, he says, is what bringing a soulful approach to community work can guard against.

Looking around the world we can see the dominance of ego.  The ego, Westoby suggests, “wants control, domination and an unified story.”  Soul however, is more comfortable with “multiplicity and complexity,” and seeks these out, if we let it.  Increasingly it is becoming obvious that we must recognise and understand the realities of complexity.  Soul allows us to do this.

The reader of this short book (it is only 140 A5 pages long) will not be disappointed by Westoby’s more detailed musings on these and other answers to the question as to the importance or usefulness of soul in community work.

It is foremostly, a book of reflections.  It is a soulful book.  It is a enchanting book.  Westoby colours in theoretical outlines with stories from his own practice and pertinent quotes from soul thinkers – e.g. Rabindranath Tagore, James Hillman, Mary Watkins, and Thomas Moore.  Adding to the colour and poetic quality of the book are ten delightful Leunig cartoons.1

For those of us seeking a soulful approach to community work, social justice advocacy, or anyone desiring a better world, Creating Us is an excellent place to begin that journey, or indeed, be reminded of that journey if one has already begun.

To watch a 13 minute clip of Peter Westoby discussing the concept of soul in community work click here.


1. Michael Leunig is an Australian cartoonist known for his wonderful, and sometimes cynical, yet always whimsical, commentaries on life and the human condition.

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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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

“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%.


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.


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.


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.

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  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.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


All over the world people are complaining and protesting.  In the US there are demonstrations against Trump and rallies for him.  The streets of London and Paris are blocked by those demanding that a different group of politicians take over the reins of power.  Similar scenes are played out in Africa, in South East Asia and in South America.  Often the calls for such power shifts are centred on one person: Trump, Macron, La Pen, Wilders, May.  Half a world away the names being called are those such as Turnbull, Duterte, Jinping.

Everywhere, it seems, crowds of people are seeking different solutions to a wide range of issues and concerns

Solutions are sought to cope with refugees and migrants.  Solutions are sought in Syria, Sudan and Somalia.  Many want a solution to climate change.  Others seek solutions to the growing inequality of wealth and income.

Solution-seekers raise petitions, write submissions to Commissions of Enquiry, or take to the streets to voice anger, mistrust or disagreement with political processes and agenda.

The solutions are out there, we may cry.  If only the politicians and other leaders would listen.  All these problems and issues would be solved if we applied the right formula or the right policy.  All these problems and issues could be solved if we elected the best politicians.

All of our searching for solutions may be in vain however.  Perhaps we are seeking solutions in completely the wrong place. 

The solutions may not be out there – they may be in here.  They may be soul-utions.

It may be that who we are rather than what we do will provide us with the solutions.  It may be that our soul is the place to go seeking.

What we have done, time after time, is to keep solving problems by applying technological or institutional fixes.  Then what happens?  The fix becomes the source of the next problem.  How do we then solve that?  By applying a further technological or institutional fix.  In short, to paraphrase Einstein, we keep using the same thinking we always have.

But if we stop to think about it we discover that the problems and issues that face us today mostly all stem from what we have done.  Surely this tells us something about who we are.  It tells us that seeking solutions externally often ends up in a worse situation, or at least no better than what we began with.

Perhaps it is time to stop and look inward – to our individual and collective souls.  This is not an easy task for it means asking much tougher questions than the one that asks “how do we solve this?”  Soulutions means asking questions like “what is my/our purpose here?” or “who am I/we?”

When questions like these are asked the answers will not come from our heads.  The answers will not come from reading books, or undertaking academic research.  The answers will come from combining our head with our heart.  The Pali language uses the word citta which is best translated into English as heart-mind.  The answers will come from activities and experiences that allow us to discover and explore our soul.  Some possible ways of doing this include:
  • Fasting
  • Yoga, breathwork, or other bodily practices that help us alter our consciousness
  • Spending time alone, in solitude
  • Rhythmic dance or drumming
  • Relating and listening to myths and stories, particularly those that explore our consciousness and psyches
  • Dreamwork
  • Music, chanting, poetry
  • Creative and/or symbolic writing and painting
  • Spending time in nature
In all these ways the key is to let go of our familiar, everyday, thoughts, beliefs and behaviours.  We must deliberately seek an alternative consciousness  and way of relating to ourselves, those around us and with the Earth.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we might then find the soulutions.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Social Justice or Personal Salvation?

How often do we hear a conversation where one person claims that personal salvation is the road to happiness and social change, and the other suggests that we must obtain social justice before anyone can be free?  Less often than we might think I would suggest.  Mainly because those on a personal salvation course more often than not do not interact with those seeking social justice.  Thankfully, however, this is changing, and the two ideologies are talking together more often.

Of course, the distinction between the two approaches is an illusory one.  Both are necessary, and neither can work without the other. 

Since the 1960s and 70s there has been a greater awareness growing of the connection between our inner and outer worlds.  We are understanding more and more that everything is intimately connected with everything else.  We are not separate beings.  our lives are connected with the lives of those around us, not only those in our families or living in our street, but also those living in other parts of the world.  Furthermore, we are connected with the flora and fauna of this planet – we are connected with the planet itself.  What happens to another happens to us.  The way we treat the planet affects how the planet treats us.

So it is with social justice and personal salvation work.  They are connected.  We cannot attain personal salvation without seeking social justice.  We cannot work towards social justice without transforming ourselves.

Compassion and Empathy

When we work for social justice we often do so from a sense of compassion or empathy with those (humans, animals, plants) who are distressed or oppressed.  When we seek personal salvation we inevitably arrive at a place of compassion for all sentient beings.  Compassion and empathy, then, may be the point at which the two paths converge, and we see the wisdom of both approaches.

Without compassion in our social justice work we can easily perpetuate the very structures and injustices that we are wanting to overcome.  Think of what happened following the French Revolution – we got Napoleon.  Think of what happened after the overthrow of the Tsar – we got Stalinism.  More latterly we can see similar examples in the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, and ISIS.

Ends and Means

There once was a saying that the “ends justifies the means,” fortunately now largely discredited (at least within grass-roots social justice organisations).  The means by which we work for social justice or seek personal must be in harmony with our ends.  Joanna Macy notes that “means are ends in the making,” and Thich Nhat Hanh advises us that “peace is every step.”

In a complex, inter-connected, world seeking personal salvation can only go so far before we need to study and understand the roots of cultural, psychological and historical oppression and privilege.  In that same world, working for social justice can only go so far before we are faced with the limitations of our personal transformation.  Social justice is as much a means towards the end of personal salvation as personal salvation is the means towards the end of social justice. 

No Separation

Just as there is no completely independent and self-sufficient self, there is no separation between working for social change and seeking personal salvation.

If we focus our attention on systemic change at the expense of our personal transformation then we will perpetuate the harmful relationships between each other and the planet.

If we focus our attention on personal salvation at the expense of systemic change then we will perpetuate our individual sense of a disconnected self.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Myth of Expert Decision-Making

World-wide we are less trusting of our leaders.  We are voting less, we are leaving political parties in droves.   If we do not trust our leaders and politicians to make the right decisions then where do we look for guidance, leadership or action?  More and more we are coming to realise that the ideas, the solutions, and the actions begin with and flow from all of us, from communities and the collective knowledge, experience, skills and wisdom that they contain.

This approach turns on its head the classic western notion of development.  The classic western approach is one in which experts enter a community or nation, assess the needs and then design a program or infrastructure to address those needs.  Classically there was little consultation with the local community and even less of an attempt to involve the community in the design of any program or intervention.  Often this approach led to the program eventually collapsing or the infrastructure being under-utilised.  Many times this collapse could be attributed to the “experts” incorrectly identifying the needs or the problem, let alone the solution.

But, when the process begins with and flows from within communities, then the chances of correctly identifying the issues and then designing the appropriate response are greatly enhanced.

This approach emphasises that power and decision-making shift from the top to the bottom, from the centre to the margins, and from hierarchies to interconnected networks.  It puts connected communities firmly in the role of decision-makers and implementers of policy.

“But what if local communities do not have the knowledge, or skills necessary?” is a common argument raised against allowing ordinary citizens, the man and woman in the street - “commoners” - to become decision-makers.  This quarrel is based on a prejudice that implies that only those with expertise are in the best position to make decisions.  But this is nonsense.

The Expert Myth

The “expert” may come in various guises: community health expert, education expert, city planning expert, even the community development or social justice expert.  In each case, the expert may have some useful expertise to offer, but that does not make them the best decision-maker in any community setting.  Indeed, an expert in a decision-making role can be disastrous.

A 2006 study found that the more power an individual has or claims to have, the more likely they are to over-value their own viewpoint and are less capable of considering another person’s perspective1.The same researcher, in 2012, noted that those with a sense of power were often over-confident in their decision-making2.

Remember too, that becoming an expert in a subject usually involves knowing more and more about a topic that is more and more specialised.  In short: knowing more and more about less and less.  Our world is a complex, interconnected and diverse one.  We, and it, contain contradictions, anomalies, and inconsistencies.  In such a world our decision-making processes must ensure that a wide variety of perspectives and ideas are taken into account.  The expert has a place in that, but only one place of many.

It is of little benefit if a decision made by an expert is the right one in their view if it does not make sense to those on whom the decision is imposed.

Look around the world.  Often, where we see conflict, bitterness or social isolation, we will also find that a decision has been imposed by someone (or a group) who have done so in the belief that theirs was the correct one to make.  That applies just as much to a local neighbourhood as it does to international conflict.

The tower block building projects that began in the 1950s in England are a case in point.  Architects and city planners in England embraced with zeal the ideas of architects such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius who became known for their minimalist approach.  Le Corbusier’s idea was magnified from the simple stripped down villa into stack upon stack of bare, uniform multi-storied dwellings.  Town planning experts and architectural experts embraced the idea with glee, but no-one bothered to ask the potential inhabitants.

Within just a few years the cracks were appearing, not only in the buildings themselves but also in the social fabric.  In May 1968 Ronan Point, a 22 storey tower block in East London, partially collapsed killing 4 people and injuring 17.  It wasn’t the only one.

But it was the tearing apart of social cohesion that was perhaps the biggest failing of this expert-driven approach to housing.  The adults living in these towers experienced high rates of stress, mental health problems, and marriage breakdown.  Their children fared no better.  Tower-rise children had high rates of hyperactivity and were prone to greater levels of hostility and juvenile delinquency (even when socio-economic status was adjusted for) than that of the general population.

Even though much is known about the damage to social infrastructure that these towers create, they are still being built.  There are many commentators and community workers in England who are now advocating for a return to the terraced housing style that England is so well known for.

So, beware the expert, but do not ignore the expert.  They can have useful information or knowledge, but it does not make them the best decision-maker.

1. Galinsky, Adam et al:  Power and perspectives not taken, Psychological Science, 2006.
2. Galinsky, Adam et al:  Power and Overconfident decision making, Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Making Processes, March 2012.