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, 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.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Have We Lit The Explosive Fuse?

In conversation with a friend today he remarked that people often change only in response to pain, or at least, because they are dissatisfied with something.  Disenchanting as that may be, he may have a point.

Could the same be claimed for society as a whole?  Do we, collectively, need to experience pain and anguish before we make needed change?  Do hurricanes and tornadoes need to become bigger and more frequent before we change?  Do floods and bushfires have to become more severe before we make change?  Do our seas have to warm further, or our summers to become even hotter, before we make change?

If an individual plays with matches they will probably burn their fingers at some stage.  With burnt fingers, they may decide that playing with matches is a harmful thing to do.  So, with the benefit of pain, the individual changes their behaviour.  What if, instead of burning their fingers, the individual uses that lit match to light the fuse of an explosive device?  Boom!  No chance for change in behaviour after that.

Perhaps, collectively, we haven’t burnt our fingers enough and have already lit the fuse on the explosive that will condemn us all? 

All systems, especially natural systems, have time lags.  Global warming is no different.  We can experience this lag in our day to day living.  The hottest time of day is often about three hours after midday, when the sun is at its zenith.  Similarly, the hottest days of summer are about two months after the summer solstice.  This simple observation should warn us that global warming will continue to rise – even if we stopped pumping carbon into the atmosphere today.

Indeed, the science tells us that if we did stop completely (yes, completely) emitting carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature would rise by 0.6 degrees C.  That is unlikely – it is more likely to be well beyond that.  Simply by living, we humans will pump carbon into the atmosphere.  Even if we cut back, the likely scenario is that the Earth’s temperature will rise by 4 – 6 degrees C.

James Hansen, the NASA climatologist, warned that in order to avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change we would need to maintain carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.  In 2013 carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million, and earlier this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the level at 405.1 parts per million – well beyond Hansen’s warning level. 

A term has even been coined for this new age – the Sixth Mass Extinction or the Holocene Extinction.  In the earth’s 4.5 billion year life there have been five previous mass extinctions.  This sixth one (sometimes called Anthropocene) is human-induced, and we humans may be the victims of our own behaviours.

I repeat:  Collectively, have we already lit the fuse on the explosive that will condemn us all?  Furthermore, we may not be able to defuse it.

If so, what do we do?  Some, like Paul Kingsnorth,1 reject trying to “save the earth,” and ask us to think about what is possible.  “The only hope I have given up,” he asserts, “is false hope.” 

Perhaps the words of Vaclav Havel2 may be worth listening to: “Hope, in the deep and meaningful sense … is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

What is good?  Surely, what is good about our lives is the connections we make with one another, the sharing of love and beauty, the opportunity to dance and sing.  What is good is to bring joy to the world, and to share compassion and understanding.

Maybe Kingsnorth and Havel are saying the same thing. 

Focus on what is possible and what is good – here and now.

Notes:
1. In his younger years Paul Kingsnorth was a very active environmentalist and a former editor of The Ecologist magazine.  In 2009, he and other artists and environmentalists formed Dark Mountain Project, a group seeking to discover what is possible without relying on “false hope.” 
2. Vaclav Havel was the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first of the Czech Republic.  A writer, poet, humanitarian, environmentalist and proponent of direct democracy.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How Close To Climate Crisis Are We?

How close to climate crisis are we?  Some argue, like Paul Kingsnorth, that we have already passed the tipping point and that the best we can do is to hold a wake.  Once an environmental activist, Kingsnorth now refrains from talking about “saving the planet,” focusing instead on what we can do in the face of the crisis.  Others remain firmly of the belief that things will get better, that we can retreat from the impending crisis.  Both of these perspectives suggest we are very close to climate crisis – one believing the crisis has happened, the other that it is near.

There is another way of asking, and answering the question: how close to climate crisis are we?  That is to ask it from the perspective of our individual and collective psychology.

Perhaps the first book (and research) to be published alerting the world to the limits to growth was -The Limits to Growth,1 published in 1972.  Tellingly, the first figure in that book (on p19 of more than 200 pages) was one that looked like the following:

People’s concerns lie somewhere in this time/space continuum.  For most people their concerns are close to home; for their family, friends, and perhaps local community.  Their concerns are for the near future; getting the kids to school today, or next months annual holiday.  The further out from the immediate local environment we go, the less the number of people with concerns.  Similarly, the further into the future we venture, the less the number of people concerned.

This understanding is pertinent to climate change activism.  Climate change, for many people, is not near at hand, it is screened onto our TV from elsewhere in the world.  Climate change is also seen as being off in the future.  Climate change for many is not here and now.

For those concerned about climate change, this perspective is of concern.  Climate change dialogue, activism, policies, and research is mostly situated in the upper right hand corner of the time/space continuum, as pictured below:


Hence, the key question for those concerned about climate change must be: how do we shift the debate from the upper right hand corner to the lower left hand sector, where most people are?  

I do not know the answers to that question.  However, there are some psychological understandings that may be worth looking at when attempting answers.
  • When people are faced with a crisis that they can see no way of preventing, they will tend to withdraw and stop thinking about it.
  • People tend to try to prevent present suffering without regard to long-term consequences.
  • People are often more concerned about something concrete, rather than abstract.
  • People will tend towards the social norm.  People are influenced by the behaviour of those close to them.
  • When faced with bad news, or something scary (e.g. climate crisis) there is a tendency towards the classic fight or flight.  Thus, faced with activism, people will either turn away or will oppose vigorously.
What does all this suggest?

Those concerned with climate crisis need to think about:
  • how to work with established neighbourhoods, communities, and networks,
  • speak to local issues and local concerns,
  • work towards an empathic approach to those in opposition (they may be “fighting” from fear),
  • bring the possibilities of change into the here and now – focus less on UN agreements and global summits.  Make the concerns “real,” and not far off in other times and other places.
Well, I said I didn’t have the answers.  Perhaps I have stimulated some questions though.

Notes:

1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, Limits to Growth, Universe Books, New York, 1972.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

6 Male Archetypes To Reclaim

Most cultures have used story, metaphor, myth, and archetypes to understand and explain who we are and how we relate to one another and the world.  Western culture is no different.

Throughout western history there have been many such stories: the Celtic myths, the Greek heroic stories, the “fairy tales” of Hans Christian Andersen, or the plays of Shakespeare.  With the birth of psychology in the early 20th century attention was focused on how these stories and archetypes play out in our psychological make-up.  One of the first to explore archetypes from a psychological perspective was Carl Jung.  A disciple of Jung’s, James Hillman, in the 1970s, initiated the movement known as archetypal psychology.  Many others since then, have expanded and refined the ideas contained in that movement.

Out of this has come the notions of male and female archetypes.  In some circles, these are referred to as the sacred male/female archetypes.  As a male, I do not intend discussing the female archetypes, and will concentrate on the male archetypes.

6 Sacred Male Archetypes

Depending on who, or what, you read, you may find reference to anywhere between 4 to 12 sacred male archetypes.  Here, I will discuss briefly 6 key ones: God, King, Priest (Shaman), Warrior, Lover, Sage.

God.  This is the archetype of transcendence, the man seeking for the highest expression of who he is.  The God expresses unconditional love and is at one with all there is.

King.  The King is the benevolent nurturer and supporter of those around him.  He combines strength with wisdom and is the material agent of the God archetype.

Priest (Shaman).  The Priest holds knowledge of the unknown and bears witness to that knowledge.  He connects the material and spiritual worlds.

Warrior.  This is the archetypal protector, in service to humanity and the highest good of all, including those who are vulnerable.  He undertakes this service with courage, even if it may mean at a personal cost.  The Warrior is a collaborative player.

Lover.  The Lover is the sensual aspect; passionate, creative, playful, and vivacious.  The Lover seeks to bond and unite, and looks for beauty.  The Lover enjoys movement of the body, in sex, yoga, dance, or other celebrations of the body.  The Lover is comfortable with “being,” rather than “performing.”

Sage.  Picture a grey-bearded man sitting cross-legged with a serene look on his face and you’ll get the idea of the Sage.  He is observant and uses wisdom to guide “right action.”  He supports the wisdom of others.  He is grounded and earth-centred (you could say Gaia-centred). 

6 Grotesque Masks

If there are 6 sacred male archetypes, then you may have, as I did, noticed something puzzling:  Where are they in today's world?  A very good question.  They’re there, often hidden behind 6 grotesque masks that are distortions of the 6 sacred male archetypes.

Instead of the God, we have the Devil.  Instead of unconditional love we see hatred and intolerance.

Instead of the King, we have the Dictator.  Instead of benevolence we see meanness and animosity.

Instead of the Priest/Shaman, we get the Satanist.  Instead of connecting the material with the spiritual, the Satanist is bent on disconnecting us.

Instead of the Warrior, we find the Conqueror t work in the world.  Instead of service to the highest good of all, we see self-serving Conquerors, who, far from protecting, are murdering and putting at risk thousands, even millions, of people.

Instead of the Lover, we have the Rapist.  Far from being creative and playful, the Rapist exploits others, including the earth,  Instead of looking for beauty, the Rapist is intent upon destroying it.

Instead of the Sage,  we get the Smartass, or Know-It-All.  Instead of using wisdom to guide “right action,” the Smartass thinks they know-it-all and can use this knowledge in the pursuit of actions that may destroy us.


Men – let us rip off the 6 grotesque masks and reveal the sacred male archetypes that hide behind.

There are men all over the world who are re-discovering the 6 sacred male archetypes.  Let us continue to do so.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

If We Can Imagine The Future...

I do not know how the minds of other creatures on this planet work, I’m not a neuro-biologist.  I do know that we humans have the quite remarkable capacity to do two things with our minds.  We can remember the past, and we can imagine the future.

Not only is this remarkable, it is also incredibly useful.  By remembering the past we can learn, we can adapt, we can do things differently than we did in the past. 

If we can imagine the future, then we can see our next step. 

What is this future we can imagine?  Some humans will envision a dystopian, apocalyptic, nightmarish future in which the world is a bleak, nasty and brutal one.  Not me, and I guess, not many of those who are working in community development or social justice fields.  The future we imagine is a rosy, utopian one.  Most of us will no doubt be imagining a world of peace and harmony.  We project a world in which our friends, family and community are living happily, and where our children can play safely.  In this future society everyone has access to education, health, shelter, food, and ample leisure time to pursue their dreams.  It is a world of tolerance, diversity, compassion and forgiveness.

Yes, I’m sure most of us have dreamt of this future world.  We may have even participated in visioning exercises designed to get us to think of what this world will look and feel like.

There is a third aspect that is remarkable about our minds.  Not only can we remember and imagine, we can also centre and ground ourselves in the present moment.  Moment by moment we take step by step (literally and figuratively).

If we can imagine the future then we can see that next step, we can feel that next moment.

When we fully realise the power of this third aspect of our minds then we truly can change the world.  And isn’t that what we dream of – changing the world?

Taking the next step is an incredibly simple task:  we act, here and now.  We co-act, and co-create, with whomever we are with and with whatever is existing right now.  We create the next step.  Our next step does not happen by chance, we consciously take it.  We step towards our future.

If we can imagine the future then our next step becomes our future.  In taking that step we act peacefully and in harmony.  Into that step we take with us tolerance, diversity, compassion and forgiveness.

Our future is our next step, our next step is our future.

The paradox of such a state of mind and being is that we no longer need to imagine what the future will look and feel like.  Our future is already here and now. 


This all sounds so simple that it is almost laughable.  Yet, wait – think about it.  Why wait for our imagined rosy, utopian, future?  Why not act our future now?  We can do it.  All we need is the conscious intent.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

A Young Person's Take on Plastic Pollution (Guest Blog)

Billie Denman
I am honoured to be posting this blog today.  The writer of this speech was 12 years old when she wrote it.  Billie Denman is the daughter of a friend of mine and lives in Sawtell (NSW, Australia).  The speech was written, and read, as part of a school public speaking project.  Billie’s teacher graded this speech 30/30 and told Billie’s mother “I have never given a perfect mark before.”  This grade serves to underscore the passion that Billie brings to environmental concerns.  Following on from last week’s blog, this speech is another example of how inspiring young people are, and that we adults need to stop and listen, or in this case, read.  Enjoy it, and as Billie says, take action.

Plastic Pollution

“They never breakdown, they break up into smaller toxic bits of themselves, that spreads into our oceans, our land, our wildlife, and into the air that we breathe.  Plastic bags contribute to climate change and are polluting this planet severely.

Statistics show that instead of being recycled, plastic bags are thrown in the rubbish because the cost of recycling them outweighs their value.  The Pacific Ocean holds 6 times more plastic than plankton.  Imagine how many whale sharks mistake plastic for plankton.  The great Pacific garbage patch is twice the size of Texas and the plastic in it outnumbers sea-life 6 to 1.

Plastic bags are made from petroleum, gas, and other harmful chemicals.  12 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic bags in the United States alone.  The average time a plastic bag is used is 12 minutes.  To go to the effort of producing plastic bags from a fossil fuel just to throw away after 12 minutes is outrageous.

Plastic bags cause death to marine animals.  For example, in 2008 a Sperm Whale was found washed up dead – more than 22 kilograms of plastic was found in it’s stomach.  Land animals suffer from the pollution of plastic as well.  Humans breathe in the toxic fumes caused by the production of plastic bags too.

160,000 plastic bags are used worldwide every second.  What good is it that doing to the earth?  Ireland has a tax on plastic bags – that tax has decreased the use of plastic bags by 90%.  Other cities, states, and countries around the world have done so too.  It’s time for Australia to become a better country and ban plastic bags.

What you can do is encourage others to use reusable bags; and why not make a petition for the Council or Government to ban or put a tax on plastic bags.

I use reusable bags and it feels good to know that you’re doing the environment a favour.  The benefits of using reusable bags are that they come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, and patterns which makes shopping fun.  You can make your own and get them made for you.  They carry much more groceries than plastic bags.  Reusable bags are fantastically priced at 99 cents to $3.

You may think that you won’t make any impact on this issue, but using one reusable bag means you save 700 plastic bags in one year or 22,000 over a lifetime.  As an individual you need to use reusable bags.

Do the earth a favour: pick reusable bags on your next trip tot he grocery store."


Thank you Billie.  She outlines the issue well and ends on positive calls to action.  Do the earth a favour and listen to her and other young people like her.

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.

Explanation

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.

Debrief

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. 

Note:

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.

Notes:

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.

Notes:

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. 

Notes:

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

Monday, 12 June 2017

Remembering the Grandfather of Nonviolence

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

Below is the blog I wrote four years ago.

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

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

Prelude

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

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

The Ploughmen

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

The Fencers

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

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

Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue

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

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

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