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.

Friday 30 March 2012

Word Development

Before I get too far in my posts it may be worth mentioning my thoughts on the meaning of development.  Those of us working towards a better or brighter future talk of community development and community education almost glibly.
Let’s stop and ask ourselves what we mean when we use these terms.  The words development and education have chequered and sometimes contradictory meanings or interpretations.  What’s more, those contradictory interpretations have significant implications for our work. 

Community development is a field awash with definitions.  Just about every text on the subject that I have read begins with a definition.  Sometimes three definitions: one for community, one for development and a combined definition for community development.  It is the word development that I wish to focus on in this post.

The common usage understanding of the term development would suggest that development begins with a situation of want, neglect or waste.  The purpose of development is then to add something in order to improve or correct the situation.

I’ll come back to the language and ideas of development in a moment.  First though, I want to take a trip into the use of the term education.  Community education is often employed alongside community development.

Ask people what they mean by the word educate.  Mostly you’ll get answers of: instilling knowledge, teaching skills, passing on the culture or similar.

Again, the idea of adding to, improving upon.  Indeed, if we think of educating young people we can get an image of a young person’s head with ideas, skills, knowledge and formulae being crammed into it.

So, both development and education have this common usage concept of adding to and/or improving upon at the base of their meanings.  There’s nothing wrong with adding to or improving upon.  But, we might want to beware that thinking of these terms strictly in this way can blind us to their truly liberating possibilities.


Its ironic to consider that the word develop has itself developed over time in the sense that it has changed, adapted and taken on a somewhat different meaning.

Etymology is the study of the derivation of words.  Where do they come from,what has been their meaning?  Almost like a word family tree.  Develop has derived from the French word développer, itself emerging from an Old French word of the 12th Century – voloper and the prefix – desVoloper meant “to wrap up” and des is a prefix expressing the opposite.  Think of the English prefixes de and dis.  Thus, we get des-voloper – to unwrap, unfold.

The English word envelope has the same etymology.  Think of what we do when we envelope something?  What would de-envelope mean?

So, development could be thought of as a process of unwrapping, unfolding, or “bringing out latent possibilities”. 

Educate too, has an interesting etymology, this time from Latin.  The term comes from the words e (meaning “out”, “from” or “from within”)  and ducere  (meaning “to lead” or “to draw”).  Thus: e-ducere: to draw out. 

Hence, if we consider the etymological roots of these two terms, develop and educate, we find concepts that almost suggest the opposite to those in common usage.

With develop, rather than adding to, there is the idea of stripping away, unfolding.

With educate, rather than cramming in, there is the idea of drawing out.

Photo credit: Brian Metcalfe,

And that is where I think that we can sometimes blind ourselves to empowering and liberating possibilities.  If we don’t think about the words we use and our meanings of them, if we blindly accept common usage, then our thoughts can lead our actions into doing something the very opposite of what we wish to do: to empower. 

If we begin from an understanding that development or education are about adding on and cramming in then we easily slip into an expert role whereby we know what’s best and we can plan for the development of a community or the education of people.

If, however, we think of development and education as unwrapping, unfolding, drawing out and leading out then we end up in a decidedly different relationship with those we are working with.  We end up as co-facilitators on journeys of discovery.  We end up as sometimes teacher/sometimes learner.  We begin to ask: “who is the expert here?”  It just may not be us!

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Book Review: Chaos Point 2012 and Beyond

Born in Hungary, educated at the Sorbonne, taught at Universities throughout US, Europe and Asia, Ervin Laszlo is passionate about humans using their collective consciousness to avoid global disaster and to be able to strive for a sustainable planet.
“Chaos Point 2012 and Beyond”  bluntly reminds us that we have a choice.  We either breakthrough to a new society or we breakdown and collapse.  What’s more, says Laszlo, we only have a short window of opportunity to determine which path we will take.  Using the now well-known Mayan calendar (supposedly having the World ending on 21 December 2012) as his reference point, Laszlo clearly points to this “window of decision” being now – right now!
The book is a compelling clarion call for us to use our individual and collective consciousness to tip the balance in favour of breakthrough.  Chaos is used deliberately in the title to refer to the theory of chaos.  That theory suggests that systems can become chaotic just before they bi-furcate and enter a new state of stability.  The tipping point from one state to the next can be, and often is, a tiny perturbation and the outcome cannot readily be predicted ahead of time.
Laszlo suggests that the Earth and human society is currently undergoing a period of chaotic instability and uncertainty.  On the one hand this instability could (especially if we continue on a business-as-usual path) breakdown into: devastating climatic change; air, soil and water deterioration; high levels of poverty; infectious epidemics; an expanded scale and scope of terrorism and organised crime; heightened levels of anxiety and fear, leading to greater repression. 
Or, instead of breakdown, we could breakthrough to: measures that safeguard the environment; the creation of effective food and resource distribution; greater levels of trust and respect.  In short, we could enter a period of true development, sustainability and social justice.
Normally in a chaotic system the outcome emerging from small fluctuations cannot be predicted.  Laszlo notes, however, that we have consciousness and the wise use of that may be the one perturbation that makes all the difference.  He contends that “conscious members of the social system can grasp the nature of the evolutionary processes that unfold around them and can purposefully intervene… They can tip the system toward the evolution that is line with their hopes and expectations.”
As a former Professor of Philosophy, Systems Science and Futures Studies and founder of Worldshift[1], Laszlo brings a cogent and coherent understanding of systems theory and sustainability to this slim (it’s only about 150 pages long) yet comprehensive volume.
If you are concerned with where we have been, where we are and where we are going and want to know how we got here and how we can get to a better place; then get a hold of this book, read it and help tip the balance.

[1] WorldShift 2012 is a global social network dedicated to sustainable transformation and conscious evolution. 

Friday 23 March 2012


Throughout the world over the past year or two there have been calls for change.  From Spain and Greece in Europe to Northern Africa and the Middle East (the Arab Spring), from India to Russia, most of them organised by groups wanting greater democracy.  Political leaders in Eastern Europe in the late 80s and early 90s heard the same cries.
Underlying these cries are the same human desires, no matter what language it is shouted in.  The desire to be heard; the desire to have a real say in the decisions that affect us; the desire to be fairly represented.
Yet, as the voices are clamouring for change we are turning out to vote in ever decreasing numbers.  Since the mid-80s voter turn-out in New Zealand elections has been steadily decreasing throughout the Western World.  In 1984 the turn-out of voters in the national election was 89%.  Since then it has progressively declined, with less than 74% of voters turning out in the 2011 elections.  The last time it had been that low was over 100 years ago. 
In Australia, where voting is compulsory, the 2010 elections yielded a turnout of 93.2%, the lowest since the 1950s.  Voter disenchantment in Australia is further evidenced by a high percentage of invalid votes cast; 5.6% (the highest percentage since 1984).
Even that champion of democracy, the USA, has shown a steady decline from a low turnout to an extremely low turnout.  In the US Federal elections held in a non-Presidential election year the turnout has declined from 48% in 1966 to just 38% in 2010.  In Presidential election years a similar trend exists – down from 63% in 1960 (when John F Kennedy was elected) to 57% in 2008.
Many will dismiss this as voter apathy and hence the solution is more advertising, better education, greater promotion.  But what if apathy is not the problem?  What if the reasons are found in increasing distrust and disappointment in elected members and a growing desire for genuine participation in the decisions that affect us?  Politicians worldwide are distrusted.  Even in New Zealand (rated one of the least corrupt in the World) politicians came in at 39th of 40 professions in the Readers Digest survey on trustworthiness in 2008 and 2010.  They didn’t even make the list in 2011.  In the UK a recent (March 2012) Hansard Society Audit of Political Engagement found that 3 in 4 people said that they distrusted politicians.
Concurrent with this growing disenchantment with our democracy the 20th Century saw a number of crises emerge and come to a head: climate change, the glaring gap between rich and poor, warfare and terrorism, rampant consumerism, peak oil, reduced gene diversity.  Can electoral democracy cope with these complex issues in the 21st Century?
At the very time that we need greater diversity in our thinking and decision-making processes we have less and less interest in voting and less diversity of representation in our public decision-making bodies.
Can our electoral democracy cope with these 21st Century pressures?   Are our elected leaders able to provide answers to the issues that face us?  Are they able to adequately represent us?  Look at our elected members.  Can you recall your local hairdresser being elected?  What about the plumber?  But we can all be reminded of the numbers of business and union heads, lawyers and media/sports personalities who grace Capital Hill or the Beehive and local Council Chambers.  Hardly representative.  Yet, wasn’t that the promise of MMP in New Zealand.  Certainly we now have a greater range of political parties represented, but the names on the Party Lists are still selected by the Party machinery - not by Joe and Josephine Voter.
When we stop to seriously consider how much we participate in our democracy we are faced with the disturbing answer: almost none.  Is the opportunity to tick a couple of boxes ten or twenty times in our lifetime the extent of our participation?  Is that our lot?  Or can we put our name forward to be chosen by lot?
A new democratic model is being mapped out in various settings around the World.  Actually, it’s not so new; it has its roots in Athenian democracy.  Yes, the same Athenian democracy that our present representative and electoral democracy is said to be based on.  The Athenians used a variety of methods to choose their leaders and decision-makers; one of the most common was that of drawing lots, otherwise known as sortition.  Much like the selection of juries, sortition has recently (in the past 30-40 years) been experimented with, successfully, in Canada, the US, Germany, Italy and right here in Australia.  In fact, one of the seminal books on this subject was written by John Burnheim, former Professor of General Philosophy at Sydney University.  Burnheim used the term “demarchy” to describe a political system based on randomly selected groups of decision-makers. 
All systems have their inherent flaws and it would be dishonest to present demarchy as the saviour of humanity or even as a political utopia.  However, it does have several enticing elements that make it worth considering as the next step in our democratic journey.  The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that it has the potential to ensure that decision-makers are much more representative than at present.  Selected decision-makers are also less likely to be subject to political pressure or expediency as no-one is able to predict who will be selected.  It makes it possible for someone to become a decision-maker without having to be rich or famous enough to afford or gain the self-promotion.  A further great benefit is that civic skills and knowledge become learnt by more and more people within a wider number of communities than is presently the case. 
Sortition brings with it a greater diversity of backgrounds, thinking, experience and skills.  It brings with it the “common sense” of all of us, rather than the (largely illusory) expertise of bureaucratic and political elites.  As Einstein remarked “the significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.  The problems facing us today have mostly been created during a time of increasing concentration of the mechanisms of public decision-making in bureaucracies and political elites.
Can it work?  Experience around the world suggests that it can.  One of the best examples is that of the Peoples Verdict, sponsored by Macleans (the national weekly current affairs magazine in Canada) in 1991.  Macleans brought together 12 randomly selected Canadians for three days of dialogue and decision-making.  Knowing nothing of each other and coming from a diverse background with differing views they were given the task of coming up with a vision for the future of Canada.  Macleans was so impressed with the exercise that it devoted its entire 1 July 1991 edition to an explanation of the process, the participants and the outcome.  The final document covered a raft of issues from education to the economy, from individual rights to government and the Constitution.  Notwithstanding their prior differences and backgrounds all 12 participants enthusiastically signed the document.
At a time when we are facing complex and diverse issues as well as a demand for better representation, demarchy is deserving of attention.  Certainly our present form of representative democracy is an improvement on the feudal, aristocratic and monarchic systems of previous centuries.  It is also preferable to many of the tyrannies and oligarchic systems that exist in the world.  However, it can and should be improved.  Demarchy offers a greater opportunity for citizens to participate in the decisions that affect them.  Indeed, there are suggestions that better decisions may be made.
© Bruce Meder 2012