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 26 October 2012

Doing Good, Changing Worlds

Here are two quick questions:
  • Why do community groups and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) get involved in community development?
  • Why do people work for or volunteer for community groups and NGOs?
When I have asked these questions of community development workers, volunteers, NGO board members and others I get a variety of answers.  On the whole the responses boil down to two very simple one-line answers:
  • to do good, and
  • to change things.
These two answers can either enhance each other or they can hinder.  It’s all in the motivation of the responder.

Let’s look at things simply.  I know that it’s not quite as simple as I’m about to make out, but it does give us a starting point.

When we want to get involved in community work “to do some good” we need to do so aware that there is a danger that our primary motivation is the personal satisfaction we get from helping someone.  When our motivation is too much determined by our own need for approval then the danger is that we lose sight of the real needs of the person or people we are espousing to do good for.

Some developmental work can also display this form of acting.  Communities and neighbourhoods have something done to them or for them with the decision as to what that is made by an external agency without regard to the thoughts, ideas or even the wish of the community.

These actions are easily spotted in newspaper photographs and stories all over the world.  A high ranking official, a politician or a celebrity is seen in front of some new, often costly, development.  They are seen smiling and beaming, perhaps with scissors at the ready or spade in hand.  Off to the side of the photograph may be a representative of the community that is to be “helped” by the project.

Yes, it smacks a little of chauvinism doesn’t it?

On the other hand, if our primary motivation is to change the world then we can be in danger of doing so with little regard to the means by which we do so.  In doing this we again lose sight of the needs of those for whom we are seeking the change.  Decisions can easily be taken in terms of the goals we seek or the resolution of the problem.  The cliché is of course, that the ends justify the means.

Both motivations, unfortunately, can help to further entrench the very issues or situations we are attempting to solve or help overcome.  When a person is given a hand-out instead of a hand-up then we set up situations of dependence, co-dependence, disempowerment and ultimately nothing changes.

In other words, the very thing we seek can in fact be made less attainable.

Unthinking passion can be just as damaging as unfeeling rationality.  What we need is passionate thinking and rational emotionality.

Centuries of Western philosophy attempting to separate mind from body and rationality from feeling has made this a difficult path to discover.  For, like the fish trying to describe water, our cultural backgrounds and belief systems are so pervasive that we often don’t recognise them, let alone understand them.

So, how do we find a way in which our head and heart can work in tandem?  Can we find a way in which our desire to do good can be assisted by our understanding of how our actions affect the world and those we work with?

Here are some ideas for us all to consider in our reflections on why and how we work:
  • Recognise that there is no external issue or problem or person.  Everything is inter-connected.
  • As much as we can act to resolve an issue or solve a problem we need to also work on our own feelings, perceptions and understandings.
  • Start with an open mind.  Beginning with a fixed idea as to what the solution is leads to error.
  • Accept that none of us have all the pieces to the puzzle, that we don’t need to work on the whole puzzle, but that there will be others working on other bits of it.
  • Learn as you go, pick up techniques, tools and methods.  Be like the carpenter with a bag of tools.  The more tools the carpenter has the better placed he or she is to help fix a situation.  The key is to be able to know which tool to use in which situation and how to use the tool wisely.
  • Realise also that failure is an excellent opportunity for learning.  Consciously search for the learning in the experience. 
  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Even though you may have a full toolkit there will always be a situation in which none of the tools work. 
  • Understand that whatever we do there will be consequences.  Some of those we may be able to foretell, others we will have no prior knowledge of in which case we need to master forbearance and tolerance.
  • Further understand that no matter what we do, there will always be someone else or something else that also has an effect upon what we are trying to do.
  • Constantly question our motivation.  Are we doing this because of our own wants and needs?  Have we fully considered the needs of those we want to assists and have we included them in the decision-making?

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