The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Community Development: Vocation, Profession or Occupation?

When I stumbled across the term “community development” in the 1970s it was exciting.  Here was a collegial group with a body of knowledge, a strong sense of community values and the espoused goal of social change.

Community Development workers and theorists unashamedly advocated for and worked with those sectors of society that were disadvantaged, disempowered or marginalised.  Community Development was a vocation in the sense of a calling.  From the Latin vocatus (calling), a vocation originally was applied to the likes of a “religious calling.”  It has a sense of life’s purpose or at least a sense whereby what one did, one did for the betterment of society, for something greater than oneself.

As Community Development grew it became a profession.  In common with other professions, Community Development established a cognitive base, collegial support and mentoring, professional training and a commitment to excellence.

Profession derives from the Latin professus – “arrived”, or “having declared publicly.”  Community Development workers publicly professed a commitment to equity, community empowerment and social change.

With the training came qualifications and the emergence of community development “experts” along with salaried positions in government departments and other bureaucracies.  In and of itself, this development was not too contentious.  What did cheapen and undermine the vocation of community development though were two attendant phenomena.

Over the past decade or two there appears to have been a shift in the motivation of some of those entering the practice of community development.  Many still enter with a sense of a calling, there are many who are true professionals.  But, what is alarming is that for some Community Development is nothing but an occupation.

Allied to this, and possibly stimulating it, is the take-over of Community Development by a management or business mentality.  This mentality reduces Community Development to nothing more than a means by which communities are presented with some semblance of engagement yet remain excluded from resources and power.

So what sort of activity is Community Development?  Is it a vocation, a profession or an occupation?

Let’s re-discover our calling.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Age of Wars

During World War 1 Hermann Hesse wrote that “…peace is nobler than war, this exactly is what this unholy World War should burn into our memories, more so than ever before.”  Following that war and as a protest against German militarism, Hesse moved to Switzerland in self-imposed exile where he lived until his death in 1962.

In his final, futuristic, book The Glass Bead Game1 he has his central character looking back on “the Age of Wars … which began with … the First World War.”

This year (2013) is the 100th year since that First World War began in 1914.  Let’s see what happened in those 100 years since that war, trumpeted as the “war to end all wars.”

Well – it didn’t.  Wars did not end after 1918.  There was a slight hiatus during the following decade (the 1920s), but during those 100 years there was hardly a year that went past without a major war or armed conflict somewhere in the world.  The timeline below shows just a small proportion of the wars and armed conflicts that occurred from 1914 to 2013.

Age of Wars graphic
  1. Japan-Manchuria
  2. China-Tibet
  3. Chinese Civil War
  4. Korean War
  5. Soviet Union-Ukraine
  6. Stalin purges (Soviet Union)
  7. India-Pakistan
  8. China (Great Leap Forward)
  9. China (Cultural Revolution)
  10. Cambodia (Khmer Rouge)

In a previous post I wondered whether we had learnt anything from history.  The graph below suggests that we may, finally, be turning the corner on our use of violence to solve political or social issues.

Graph of death in war

Early in the century it appeared that the “war to end all wars” may have done just that.  The 1920s saw few wars and a much reduced number of deaths.  But it was short-lived.  In the following four decades well over 100 million people were killed as a result of war or other armed conflicts.  Those four decades saw some of the most horrific armed conflicts of the century – WW II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Stalin’s pogroms in the Soviet Union.

Have we learnt then?  Have we discovered that the use of violence in any form does not solve our socio-political issues?  Have we realised that violence only creates more violence?  Maybe.

There are, however, a couple of blips that stem the optimism of a peaceful future.

First, warfare is becoming depersonalised and remote with more and more innocents bearing the deadly cost.  The use of drones is but the latest example of this.  The proportion of civilians amongst the dead has increased dramatically.  At the beginning of the century 9% of armed conflict fatalities were civilians.  By the end of the century this had sadly risen to 90%.

The other blip is that the threat of violence seems greater.  Terrorism was rarely a part of our vocabulary until the latter half of the century.  It wasn’t until the first decade of the 21st Century that the “War on Terror” became one of the phrases of the decade.  Therein lies the danger ahead.  The idea that terrorism can be overcome by declaring war on it is seriously flawed.

Peter Ustinov has said that “Terrorism is the war of the poor.  War is the terrorism of the rich.” So true.  Violence by any other name will still be violence.

Was Hermann Hesse right to prophetically label it the Age of Wars?  Labelling it thus suggests that war is what distinguished the age, and that future ages would be peaceful in contrast.  Let us hope so.

1. The Glass Bead Game, first published in German in 1943.  Quote from the Vintage edition, 2000, p 332.

Friday 19 April 2013

Learning From Experience

Myles Horton
In 1986 I had the good fortune to meet and attend a talk by Myles Horton, then 81 years old.  Even at that venerable age he beamed and smiled with bright and twinkling eyes.

Myles Horton was one of the most effective and influential community educators the world has seen.  Horton had studied theology but discovered that oppressed peoples needs went beyond those of religion.  People wanted to make sense of their lives, understand their environment and learn how to make changes for the good.

Horton became an educator – but not a traditional one.  He decided, much like Paulo Freire (with whom he had a friendship), to begin with peoples’ own stories.  He went on to establish the Highlander Research and Education Centre in his native Tennessee.  One of his pupils, Rosa Parks, went on to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott and thus play an important role in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Back to the story of attending a talk by this remarkable man.  In a room of about 60 people Myles spoke engagingly.  Halfway through his talk he stunned me with these words:
“You know, people say that we learn from our experiences.  I say that we don’t.  We only learn from the experiences we learn from.”
What on earth was he saying?  Was it just hyperbole?  As he spoke further I began to understand his meaning.

Of course – we don’t learn just because we’ve had an experience.  Otherwise why would we often repeat bad or misguided experiences?  Horton was saying that in order to learn from our experiences we had to do so in a conscious manner.  In other words, we must ask ourselves: what did I learn from this experience?  Then we have to be open to what that critical enquiry is really telling us.

The skill, or art, of critical thinking must be in the toolbox of any Community Development Worker or Educator.  If community development has a goal of a more just, more equitable, more sustainable world then we must learn to reflect critically upon our experiences.

Three questions allow us to consciously reflect upon our experience:
  • What happened?  (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually)
  • How did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
Today, learning from our experience is of utmost importance.  “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” Sir Winston Churchill once quipped.  As I watch the news, with it’s reports of bombings, wars, famine and disease, it seems that we continue to repeat history.
“… people say that we learn from our experiences.  I say that we don’t.  We only learn from the experiences we learn from.”
Thank you Myles Horton. 

Myles Horton died in 1990 at the age of 84.

Monday 15 April 2013

Headband Game

Photo: Auberon (Creative Commons)
Community Development is often very close to Community Education in it’s objectives especially when it comes to helping communities to understand the influences and expectations placed upon them.  When we participate in groups – our family, a community organisation, our local neighbourhood, our nation or even at an international level we unconsciously (sometime consciously) assign roles to others in the group.  Here is a simulation game designed to help us explore and understand the dynamics of role expectations.  I first came across this game in the 1970s.

This works well with a group of around 12-15 participants.  Ahead of time the facilitator prepares sufficient headbands made from cardboard.  Each headband has printed upon it (felt pen is best) an unique role and brief explanation of how other participants should react to that role.  For example, the headbands could be:
  • EXPERT.  Ask my advice.
  • COMEDIAN. Laugh at me.
  • V.I.P.  Defer to me.
  • HELPLESS.  Give me assistance.
  • FOOLISH.  Dismiss me.
  • BULLY.  Back down from me.
  • BOSS.  Obey me.
  • etc., etc.
The roles could be written for a specific setting.  For example, suppose you (the facilitator) are working with a group working with homeless people.  Then you might have: HOMELESS PERSON, ADMINISTRATOR, FUNDER, POLITICIAN, CLERGY, REPORTER etc., with appropriate brief explanations.

When everyone is assembled the facilitator places an headband upon each participant so that they cannot read it but so that others can easily do so.  A topic for discussion is then introduced (e.g. providing lodgings for people on the street).  Each person is told to interact with others naturally – i.e. not role-playing.

The other participants are to react to others according to what is on that persons headband.  They are not to tell people what is on their headband though. 

Allow the discussion to proceed for around 20 minutes and then stop the discussion.  Participants are then asked to guess what is on each of their headbands and then take them off to read them.

Discussion can then take place around the experiences that participants had in the game.  Some possible prompt questions include:
  • What were some of the pressures experienced when trying to be yourself, yet subject to role expectation?
  • How did it feel to be misinterpreted?
  • Did the way you interacted change because of the role expectations of others?
  • How significant is role expectation within society?
Make sure that participants adequately debrief and do not take on the persona of the headband that they were assigned.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher R.I.P.

Photo: Reagan & Thatcher, Buenos Aires by willposh
The “Iron Lady” of UK and world politics died earlier this week.  Margaret Thatcher was one of the political architects of neo-liberal globalisation.  It may seem strange, therefore, that I am acknowledging her passing on this blog.

However, one of the values that we must constantly espouse is that every person is worthy of acknowledgement irrespective of their beliefs or deeds.  If we are to find ways out of the many complex problems that encircle us then we must be able to accept one another.  We must be prepared not just to speak our own ideas and thoughts, we must also be willing to listen to and try to understand the ideas and thoughts of others.

Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US can be thought of as the international architects of the political framework for globalisation.  Was that framework misguided in intent?  I cannot know that.  If I did, would it be helpful to apportion blame?

Globalisation admittedly has brought benefits.  World wide communication and the sharing of information is now available to us at the push of a button or the click of a mouse.  It has opened up the cultural mix that enriches global humanity.

Regrettably globalisation has also been a failure in many ways.  Neo-liberal globalisation has brought with it the most massive shift in wealth from large sections of society to an elite 1% of the world’s population.  It has seen the world’s resources gobbled up at an alarming rate.  Globalisation has contributed directly and indirectly to environmental degradation and climate change.

According to Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and others governments were too heavily involved in the market and had to remove themselves.  Thus, one of the pillars of the Washington Consensus was privatisation.

Many economists are now questioning this view, led notably by Joseph Stiglitz, ex Chief Economist at the World Bank and 2001 Nobel Prize winner.  Stiglitz noted that part of the failure was due to to an…
“…(assumption) that markets arise quickly to meet every need, when in fact, many government activities arise because markets have failed to provide essential services.”1
With the passing of one of globalisation’s architects it is time to acknowledge her life and to reflect on the legacy that she has left.  It is not too late to realise that some of the assumptions that she and others were working with in the 1980s and 1990s have led to failure.  It is possible to rectify these mistakes.  Is the political will there?

1. Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and it’s Discontents, WW Norton & Co., New York, 2002, p55.

Wednesday 3 April 2013


Source: Creative Commons
When, in 1971, John Lennon sang that "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one" he was far from wrong.  Lennon was dreaming of a peaceful, equitable and harmonious world - a dream that many dreamers have had over the years.

Many social leaders began with very specific dreams.  For example, many of us can recite Martin Luther King Jr's famous four words: "I have a dream."  King went on to describe his dream of equality vividly.  He described the state of Mississippi as becoming an "oasis of freedom and justice."  He dreamt that children would one day "not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."

Others, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, keep their dreams alive.  "Freedom and democracy are dreams you never give up" she declared.

Then there are the dreamers that get us to ask questions.  Who can forget the words of John F Kennedy when speaking to the Irish Parliament in June 1963:
"There are those that look at things the way they are and ask why.  I dream of things that never were and ask - why not?"
Admittedly, Kennedy was paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw (in his play Back to Methuselah), but his dream inspired many and continues to do so.  His younger brother, Robert F Kennedy, repeated the dream in his 1968 campaign for the Presidential nomination.

It has also been said (by Carl Sandburg) that nothing would ever happen if it hadn't first been dreamt by someone.  Furthermore, Black Elk (a famous Sioux holy man) suggested that "sometimes dreams are wiser than waking."

Today, more than ever, we need some wise dreams.  We need dreamers to dream them.  We also need realists.  Perhaps, as the US politician Paul Wellstone proposed "sometimes the only realists are the dreamers."

Then we may wake up to a world similar to the one that John Lennon imagined.
"I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one."