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.

Monday 30 September 2013

Feedback wanted. One hundred posts and counting.

I began this blogsite (Rainbow Juice) about one and a half years ago.  At the time I thought that I might be able to post items to it for a few months,  I am surprised that there are now just over 100 postings and that I’m still finding topics to write about.

The milestone of 100 postings brings with it a wish on my part to get some feedback from you, the reader.  I’m keen to discover what you think of the site, what you like, what you don’t like.

I’ve left a comment box at the end for you to add any other comments that you wish.  Please do so.
Here is the link to the Survey Monkey questionnaire.  It is short and shouldn’t take too long to fill in.

In the meantime, thank you for visiting the site.  I certainly hope that you have found it of interest, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months. 

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Freedom Now!

F..R..E..E..D..O..M.  What’s that spell? Freedom!  When do we want it? Now!

The cry for freedom has rung out over the centuries.  Many social justice campaigners call for freedom.  Freedom occasionally gets listed amongst the goals of Community Development.

But, what is freedom?  In today's neo-liberal climate freedom seems to be equated with “let me do what I want, when I want, how I want, without outside interference.”  Such a notion of freedom is highly individualistic.  This voice of freedom begins and ends with me, the ego.  It shouts: “I want, I need, I get.”

This individualised freedom quickly leads to:
  • economic exploitation,
  • environmental degradation,
  • lack of regard for social responsibility, and
  • a belief that inequality is OK, even justified.
Yet this is not always how freedom has been posited.  Many of the early philosophers of freedom recognised that freedom required a freedom from domination, exploitation and injustice.

Borrowing from some of these early philosophers, freedom came to embrace the call for independence in many settings; from the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence to the feminist and indigenous rights movements of the latter half of the 20th Century.
These calls for independence recognised that domination and exploitation were impediments to freedom.  Understanding that necessitates a rejection of the highly individualistic notions of the present neo-liberal slant on freedom.

Many of those now working within social justice settings, and more especially in environmental fields, are now understanding freedom in other ways.  Underlying the new thinking on freedom is the growing awareness of the inter-relatedness, the inter-dependence and the mutual co-existence of all things.

With this understanding there is no possibility of an individual detached from their surroundings or environment.  Nor can there be independence, for everything is connected to everything else.

So, in a world of inter-dependence and inter-being (to borrow Thich Nhat Hahn’s term) what does it mean to call for freedom?

Simply, it means recognising and accepting this inter-connectivity and understanding that one persons freedom is conditional upon that of all others.

A further word that in many peoples minds is a synonym for freedom is the term liberty.  Today, we must understand liberty to mean not just a liberation from the domination and exploitation of others, it must also mean liberation from out-dated, unhelpful ideas, concepts and world-views.

It means letting go of our sense of the independent, ego-centric self.  Doing that allows us to transcend and incorporate both the desire for independence, yet appreciate our uniqueness.  When we do so we might truly claim to be free.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Weighing The Pig (Four Problems with Accountability)

There is a disturbing practice that is appearing more and more within the community development and social service fields.  It goes under the rubric of “accountability.”  Being accountable for one’s actions is necessary, however, being hamstrung by innumerable, frequent and often ill-advised measurements and forms of accountability is neither necessary nor warranted.  Accountability is not a problem, unless one or more of the following issues become involved.

Hindering Results

For many community organisations the undue accountability requirements of funders, government agencies and politicians is one of their biggest sources of frustration.  The requirements of accountability can be time consuming, a drain on resources and, more importantly, a diversion from the core work of the organisation.

Garth Nowland-Foreman, a New Zealand based researcher and educator in NGO work, has commented that
“…even when accountability requirements are perfectly aligned with organizational mission, it can subtly sideline and shift responsibility away from “legitimate” governance structures of the organisation’s board and members. (This)... is likely to expose the organisation over the longer term to greater risk of accountability failure.”1
This over-exuberance for accountability has been likened to spending so much time weighing the pig, that there is little time left for fattening the pig.

So, are accountability requirements putting in jeopardy the very outcomes that those requiring accountability are seeking?  Sadly, the answer could be “yes!”

Valuing the Wrong Skills

For many community based organisations one of their prime objectives is to increase community participation and engagement in civil society.  They may achieve this through a parents and toddlers playgroup, an art therapy course or an alternative education school for disengaged youth.  Irrespective of the outward appearance, all are attempting to engage people in their respective communities.

Yet, as a one-day workshop at Oxford University in 2011 reported, participatory skills and results “are increasingly less valued than the ability to set targets, monitor progress against plans and report ‘results delivered’ in quantitative terms.”2

Top-Down Approach

The requirement by funders, government agencies and politicians for greater accountability on the part of NGOs displays a worrisome imbalance, verging on dysfunctional, in the relationship between them.  By forcing NGOs to adopt particular accountability measures funders and others display a lack of trust in NGOs.  This is the age-old mentality of we-know-what’s-best that ignores the possibility that NGOs know themselves what it is that they are trying to achieve and how to go about monitoring their performance in achieving that.

Neglecting the Long-Term

In the world of social relationships and complex inter-connections results of interventions can take years, sometimes decades, to become manifest.  Indeed, results may not be noticeable until well after the programme or project has been completed and years after the last of the funder’s dollars has been spent.

A story about a Chinese diplomat comes to mind.  At dinner one evening, a French diplomat seated next to him decides to engage in small talk.  “Tell me, Monsieur” he says, “do you think the French Revolution was a success?”

The Chinese diplomat sits back in his chair, thinks for a few seconds and then slowly responds “hmmm… too early to tell.”

Let us not get too excited about weighing the pig.  Let’s fatten it up first.3

1. Nowland-Foreman, Garth. Dangerous Accountabilities: remaking Voluntary Organisations in Someone Else’s Image, paper presented to the 29th Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organisations and Voluntary Action, New Orleans, 16-18 November 2000. p5.
2. A perfect storm: what happens to women in the context of the perverse incentives of development aid funding, A one-day workshop convened at Oxford University, 5 February 2011.
3. With apologies to Animal Rights Activists.  This is a metaphor only.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Illiteracy of Nonviolence

How peacefully literate are we?  Listening to a recent talk by Stuart Rees1 prompted me to ponder this question.  Stuart Rees had suggested that our literacy of peace was almost non-existent, whereas in matters of war and armed conflict we are extremely literate.

I decided to check.  Where I live there are just two main bookshops.  One is a low-price, middle-of-the-road bookstore, the other is one of the major bookseller chains.

In the first, I counted 113 different books with the theme of war or armed conflict.  There were just four (4) books that could be related to nonviolent means of conflict resolution.  Three were biographies of Nelson Mandela’s life and one was by the Nobel Peace Laureate, Thich Nhat Hanh.

The other bookstore had just one book that I could find that spoke of peace or non-aggressive means of resolving conflict.  Waging Peace is the memoir of a remarkable Australian journalist, social commentator and film-maker.  Anne Deveson wrote the book because:
“…when I went to London in July 2000 to attend a big international conference on War and Peace and I found all the emphasis was on war, rather than peace. In the section where books and articles were on sale, 111 titles were on war, only three on peace.”2
In that bookshop that stocked the one solitary copy of her book there were no less than 81 books (many that had multiple copies) dealing with war and violence.

If that is representative of what is written and what is read, then what chance is there of those leading our nations obtaining a literacy of nonviolence?

Yet, there are a number of examples of nonviolent approaches to conflict.  Additional to those mentioned above we can think of: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Te Whiti o Rongomai, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell and the anonymous “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square.  Before too long we have to do some serious thinking in order to add to the list.

These practitioners and prophets of nonviolent conflict resolution are remembered as much for the fact that there are few of them, as much as for their wisdom and compassion.  They are part of the small number of candles burning in a dark cave of warfare, terrorism and violence.

Tellingly, when asked to think of those associated with warfare then many names spring to mind: Hitler, Churchill, General Patton, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Osama bin Laden, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush (both of them), Mugabe, Idi Amin, Milosevic, Tito, Mussolini, George Custer, Ho Chi Minh, Tony Blair…..  Adding to this list does not take too much intellectual effort.  There are dozens of biographies of each of these adding substantially to the literature of armed conflict.

So where do we go to find the literacy of nonviolence?  I have a number of such books in my collection.  Few of them, though, were found in the average bookshop.  Often they have been sought from specialist bookshops or via determined Internet searches on Amazon and the like.

The other source of nonviolent literacy seems to be in the experiences, writings and learnings of parenting courses, small scale activist groups, mentoring organisations and other community based programmes and projects.  The wonderful insights and learnings from these and other groups do not yet seem to be translating into the mindsets of national leaders.

1. Stuart Rees is the Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.
2. In answer to an interview question from Stephanie Dowrick (co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club) who asked: Was there any particular moment in which you knew, "I have to write this"?

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Thoughts on Bullying

Bullying has been gaining a lot of attention over the past few years.  The rise of social media has brought with it an increase in bullying.  In past years young people could be bullied at school for five or six hours a day for five days a week.  Now, however, cyber-bullying means that young people can be the target of bullying 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Of the solutions put forward, many suggest that there is a need for political leaders to act in some way.  More legislation, more education, more of what politicians do – make decisions.  I for one do not have any magic solutions but I do have an observation to make about how political leaders might act.  The greatest contribution that political leaders and politicians generally could make towards helping to reduce bullying is to stop acting the way they do.

Politics seems to bring with it an acceptance, maybe even an encouragement of bullying behaviour.  How often do we see on our television news scenes of one politician or another deriding, often using derogatory language, a politician of another political faction.  It seems to come with the territory.  If you are of Party Alpha then you must automatically denigrate, humiliate and attack those in Party Omega.

Of course, this is not confined to politicians.  The media itself focuses on these bullying moments and may, by doing so, actively encourage the behaviour.  Even more, the media can, in unscrupulous hands, bully its readership.  the current Australian election campaign is a perfect example of this.  The media Barron and tycoon, Rupert Murdoch owns a number of Australian newspapers.1  In the run up to the election many of his front-page headlines have been bullying the Australian voter into voting against the Labor Party led by Kevin Rudd.2  Hardly unbiased news reporting.

At a global level nation states have been bullying people around the world for centuries.  Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries and continuing into the 20th Century European nations bullied the indigenous peoples of Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas.  Following World War II the British, French and Americans bullied Pacific Island peoples with their nuclear weapons testing programmes.

State led bullying has not abated in the 21st Century.  As I write this the US is planning strikes on Syria seemingly having learnt nothing from the invasion of Iraq in 2003.3

No wonder children and young people grow up with minds attuned to bullying and behaviours that state “I’m gonna show you who’s boss!!”  They learn it from their parents, from their politicians, from their nation’s foreign policy.

1. Via News Corp Rupert Murdoch owns at least 16 newspapers including The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, The Advertiser and over 100 community suburban newspapers.
2. The most notorious of these headlines appeared on the front page of the Daily Telegraph on 5 August 2013: “Finally you now have the chance to…KICK THIS MOB OUT” – those last four words taking up 1/4 of the space on the front page.
3. I know that some would claim that the Syrian government is bullying it’s own people thus justifying the strike.  No!  One playground bully bullying another does not make it anything other than bullying.