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 27 August 2014

How to Change the World

As community development workers and those working for social justice we see things that are unjust or harmful.  We want to change the world.  How do we do that?

The first lesson for those who want to change the world is to realise the paradox that we can’t change the world.  So, do we just give up?  No, it’s all to do with ends and means.

We can’t change the world if our intention is to change others, to change the way in which others think or to change what others believe.

Years ago, soon after I had begun working in the fields of community development and social justice I found myself participating in various campaign meetings or networking forums.  What I heard often disturbed me.  There were instances of personal attacks and people telling others what they should do or what they should think.  I began to wonder why it was that this group of people who all espoused a better, more peaceful and just society could not behave well with one another.

It was only years later that I began to understand how to answer that question for myself.  Many of us seeking a better world are looking forward to that better world being in the future.  Therein lies our second mistake.  The better world will be if we allow it to be right here and now.  That means that we must act as if we already live in the better world of our dreams.

Before I am misunderstood to be recommending the “you can’t change anything unless you first change yourself” let me assert that that is not what I am suggesting.

The “change yourself first” notion is the third mistake.  The mistake is to assume that we are all individual and disconnected selves.  We are inter-connected beings.  Thich Nhat Hahn calls us inter-beings.  Thus, we must find ways to act now both as individuals and as connected beings.  That should be our quest.  For, until we are able to do that we will not be able to change ourselves, and we certainly will not be able to change the world – not in the future, nor in the now.

The fourth mistake and lesson that we need to learn is that we cannot convince, coerce, force or bully someone else or some other community into adopting our beliefs, ideas, or ways of behaving.  Indeed, attempting to do so may stimulate the opposite reaction.

Saying and Doing

What we say and what we do can also send mixed messages and it is our behaviour that often gets the attention of others.  A recent study from Harvard University found that almost 80% of middle and high school students ranked achievement and the pursuit of individual happiness above that of caring for others.  Ninety-six percent of their parents however said that they wanted to raise ethical, caring children.  What was going on?  The parents were acting in ways that suggested that achievement was the greater value, even though they told their children that compassion was important. 

We can behave in such a way that the other may come to accept that our way may be better for the world.  Equally, we may come to realise that the other person or community may be behaving in a way more conducive of a better world.

So, what am I advocating?
  • Inviting others into dialogue and joining in dialogues with others,
  • Acting in compassionate ways when we witness injustice, to both the victim and the perpetrator,
  • Discovering the true meaning of forgiveness,
  • Practicing empathy,
  • Making our speech and our behaviour congruent,
  • Being open and honest in our relationships
  • Having the courage to change our minds and ways of thinking,
  • Accepting that everyone brings an unique perspective and that no-one of us has all the answers,
  • Sharing our skills, knowledge and resources,
  • Promoting inclusive and open decision-making processes,
  • Encouraging others in their quest for honest empowerment,
  • Continue to be curious and open to making mistakes.
By adopting these traits and ways of being in the here and now, we can change the world.

Monday 18 August 2014


We’ve done it again.  Every year since the mid 1960s we have done it.  We have overshot.  We have taken more than we have given. 

In the next day or so (posted on 18 August 2014) we will exceed the earth’s capacity to rejuvenate or replenish what we have used up since the first of January.  Overshoot Day is a symbolic day that indicates the rate at which we use up the earth’s resources without the earth being able to replenish that use.

It’s a bit like getting your year’s salary on 1 January and then exhausting it by 20 August.  From the 21st of August you go into overdraft.

What’s more – we’ve been going into overdraft at an earlier and earlier date each year (see table at right).  In the early 1960s we never reached overdraft, in fact, metaphorically, we were able to save a little.  But, since then, we have rapidly expended our biocapable income.  We have spent without a thought given to those to come.  Rather like spending the inheritance that we had planned for our children or grandchildren.

Collapse may come even earlier than in our grandchildren's era.  We may be in for a terrible shock sooner than we think.  Looking around on the surface it is easy to lull ourselves into a false sense of security.  The earth still provides – doesn’t it?  There are plenty of resources still to be used and found – aren’t there?

Systems don’t work quite like that though.  Have a look at this graph:

The bold dashed black line represents the earth’s carrying capacity and the solid red line represents our consumption.  Even as the carrying capacity begins to fall, consumption continues to grow and we continue to celebrate our domination over nature, we continue to espouse economic growth as the saviour of all our ills.

Eventually, however, resources and renewables become exhausted and consumption peaks and then drops rapidly.  The earth, and us with it, collapse.  Its all simple systems analysis.

Instead of continuing to strive for growth we must withdraw from continued high rates of consumerism.  We must once again become stewards.  We must act as guardians of our planet.  In short we must act response-ably.

In the coming years we must be seeking ways to ensure that overshoot day falls later and later in the year.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Deepening Community: A Review

Paul Born is an optimist – a joyful optimist.  He thinks that the world can be a better place.  In his latest book, Deepening Community, he asserts that the answer is very, very simple: “bring chicken soup to your neighbour.”
Furthermore, he believes that he knows how it can be a better place. 

With these words Born begins a 140 page journey into the possibility of community.  He shares stories from his own childhood and adulthood, stories from his neighbours, stories from his daughter and from 500 others.

Before setting off on this journey Born sought the insight of 2000 active members of Tamarack (the organisation in Canada that he directs) and received responses from 500 of them.  These responses helped form the basis of the book.

Born’s strength as a writer is that he has the ability to draw from these stories useful concepts, techniques and principles.  He does so with simplicity and clarity.

Noting that we live in challenging (and chaotic) times Born sees the possibility of community arising in three ways:
  • by turning away from others – shallow community.
  • by turning against others – fear-based community.
  • by turning towards others – creating deep community.
We have a choice he says.  It is no surprise that Born chooses the third of these options.  After briefly traversing the dysfunctional approaches of the first two options Born uses the book to uncover ways to deepen community.

For Born the conscious act of building community begins with story.  By sharing stories we discover our shared identity, we begin to understand one another, we celebrate and care for one another, and together we create a better world.  This simple process is described by Born through a series of five stories.  Each of the stories that he shares (be it his own, or Anita’s, Lucas’, Rita’s, Jill’s or Will’s) is packed with the full scope of human emotion and condition. 

Born’s knack is to draw out of each story half a dozen pieces of wisdom that help to deepen our understanding of community and how it is built.

Born’s book is simply written and, in just 140 pages, easily readable.  All in all, it is a joy to read.  Indeed, what are Born’s final words?
“And what is deep community?  It is the process of finding joy – much joy! – together.”

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The ABCD of Agency Advertising

Do you notice that the adverts of aid agencies or those seeking support for work with disadvantaged communities often feature people who are impoverished in some way?  Perhaps it is the child in Africa without access to clean water?  Maybe it is the person in a wheelchair in a western nation who is dependent upon a carer to feed them?

Each of these adverts pull at our heart-strings.  The agencies then hope that this tugs our wallet out of our pockets and we donate to the charity.

Of course the agencies and charities need funding to be able to continue their work.  But ads like these will never help break down the structural barriers that mean that these agencies have to exist at all.

The message contained in the adverts is one of “look at me, I am in despair, I am at your mercy.”  The message we are given is that the person in the advert - and presumably hundreds of others - has no skills, no assets, no creative ability.

In community development there is a concept known as ABCD – Asset Based Community Development.  Briefly, ABCD begins with discovering what the assets, skills, talents and abilities of a community are, and works from that base.  This is different to that of a needs-based approach, where the deficiencies and lacks of a community are the starting point.  The problem with the latter approach is that it views people and communities as inherently valueless.  People in this approach bring nothing with them to the process of development, they are dependent entirely on the expertise, skills and knowledge of the outside developer.

But, people, no matter what their situation, have skills, knowledge and talent.  Why not acknowledge that?  Why not utilise that?

This is not to say that those who are on the margins of society or those in situations of disadvantage are not in need of assistance.  But, it is not for the expert to judge what that need is.  It is not for the expert to devalue the person or community by advertising the neediness.  People are of more value than that.

I have seen one advert that bucks this trend.  A young man who uses a wheelchair speaks about what he has managed to achieve, because of his abilities, with the help of others.  He does not present as needy or dejected or demoralised.  He projects himself as a very competent, engaging young man.  His story is very much one of “this is what I am doing.”  His parting words are: “How you doing?”

“How you doing?” indeed.