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 25 November 2014

Choices, choices, choices

We see quotes like this everywhere on the Internet and elsewhere.  “We all have choices” they proclaim.  If your life is not as it could be or as you would wish it to be, then, say the proponents of choice-making, make better choices.

Sounds appealing doesn’t it.  Things not going well? – make a better choice.  Facing obstacles or barriers in your life? – make a different choice.  Simple really. 

It’s true enough – we all do have choices.  However, we do not all have the same choices.  Some of us have very limited choices, whereas others have almost limitless choice.  For some, the choices may be between one unwelcome outcome and another unwelcome outcome – with no choice really being desirable.

The next step along this path of choosing is to create your own reality.  By treading this path we get to the point where the Universe conspires with us to give us what we desire.  This all happens because of the choices we make.  If we make good choices then the reality that we create will be good also. 

From this perspective it is very easy to take up a moralistic stance that says that those that make bad mistakes deserve the reality they create for themselves.

Making choices is good in theory.  In practice, however, it is all just a little naive.  Naive for three major reasons:
  1. The environment within which we all make choices is not an equitable one.  It is not a level playing field.
  2. People do the best they can from the understandings, knowledge and skills that they possess at the time.
  3. We are all intimately linked with one another and our world.  None of us make our decisions in isolation or independent of all the other decisions that are being made.
Unequal Playing Fields

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have clearly demonstrated that there is a strong correlation between inequality and social mobility, mental health, educational performance and a range of other social indicators.  In their book The Spirit Level they note that
“bigger income differences seem to solidify the social structure and decrease the chances of upward mobility.  Where there are greater inequalities of outcome, equal opportunity is a significantly more distant prospect.” 1
When children are raised in poverty the choices they have as adults are significantly reduced, “affecting every thing from (their) job prospects to (their) marital happiness.”2

As inequality in a society increases the ability of people to make positive life choices decreases.  Making choices is not simply a question of individual choice.  Making choices becomes a political act; choices that those with greater access to power, resources or prestige make easily, not realising that those with less access have less options available.

Doing Our Best

One of the insights of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is that people do the best they can with the resources available to them at the time.  The key phrases here are available and at the time. 

This understanding is a crucial one, because it recognises that people do not wilfully make bad choices.  Rather, people make the best choice they can with the knowledge, experience and skills that they have available.  Rather than blaming people for their decisions, NLP uses this insight to work compassionately with people.

This means that we cannot judge others from our own understanding, perspective or worldview. 


When we tell others to make better choices, or even that “you have a choice,” we are often ignoring the interplay between people and that the choices we make are not mutually exclusive.  We are intimately connected, bound together in a vast web of life. 

The idea that we have choices in life and that if we make good choices then good things will happen to us is rooted in Cartesian linear causality thinking.  This thinking is all very well if we apply it to billiard balls bouncing off one another on a billiard table.  But, it is woefully inadequate as a system of thought when it comes to how the world works.

Joanna Macy is a well respected systems thinker and Buddhist practitioner.  Now in her 80s, she describes the move from linear thinking to systems thinking in a book published more than 20 years ago:
“Linear, one-way causal premises proved inadequate, for these can be applied only piecemeal to two variables at a time.  As the pattern-building interactions of phenomena were studied, a different kind of causality came into view, one that is mutual, involving interdependence and reciprocity between causes and effects.  Such a notion, which is an anomaly within the linear paradigm that has dominated Western culture, bears a striking similarity to the Buddhist teaching of causality…”3
In other words, we are not individuals acting only in our own sheltered shell, with all decisions and choices being mutually independent of other decisions and choices of other people.

Others are making choices all the time, and often we have little control over the choices they make and the outcomes of those choices.  We have even less control the further removed from the centres of power, influence and resources we are.

Yes, we do make choices.  We all do, all the time.  But, for us to judge others based on the choices they make is naive and neglects to take into account the political, social, cultural and interdependent realities of the world.

1. Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level, Penguin, London, 2009, 2010, p 169
2. Anthony W Orlando (business/economics lecturer, California State University), “Not Everyone has the Tools to Become Rich: How our childhood shapes our ability to succeed,” Huffington Post, September 2014.
3. Joanna Macy, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1991.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

The Most Interesting Person I Know (A Review)

The Most Interesting Person I Know.  Now, there’s a catchy book title.  Makes you want to open it up immediately and read about these amazing people.  Stephanie Hunt has compiled a fascinating series of interviews with 25 people in the Coffs Harbour area of Australia.

What makes this a most interesting book to review on this blog?  I’ll let Stephanie answer that.  Community development workers will recognise an African saying that she quotes: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”  She extends that by saying “It has most certainly taken a community to create this book!”

Isn’t that just what community is?  A space in which there are dozens, hundreds, of most interesting people.  Each and every one of them bring something to the creation of that community.  Those working from an Asset Based Community Development model know how important it is to map a community’s assets.  People and their skills, knowledge and passions are the most important assets.  Thanks to Stephanie, Coffs Harbour now has a “map” of at least 25 interesting people. 

In this book there are community workers, social justice advocates and those making the community space a better place for others.  There are Aboriginal elders, refugees from Togo and Sudan. There are musicians, local body politicians, religious leaders.  There are farmers, craftspeople, a lawyer, a sportsman and a high-tech designer.  The diversity of community life is vividly on show in this wonderful book.

Some, like Auntie Bea Ballangarry are staunch advocates for Aboriginal people.  She has extended her hand and heart of friendship to many in the area, setting up WOW (Women of the World) – an extensive network of women of all creeds, colours and cultures in the Coffs area. 

Gai Newman is a tireless community worker who manages the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre where many have been able to find assistance and a friendly face.  Sometimes it is not the material help that is the most important.  As Gai says “even though we don’t have all the answers, we have compassion.” 

Many refugees in Coffs, like Kuie Manyoun, have come to escape war.  Kuie notes that “war never stops in African cultures.  It’s all the men that go to war, so women have to be responsible for the whole family.”  But, that is Africa.  Kuie does not expect that culture to have settled in Australia along with her.  She, and her husband and children have plans.  Plans for a safe, happy and successful future.

This book can help all of those living in Coffs Harbour, and wider, recognise our diversity, and celebrate our commonality.  This book can help all of us plan for a safe, happy and successful future.

Stephanie Hunt writes a blog that has profiled over 60 people – all of them most interesting.  I suspect that Stephanie will be finding dozens more most interesting people to interview and write about.

Proceeds from the sale of this book go to the CanDo Cancer Trust which provides financial support to local cancer sufferers and their families.  The book can be bought on Stephanies blog.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Gee – Twenty!

Last week I was in Brisbane, Australia, where the G20 summit is to take place on 15/16 November 2014.  G20 is the forum for leaders of 20 of the world’s major economies; 19 countries plus the European Union.  Six other nations have also been invited to attend in Brisbane.

So, in Brisbane 20+ of the most influential and powerful leaders of the world will be meeting.

Gee, I thought, if these leaders really put their minds to it, and they had the intention, then we could see some highly beneficial changes in the economic, social, environmental and cultural make-up of the world.

So, I put my mind to it and came up with 20 suggested changes that would be beneficial.  Here then is my Gee Twenty list.
  1. A ban on further fossil fuel extraction and use.1
  2. Drastic reduction in spending on the military and weapons.
  3. Redirecting of those savings in 2 above towards providing access to clean safe water for all.
  4. A cap on salary levels, so that exorbitant differences in income are enormously reduced.
  5. Investment in renewable energy systems.
  6. Transference of investment in infrastructure that supports private vehicle use towards infrastructure that supports low impact and public transportation.
  7. Stopping the destruction of rainforests and other threatened ecosystems.
  8. Promotion of small-scale, local farming and agricultural activities in preference to large scale monocultural agribusiness.
  9. Free education for all – education that stimulates creativity and critical thinking.
  10. Promotion of restorative justice rather than retributive justice.
  11. Transitioning from electoral representative democracy to a democracy based on sortition and participatory democracy.
  12. Recognising that we already have enough and that continued economic growth is damaging to our environment and to our well-being.
  13. Full recognition to the rights of self-determination of indigenous peoples.
  14. Apologies and restitution to colonised people so that 13 above can be achieved.
  15. Full and accurate disclosure on what goes into the food we eat and where it comes from – both fresh food and cooked food.
  16. Research and promotion of programmes that look at nonviolence, forgiveness and other forms of resolving conflict.
  17. Restriction on where and when advertising is permitted.
  18. Greater access to mental health services.
  19. Complete protection of endangered species.
  20. Understanding that all the 19 suggestions above (and dozens more) are interconnected and that systems thinking is required.
There are dozens of other issues that could be added to the list and we will all have our favourites.  At a personal level, it matters little as to what and where we begin, but it is important to understand the interconnections and that no one issue is of greater importance than another.

Do you think the G20 leaders will take any notice of this?  I suspect not. 

Change must begin with us.  As has been quoted often
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Although attributed to Gandhi there is no evidence to suggest that it is a direct quote of his.  However, the sentiment is one that he would have endorsed, so long as it was clarified that he also advocated a collective approach – change is not simply a personal one.

1.  The Prime Minister of the host nation, Australia’s Tony Abbot, has removed any discussion about climate change from the agenda, claiming that he did not want the  agenda “cluttered” by subjects that would distract from economic growth.

Monday 3 November 2014

Book of Forgiving: A Review

Of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of books that I have read in my life, The Book of Forgiving1 is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt and important of them.

Yet it is not so much a book that one reads.  It is more like a play.  Desmond and Mpho Tutu have scripted the play.  They are also the Director and Narrator and you, the reader, are the lead actor.  When you begin you are alone on centre stage.  Meanwhile, waiting in the wings are all those who have harmed you or those whom you have harmed.

The Tutus set scenes, give prompts, ask you to ad lib, and guide you on a journey through four Acts – what they call the Fourfold Forgiveness Cycle (Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, Renewing or Releasing the Relationship).

This is a book in which the reader is a fully active participant.  It would be possible to read the book much as you would a text.  Some benefit, no doubt, would come from that; but by far the greater benefit comes from keeping the journal and undertaking the tasks that the Tutus provide for the reader at the end of each chapter.

Desmond Tutu is the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and came to prominence as a vocal critic of apartheid in South Africa.  After Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa he asked Desmond Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  This role taught him much about the process of forgiveness and healing.

His daughter, Mpho, is an episcopal priest and is undertaking a doctorate in forgiveness.  She shares a very personal, and deeply moving, story in the book.  Together, the two of them bring a wealth of expertise, experience and insight to the journey of forgiveness.

They present all this in an engaging, easily accessible manner, including reference to research at times, giving the book a sense of being grounded.

Like any good play, this one begins with a prologue.  The prologue here is a description of what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is such a suppressed process and practice in western culture that it is easily misunderstood.  Desmond and Mpho Tutu wish to dispel five myths early so as to be able to move onto what forgiveness is.  For them; forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, it is not disregarding justice, it does not mean forgetting, it is not easy, and it is often not quick.

A number of stories are shared in the book that help to illustrate the points that the Tutus are making.  Many of these stories are brutally honest, sincerely respectful and deeply moving.  A word of caution: keep a box of tissues near at hand.

All forms of forgiveness are addressed in the book: forgiving others, asking for forgiveness, forgiving yourself, and forgiveness as peacemaking in the world.

By the end of the book and after writing the journal and undertaking the exercises I had a greater appreciation of what forgiveness is.  For me I discovered that some of the ingredients of forgiveness include:
  • “There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no-one undeserving of forgiveness.” (p 3)
  • Forgiveness involves making a choice.  Instead of choosing the Revenge Cycle, we can choose the Fourfold Forgiveness Cycle.
  • With true forgiveness shown towards those who have harmed us we move from being a victim to becoming a hero.
  • “We are able to forgive because we are able to recognise our shared humanity.” (p 125)
You may discover other ingredients of forgiveness in this beautiful, easily-read, and easily understood, book.

Read it, act it out and after forgiving others and yourself, take a bow.

1. Desmond & Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, William Collins Books, 2014