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 24 June 2015

It Doesn’t Happen In Isolation

One of the basic understandings that community development workers have is that things are
connected.  With this understanding it is possible to see beyond the anti-social actions of individuals.  It becomes possible to see the contributing factors that lie in the culture and environment of that individual.

An understanding of systems also assists in recognising the factors that contribute to an individual’s actions.  We all live inside systems.  Our own body-mind-psyche is a system.  The culture we live in is a system.

Systems theorists describe three things that combine to produce a system: elements, interconnections and function or purpose.1  The interconnections (relationships) between elements are easily identified when they are tangible, e.g. the relationships of father, mother, son, daughter, aunt, uncle etc. in a familial system.

The relationships that are harder to identify are those of information flows.  These are the signals that get sent between elements that then result in a decision or action by another element in the system.  An example may help explain this more simply.

When I am hungry I get a signal from my stomach that tells my brain that it is time to get something to eat.  Meanwhile, I know that I am on a limited budget this week, and I don’t get paid until next week.  I also know that I have some food stored in the pantry at home.  All this information combines to enable me to decide what action to take.  Much of those information flows happen unconsciously.  Someone witnessing my food choice will almost certainly have found it difficult to recognise all those information flows.  Yet, the flows exist.

So it is within a cultural system.

That is why, as community development workers or social justice advocates, we must beware of focusing only on blaming individuals for their actions.  We cannot neglect the contributing factors that inform individuals.

We must look at our culture and society as a whole and ask: what information is our culture sending that may contribute to individuals acting in anti-social ways?  Two examples help explain this.  One is specific from June 2015.  The other is an ongoing, general problem.

Two Examples

On 17 June 2015 Dylan Roof entered Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina along with the largely black congregation.  He sat there for an hour listening to the sermon, the prayers and the bible readings.  Then he took out a gun, chanted some racist, hateful, rhetoric and shot and killed nine people.  A crime, certainly, and Dylan Roof must be called to account and pay for that crime.

But, what information did Roof’s culture send to him that contributed to his crime?  Roof had posted photographs on the internet of himself holding the Confederate flag; a symbol of white supremacism during the American Civil War.  The Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and white domination over black people.

Although the Civil War ended 150 years ago and slavery abolished, the Confederate flag still flies at South Carolina’s State Congress. (Note that since this blog was written the politicians have voted to remove the flag - ed) Is this one of the many messages that Roof’s culture sent him?  The message of white supremacism.  It appears so.

The second example is that of domestic and family violence.  In just about every culture in the world domestic violence is an ongoing issue.2  Wives, children, ex-partners are beaten and killed every day.  Again, the perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice.  In many countries of the world there are now programmes available to try to help perpetrators reform.

We still must ask: what are the information flows that exist in our cultures that contribute to domestic and family violence?

One such flow is the information that is contained within sexist comments and jokes.  All too often those telling sexist jokes claim that it is “only a joke.”  But, as with all words, sentences, phrases and speeches, jokes contain information.  And, the information contained in sexist jokes is that women are inferior to men, that women do not have the same rights as men, that men can control women.

Until we begin to understand the interconnections and flows of information within cultural systems we will continue to see examples of hate-filled racist attacks and domestic violence within our cultures.  We will continue to see many other anti-social activities.  We have to start thinking systematically if we are going to solve these individual actions.  They don’t happen in isolation.

1. Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems, Chelsea Green,Vermont, 2008
2. In the OECD the lifetime prevalence of a violence against women by an intimate partner range from 10% to 40% (

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Who Am I?

“Know thyself” is a well known ancient Delphic maxim.1  Attributed to a number of Greek philosophers, including Socrates, the saying is an exhortation to be wary of the answers given by others and to always test them against ones own wisdom.  The Delphi oracle could be ambiguous, even perplexing at times.  To be able to untangle the ambiguity, the maxim suggested that one should know oneself.

But, who is that self?  Do we base that sense of self entirely on our own existential experience and knowledge?  Or do we understand ourselves in relation to others?  The answer could be important for our collective future as human beings.

Centuries after the Delphi oracle, Rene Descartes, in the 17th century, gave us the famous phrase je pense, donc je suis – I think, therefore I am.  This phrase has often been quoted and alluded to almost, ironically, without thinking.  The phrase supposedly proves our existence as well as forming the foundation for all knowledge.  It also solidifies the idea of the self as the one and only reality.

Within a few years of that famous phrase being published Thomas Hobbes was proclaiming in The Leviathan (1651) that we only need know our self in order to know others:
“to teach us that for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions.”
Western thought and culture has taken that notion of the self and made it the cornerstone of who we are.  Building upon that philosophical idea we became enamoured with personal gratification, we glorified Ann Rand’s extreme form of capitalism and became an increasingly narcissistic culture. 

Since the middle of the 20th century the process of globalisation has spread this individualised sense of self to almost every corner of the world.  If we answer the question: who am I? with this narcissistic form of self, then we must ask the next question: is this sense of self the very thing that lies at the basis of many of our problems and concerns?  Does this self lead us into wars?  Does this self drive our consumerism?  Does this self perpetuate climate change?  Does this self exacerbate the extreme conditions of poverty and hunger in the world?  Does this self allow for 1% of the world’s population to garner almost half the world’s wealth?

I Am We

There are other notions of the self though.  The Zulu concept of ubuntu is especially vivid.  Desmond Tutu describes ubuntu as:
"the philosophy and belief that a person is only a person through other people.  In other words, we are human only in relation to other humans.  Our humanity is bound up in one another… This interconnectedness is the very root of who we are." 2
The concept is not confined to the Zulu, it occurs in many African cultures and is notably different to the western notion.  Ubuntu describes a notion of who I am as being so inter-twined with others and my environment that any idea of an independent self disappears.

A very similar concept is found within Asian thought and philosophy.  One such is the term interbeing – a term coined by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.  Thich Nhat Hanh describes the concept as being “the many in the one and the one containing the many.”  In a nod to Descartes, Thich Nhat Hanh expresses interbeing as:
“I am, therefore you are.  You are, therefore I am. We inter-are.”3
Both ubuntu and interbeing are quite different conceptions of who I am to that of the western notion.

Who Am I? Who I Am

Our sense of self is a construct, it could even be asserted that it is a self-proclaimed construct.  Alan Clements is very clear on this:
“The idea of self was just that, an idea that had no tangible existence, any more than there is an equator one can touch circumscribing the earth. Self, like the equator, exists only as an idea in consciousness and has no objective reality other than thought.”4
If our sense of self is only an idea and not anything tangible, then that means that we can change it.  I can change my thoughts, hence, I can change who I am.  If we did that, if we changed our concept of who we are, and how we come to know ourselves, then maybe we can also change the state of the world.

1. The maxim (γνῶθι σεαυτόν in the Greek) was inscribed above the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
2. Desmond and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, p8.
3. Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, p88
4. Alan Clements, Instinct For Freedom, p170

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Impact: six patterns to spread your social innovation. (Book Review)

What do Harry Potter, Cicero and social innovation have in common? 

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows was published in 2007 it was printed on paper that did not require the destruction of forests in the process.  The story of how this came to be is an illustration of one of the six patterns of social innovation identified by Al Etmanski in his book Impact.1  The pattern in this case being that of mobilising economic power: asking how do we tap into the collective economic power of our constituency?

Cicero, the famous Roman statesman, is quoted to endorse another of Etmanski’s patterns.  “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words,” Cicero is quoted as saying.  This quote encapsulates the pattern of advocating with empathy: asking how do we move beyond blame and an us/them approach to become solutions focused?

Etmanski’s objective in this book is to answer the question: “why do some social innovations take hold while others don’t spread as far and wide as they should?”  Etmanski has identified six patterns that help social innovations spread far and wide.  Two of these are those already mentioned.  The other four are:
  • Thinking and acting like a movement.  Asking what am I already a part of and how do I link with other efforts.
  • Creating a container.  Asking how do I enable people to easily do the right thing?
  • Setting the table for allies, adversaries and strangers.  Asking how do I go about conversing with everyone, including those opposing my ideas?
  • Who is as important as how.  Asking “who” allows us to recognise that everyone cares and has the potential to act for change.
Throughout the book Etmanski is keen to affirm that social innovation must involve ordinary people, yet recognise their extraordinary power.  The power of social innovation, he notes, is often held by passionate amateurs.

Etmanski’s book then, is not just about bringing about a better world through social innovation, it is also about upholding the dignity and uniqueness of each of us as individuals sharing a common heritage and destiny.

Whether Etmanski manages to answer his question is debatable.  Although he has identified six patterns, there is no guarantee that consciously creating those patterns is going to ensure that a movement spreads far and wide.  Yet, the patterns that he identifies are important.  Without recognising and attempting to create these conditions it will be virtually impossible for any social innovation to move beyond the near and narrow.

This book is a useful addition to the growing literature on social innovation.  A more judicious editing approach though, I suspect, may have allowed this book to be read more far and wide.  Oftentimes I found Etmanski’s arguments got lost in the stories that he uses to illustrate his patterns. 
Notwithstanding this criticism, social innovation is important as we move further into the 21st century.  But, we cannot rush it, and for that reason Etmanski has done us a great service in identifying the six patterns.  As he states:
“Regrettably the solutions to our toughest problems cannot be hurried.  We must resign ourselves to a terrible paradox: being patient despite the urgency of the crises we see around us.”
1. Al Etmanski, Impact: Six Patterns To Spread Your Social Innovation, Orwell Cove, Canada, 2015

Monday 8 June 2015

Social Change Crossword Solution

For those of you waiting to check your answers to the Social Change Crossword, here they are.
Anyone wanting to do the crossword before looking at the solution, the crossword is here.

Social Change Crossword Solution:

Across: 5 Id, 7 Ecological, 9 Gulf, 11 Greenpeace, 13 Roth, 15 Tidal, 16 IACD, 20 Articulate, 22 Poor, 24 Compassion, 25 La

Down: 1 Weber, 2 Hotter, 3 Footprint, 4 Via, 6 Deaf, 8 Anger, 10 Lot, 11 Gini, 12 Anarchist, 14 Hume, 17 ATO, 18 Dario, 19 Elicit, 21 Towns, 22 Poll, 23 IPC

Tuesday 2 June 2015

5 Chaotic Lessons for Social Change

The Theory of Relativity was important in helping us to see the world in a different way at the beginning of the 20th century.  For us at the beginning of the 21st century it is chaos and complexity theory that help to shift our perspective.

Although developed within mathematics and other sciences, chaos and complexity have useful insights for those of us working within community development or social justice movements.  Here are five of those insights and what we can learn from them.1

1. The Butterfly Effect.  This is possibly the most quoted and universally recognised insight.  It tells us that from small beginnings large effects can be felt.  Consider the example of the young Egyptian woman posting a simple video message on facebook in early 2011.  By the end of January over 300,000 people were occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo calling for more democracy and freedoms in that part of the world.  The Arab Spring had arrived, which went on to inspire the Occupy Movement.

2.  Unpredictability.  Chaos Theory tells us that we cannot predict with any certainty the outcome of any intervention or programme.  Our previous thinking had been that we could gather all the data, analyse that data, create a model, make plans and predict what would happen when we carried out that plan.  Unfortunately, many of our plans did not produce what we expected.  The world is not that predictable – it is just too complex for that.

3. Feedback.  Although this insight comes more from Systems Theory, it is strongly supported by Chaos Theory.  Feedback tells us that all parts of a system are constantly receiving feedback from other parts of the system and the environment.  These parts then adapt to this new information and in turn pass that on to other parts of the system.  So, the feedback continues, never ceasing.

4. Emergence.  The old saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” captures the concept of emergence to some extent.  Emergence describes a structure or property that arises from the organisation of component parts, yet which could not have been predicted from a knowledge of the component parts themselves.  For example, the formula for common table salt is NaCl – sodium and chlorine mixed together.  The taste of salt cannot be predicted simply from knowing what sodium and chlorine taste like on their own.  The taste of salt emerges from the new mixture.

5. Self-Organisation.  Chaotic and complex systems are self-organising.  That is, the system evolves from the interplay of its myriad parts.  It is not organised or created by any command and control mechanism.  Look at any ecosystem and you will see this.  The vegetation, the animals, the insects, the birds, the soil, the waterways, the weather patterns, the landforms all interact to organise themselves into a coherent system  Yet, when humans attempt to control some part of it, inevitably the system starts to break-down.

What Does This Mean For Our Work?

What can we learn from these insights?  What can we take with us into our community work or our work for social justice?  Here are just a few thoughts.

1. The Butterfly Effect tells us that each of our seemingly small, individual and insignificant actions can or could have a major effect.  We will never know.

2. If we accept unpredictability then we can remove ourselves from a lot of the stress that we tend to place upon ourselves.  This means that instead of being certain about outcomes we can be content with working in ways that are more likely to produce the effects we would like, without the necessity of being defined by “success” or “failure.”

3. If all parts of a system are both the receivers and the senders of feedback, then we need to embrace diversity.  We must actively seek out the voices, skills and ideas of all, especially those who are often excluded from discussions and dialogue.

4. New structures and relationships are always emerging.  We must not be afraid of the new – rather we would do well to embrace the change, to appreciate the newness and the possibilities that emerge.  Emergence teaches us that we must connect, we must engage with each other.  The answers to complex problems do not come from each of us working in isolation and then adding the answers together.  The answers emerge from our inter-connection.

5. Most of the structures of western society are based on hierarchical, chain-of-command models.  Continuing to impose this model is irrational when we understand self-organisation.  Self-organisation suggests that we discover and explore our creativity by becoming more curious, by asking questions, and not accepting authority just because it is “authority.”

1. What follows is by no means an attempt to thoroughly outline the insights and learnings from Chaos or Complexity Theory.  It is simply a few possibilities.