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 August 2015

If You Want To Change The World, Here’s 5 Books To Read

Concerned about climate change or global inequality?  Maybe you want to advocate for better youth recreation facilities in your community?  Whatever your passion; to change the world, or just your corner of it, here are five books worth reading.

If we really want to change the world then it helps to understand how it works, recognise patterns, and think about where to focus attention, and who with.  No matter whether you are a community development worker, a social justice advocate or a sustainability advocate, these five books are worth reading.   Here I have presented them in a sequence, beginning with the bigger picture and moving on to suggestions for personal and collective action.

Whether it be the entire world, the country you live in or your immediate community, you will be dealing with systems.  Fortunately, Donella Meadows has given us a very lucid and comprehensive introduction to systems thinking.  Thinking in Systems1 provides clear examples of what systems are, how they work and what happens when you change aspects of systems.  Meadows helpfully provides a list of twelve points of leverage in a system that range from the less effective tinkering with the numbers within systems (e.g. standards) through to thinking about and changing the paradigm of the system itself.

Another systems thinker is keen to alert us to the dire need to change the systems around us.  Ervin Laszlo warns that if we fail to do so then we run the risk of breakdown and global disaster.  However, if we do so then we just might breakthrough to herald in a sustainable planet.  The thesis of his book, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond,2 is that we are living in a very brief “chaos-window” where we have a conscious choice of which way the balance could tip.  Laszlo succinctly summarises the possibilities on either side of this chaos point.  It’s up to us to act, he says, and we must do so urgently.

What is this chaos that Laszlo refers to?  Chaos Theory has been with us for a few decades, although often misunderstood or even neglected by social change activists.  John Briggs and F David Peat seek to rectify that with a simply written exposition of the theory and lessons that can be drawn from it and applied in our work for social change.  One crucial characteristic of chaos theory is that it is not possible to accurately predict or control outcomes.  That, however, does not suggest a descent into fatalism.  Briggs and Peat ask: “What if we acted through the myriad tiny feedback loops that hold society together?  Alluding to another chaos theory characteristic,4 they note that “although we may not have power of the controller in the traditional sense, we all possess the ‘butterfly power’ of subtle influence.”

Exercising that subtle butterfly influence is the subject of The Power of Collective Wisdom,5 written by four authors from the Collective Wisdom Institute – an informal network of practitioners and scholars interested in collective wisdom.  The intent of their book is to recognise that wisdom belongs to all of us collectively, and that no single person or even group of people have complete access to that wisdom.  Indeed, the authors would contend that our traditional styles of leadership and decision-making are inadequate in a world of complexity and chaos.  The authors researched collective wisdom for nine years before publishing this book and have identified six stances needed to allow collective wisdom to emerge: 1. Deep listening, 2. Suspension of certainty, 3. Seeing whole systems/ Seeking diverse perspectives, 4. Respect for others/ Group discernment, 5. Welcoming all that is arising, and 6. Trust in the transcendent.  And, just in case you may worry about the dangers of “group think”, the authors tackle this as well.  Indeed, the subtitle of the book is “…and the trap of collective folly.”

Where Briskin et al outline the conditions for the emergence of collective wisdom, Paul Born gets down to the nitty gritty of how to bring about the conversations needed.  Community Conversations6 is exactly that: insights into what makes for helpful conversations (including systems thinking, bringing us full circle), how to utilise diversity and, critically, some techniques that enable all of this.  Born is also keen to encourage us towards truly collaborative conversations and efforts.  Continuing to act in silos is unhelpful and many of our traditional organisations and “…are sorely lacking in the face of personal and community problems that are multifaceted, adaptive, and interconnected.”

Five books.  Not necessary the definitive collection, and not necessarily the best in their field.  However, they do provide the basis for clear thinking about our analysis and actions, as well as the stepping stones towards further study. 

If you want to purchase any of these books, check out the links to the right of this post.

1. Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems. Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, 2008
2. Ervin Laszlo, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond. Hampton Roads, Virginia, 2010
3. John Briggs & F David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. Harper Perennial, New York, 2000
4. The characteristic that a very small change in the initial conditions can trigger a massive difference in outcome.  Otherwise known as the Butterfly effect.
5. Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, Tom Callanan, The Power of Collective Wisdom, and the trap of collective folly.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2009.
6. Paul Born, Community Conversations. BPS Books, Toronto & New York, 2012

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