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 28 December 2016

Cooperation and Wise Intent: Some Quotations

For the final blog of 2016 I thought I’d give myself a little break.  So, instead of writing about my thoughts, ideas, experience or research, I thought I’d write down some of my favourite quotes on cooperation and wise intention.  As we head into 2017 we have many challenges ahead of us.  The best way to deal with these is by cooperation and with an intent that is informed with wisdom.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.” – attributed to a native American woman.
“The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.” – Harold Fleming
“I can’t save the world on my own – it’ll take at least three of us.” – African proverb
“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go further, go together.” – African proverb
“Go to the people.  Live with them.  Love them.  Start with what they know.  Build with what they have.  But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘we have done this ourselves.’” – Lao Tzu
“We did not put our ideas together.  We put our purposes together.  And we agreed.  Then we decided.”  - Popul Vuh (K'iche kingdom manuscript - Guatemala)
“Truth is not born, nor is it found inside the head of an individual person; it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.” – Mikhail Bakhtin
Wise Intent
“Don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect.” – unknown
“Knowledge is learning something every day.  Wisdom is letting go of something every day.” – Zen proverb

“The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position.  But certainty is an absurd one.” – Voltaire

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Harold Whitman

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

I hope that these few quotations help to inspire you or provide you with something to think about as we come to the close of this year and move towards 2017.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Rain and Tears

In Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune, there is reference to the Bakka – the weeper who mourns for all of humanity.  To weep, to cry, to mourn; these are all very human reactions to grief, pain, suffering, or distress.  We should not be afraid to cry, we should not be embarrassed to shed tears.  We should certainly not be trying to hold them back.  Tears are as natural as is the rising of the sun every morning.

Humans shed three types of tears.  The first two; basal (for lubricating the eyes) and reflex (for dealing with irritants such as dust or smoke), have fairly obvious biological explanations.  The third type is the tears we cry for emotional reasons.  Tears of the first two types are composed primarily of water, but  emotional tears contain a number of chemicals that do not exist in the lubricating or irritant-removal tears.  Some of these chemicals help to relieve stress, others help our body return to a state of balance.  Tears are thought to be part of the parasympathetic nervous system that helps to bring the heart rate, hormones and neurotransmitters back into a state of homeostasis (balance) after a period of arousal or a difficult time.  In other words, tears help to calm us.

But, what of the tears shed by the Bakka or others who mourn for humanity?  Being a weeper that mourns for all of humanity may be a sign that compassion, empathy, and human kindness exist in our hearts.  There is much to be mournful for when looked at through tearful eyes.  Who can turn aside and not be tearful when faced with the image of a child sitting in the rubble of Syria with their parents dead?  Who can repress the tears when faced with the image of a dead child on a Greek shore after another refugee boating crisis?

Some researchers think that tears may be a form of communication.  We weep when we cannot express with words the depth of emotion that we are feeling.  So, when we witness someone in pain, or the earth suffering, our tears may be a heartfelt way of communicating a very deep sense of empathy, not only to others, but to ourselves as well.  Thus, by attempting to block such tears we may be cutting ourselves off from deep connection and understanding.

Tears may also be a way to signal vulnerability and a desire to be cooperative.  In evolutionary terms tears may have indicated an unwillingness to be aggressive.  After all, as someone noted, it is difficult to fight when you can’t see through the tears.

Tears then may be so much more than simply a visual sign of sadness, or overwhelming elation.  They are also poignant communication devices and a recognition of the human need for cooperation and a willingness to help one another.

Tears for Mother Earth

In Māori (the indigenous people of Aotearoa – New Zealand) cosmology when it rains it is a sign that Ranginui (Sky Father) is weeping for his beloved Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) from whom he has been separated.  The tears of Ranginui are a sign of love. 

Western-styled societies have also been separated from Mother Earth.  It is little wonder that those within these societies who recognise the separation feel a sense of suffering arising from this alienation.  When someone talks honestly and openly of this alienation their tears flow like rain and often elicit in their listeners a similar weeping.  It is good to allow this weeping to flow – to feel the suffering of the world.

One person who has thought much about feeling the suffering of the world is Joanna Macy who terms it “honouring our pain.”  She places it within a process she calls The Work that Reconnects1 and recognises the pain, and feeling the suffering, as important parts of the continuing process of healing.  We must not try to side-step it she claims.
“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don't ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don't apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.”2
But is all we did was feeling the suffering of the world, and the attendant compassion, we would go nowhere, we would be paralysed.  In Tibetan history there is a prophecy known as the Shambhala Prophecy that is helpful in this regard.  The prophecy tells of the Shambhala Warriors who arrive at a time when the Earth is in great danger.  They bring with them two weapons.  One is the weapon of compassion – the emotion that provides the motive behind acting.  The other weapon is the weapon of wisdom – the understanding of the immensely interwoven connections of life, and alluded to in the above quotation.

If we wish to act like Shambhala Warriors then we need both weapons.  So, let us not shun our tears.  An Indian proverb says that before we can see clearly we must shed tears to clear the way.  So, go ahead.  Clear the way.  Have a good cry.  (And that apples to all male readers as well – perhaps more so)

1. Joanna Macy & Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada, 2014.

2. Joanna Macy, The Greening of the Self, accessed 2 November 2016.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Appropriate Transport

The author steering a 7-seater, 7-chain ring cycle
in Tallinn, Estonia.
In the 1960s Dr E.F. Schumacher (a British economist) coined the term appropriate technology.  The term was popularised in his 1973 book Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered1 and generally refers to technology that is small-scale, decentralised, labour-intensive, energy-efficient and environmentally sound.

Forty years later we are still coming up with new, efficient, technological innovations in many areas, including transport.  But few of them are appropriate.  Take the self-contained personal mobility unit (aka the car) as an example.  Since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T in the early part of the 20th century cars have become more and more efficient.  All these efficiency gains have led to vast numbers of cars, more cars per household, greater number of trips in cars, huge expanses of land set aside for roads, highways and parking lots, urban sprawl, and a rapid rise in carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The next step in the efficiency drive is the hybrid or EV vehicle.  Much more efficient that the present gas-guzzling car.  Isn’t that wonderful?  Well, not really.  Greater efficiency, as has been demonstrated over and over, leads to greater consumption.  It just is not appropriate.

Are we overlooking something?  We already have an appropriate transport device, and we’ve had it since the mid 1800s, although its forerunner – the Dandy Horse – first appeared in 1817.  Its called a bicycle.  Lets consider some of the many benefits this appropriate transport technology has:
  1. Low carbon emissions.  The bicycle is not carbon-free.  Estimates are that production and maintenance of a bicycle accounts for some 5 grams of CO2e per kilometre.  If the “fuel” costs of the cyclist are taken into account then a cyclist burns approximately an extra 16 grams CO2e per kilometre.  Hence, for every kilometre ridden the cycle emits roughly 21g/km.  Similar mathematics indicate that an average car (taking into account occupancy levels) emits 271g/km – thirteen times that of a cycle.  A bus, by comparison emits 101g/km.2
  2. Monetary savings.  A report by the Australasian Railway Association in 2015 indicated that by not owning a car in Australia or New Zealand the average commuter could save between $9,000 – $10,000 per year.3  When arriving at this conclusion the authors did not take account of other costs such as toll road fees, non-compulsory insurance, or environmental and congestion costs.
  3. Safety.  Research in Europe shows that when cycling increases, the safety of cyclists also increases.  Between 2000 and 2008 London saw a 91% increase in cycling and a 33% decrease in cycling casualties.  Cycling in the Netherlands increased 45% between 1980 and 2005.  In that same period the number of cycling fatalities decreased by 58%.  There are many reasons for this correlation.  Two major factors are that the more cyclists there are the more visible cyclists become and the more the pressure for authorities to make cycling safer (e.g. by building dedicated  cycle ways).
  4. Effective Speed.  Is the car really getting us from A to B quicker than the bicycle?  The answer is yes and no.  On the surface it would appear that we get from A to B quicker.  But, when we dig deeper we find that the gains are not there.  In 2004 Paul Tranter (from the School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW, Canberra) prepared a report for the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage entitled Effective Speeds.  The sub-title provocatively claimed that Car Costs are Slowing Us Down.4  Tranter took into account a more complete analysis of speed.  If we remember our school mathematics we recall that speed is calculated by dividing the distance travelled by the time it took to travel that distance (s = d/t).  What Tranter noted was that the time element was not simply the amount of time sitting behind the wheel of a car going from A to B.  The true time factor also includes the amount of time it takes to earn the money required in order to get into the car in the first place.  Tranter factored in the time required to pay for the production and maintenance of the car.  Using statistics from the city of Canberra, Tranter calculated that the final effective speed of a car was between 14 km/h and 23 km/h, depending upon the size of car.  Undertaking the same calculations with buses and cycles found that the effective speed of buses is 21 km/h and 18 km/h for cycling.  Indeed, the cycle outperformed 3 of the 4 cars considered – the 4th being an Hyundai Getz.  It should be noted too that Tranter did not take into account the costs (and therefore time) associated with having to pay speeding fines, parking tickets, tolls, carpark fees, and perhaps hospital emergency ward costs. 
  5. Health Benefits.  The health benefits of any exercise (cycling included) are well known and I shall not elucidate them here, except to note that they need to be considered when thinking about appropriate transport technology.
When we consider that half or more of the private trips taken by motorists in cars in the rich nations of the world are of 5km or less then the use of the bicycle as an appropriate transport source has a lot going for it.  Using a bicycle for trips of 5km or less will be less environmentally damaging, provide the cyclist with health benefits, contribute to less congestion, require little room for parking, and very likely, much quicker.

There is no need to devise transport technology with greater efficiency – we already have it.  Lets use it.

1. E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered, Blond and Briggs, 1973.  Published by Harper Collins since 2010.
2. Benoit Blondel, Chloé Mispelon, Julian Ferguson, Cycle More Often 2 Cool Down The Planet, European Cyclists’ Federation, 2011.
3. Australasian Railway Association, The Costs of Commuting: An analysis of potential commuter savings, January 2015.

4. Paul J Tranter, Effective Speeds: Car Costs are Slowing Us Down, a report for (Australian) Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004.

Tuesday 6 December 2016


Have you noticed that the words EARTH and HEART are anagrams of one another?  Perhaps it is just coincidence, but it is a coincidence that seems to be particularly pertinent in this age of species extinction, environmental degradation, climate change, and air, water and land pollution.

In the wake of all these issues there are calls to “save the whales,” “save the orang-utan,” or more broadly “save the planet.”  Campaigns are mounted against oil pipelines, fracking, coal seam gas drilling, or coal mining.  In the climate change arena we hear all the numbers:  2 degrees of warming, 350 parts per million, 1 – 2 metres sea-level rise.

Climate Change Summits are held, reports are written, debates take place in the United Nations.  Groups organise to obtain signatures on petitions, hold information/education meetings or lobby politicians.

All these people and organisations are wanting change.  They are wanting governments to legislate; coal miners to cease activities; car manufacturers to innovate for more environmentally-friendly vehicles; greater take-up of renewable energy sources.

All these objectives are worthy.  They may not be sufficient however.  They may even be diverting our attention from what is really needed – using our HEART. 

The trouble lies in how we go about solving the issues.  It can be argued that a lot of our problem-solving focuses on technological fixes of problems that are “out there,” problems that are external to us.  For some of us the problems are (for example) air pollution and so we try to fix the problem of air pollution.  For some of us the problems are caused by other people – industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats.  In this thinking style the problems are not about us, the problems are not about who we are.

So, we go about trying to solve the problems with our heads.  We try to think our way through the problem.  We try to solve them with technological innovation.  Peter Senge calls this “shifting the burden to science and technology,”1 a process whereby we apply a symptomatic solution to a problem without addressing the underlying, fundamental causes.  By shifting the burden in this way we find that the symptoms only get worse or bigger, and so we have to apply even more of our technological solutions.  The problems get bigger and bigger, worse and worse.  If that was all we did by shifting the burden it may not be so bad.  Unfortunately, by shifting the burden in this way we become more and more reliant on technology as our default problem-solving technique.  In doing so we distance ourselves farther and farther from what we really need – the development of our human wisdom and our heart-centred thinking.

Viewing the world through our hearts we take an entirely different journey than when we view it with our heads.  An heart-centred approach to thinking is,
“independent, creative, moral and compassionate…it reflectively questions assumptions, discerns hidden values, and considers the larger social and ecological context. Heart-centred thinking is distinguished by an animated curiosity that leads to a constantly adjusting, in-depth knowledge of the environment, the human culture, and its individual members.”2
So it is with our approach to the EARTH – we have to resist the urge to solve things with our heads and shift towards our HEART.  We have to open up our hearts.  That may take some courage which is unsurprising.  The word courage derives from the Old French word corage – meaning heart.  When we have the courage to open up our hearts to the Earth and to each other not only will we find more creative solutions we will also find that something shifts inside us – we will discover who we are.

1. Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, Flowers. Presence: exploring profound change in people, organizations and society, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2005.

2. Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche, New World Library, Novato, California, 2013

Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Brexit and Trump Eddies

The Brexit and Trump votes have thrown progressive thinkers into a tizz.  What does it all mean?  How did this happen?  The social and humane progress of humanity has been shoved backward, according to many.

Yes, what does it all mean?  Sometimes when we consider nature we can find some insights.  One that comes to mind is the flow of a river.  If we sit and watch a river carefully for long enough we will notice a number of things.  We will notice that the river is not consistent – it changes from moment to moment.  We will notice that at one time it can be flowing quite smoothly, yet at other times turbulently.  It may be cold, or warm.  Sometimes there will be nothing upon the surface, and other times there will be a steady stream of tree branches or leaves.

Then there are the eddies and whirlpools.  Looking closely at these we notice that within them there are some sections that are moving contrary to the prevailing current, some sideways to it and others in a parallel movement.  Yet, it is all part of the same river.

A kayaker paddling down the river needs to be aware of these eddies and whirlpools.  The kayaker may try to avoid them but, if they get caught in one, they know that the worst thing to do is to fight against the eddy. 

The Brexit and Trump votes are the eddies and whirlpools in the political flow.  And, similar to the kayaker and the river eddies, fighting against them is unhelpful, and possibly even dangerous.  It is far better to discover the nature of the eddy.  How did this eddy occur?  Is there an energy within it that may help us get out?

Lets ask ourselves how the Brexit and Trump eddies came into being.  A quick glance at the voting demographics of each is telling.  In each case the vote to leave the EU and the vote for Trump showed one overwhelming similarity.  The sectors of society that mostly supported Brexit/Trump were those with lower educational and income levels.1  Following these two demographics the next similarity was that older white men tended to vote for Brexit and Trump.

These groups are highly representative of those parts of society that have been left behind by neo-liberal globalisation over the past three decades.  Neo-liberalism rests on two major tenets: privatisation and deregulation.  Both have been disasters for those who were already in the lower socio-economic sectors of society.  The benefits have gone more and more to those who already benefit immensely from the social and economic structures that exist.  The wealth of the richest 62 people on earth is now greater than that of half of the world’s population.  Of the total global income growth between 1988 and 2011 the top 10% garnered almost half of it (46%).2

So what is it that the eddies of Brexit and Trump are telling us?

Both Brexit and Trump played to the worries of those most affected by neo-liberalism.  Both talked of the loss of jobs.  Both referred to a lowering of economic well-being.  In doing so, both tapped into the fears of those who have been badly affected by the globalisation project.  Brexit and Trump asked some questions that these sectors of society wanted to hear.  Brexit and Trump also supplied some answers; and therein is the real issue – they are false answers.

But to claim that people were duped would be a mistake.  People are rightly asking some questions and, largely, the only ones answering them are those like Trump.  Labour and progressive governments around the world have embraced neo-liberalism almost as much as have conservative governments.  In doing so they have abandoned those who in previous eras have depended on these governments to assist them.  The backlash was always going to come.  Now that it has, it is a pointless exercise attempting to blame the voter.

One thing that we can learn from the Brexit/Trump eddies is that we have to ask some fundamental questions.  Foremost amongst those is: is the neo-liberal project of universal benefit?  We can also ask: who benefits from neo-liberalism?  These questions have to be asked in the workplaces of the world, in the communities and neighbourhoods of those suffering the downside of globalisation.
Interestingly, of those who voted to leave in the Brexit vote, 69% said that they thought globalisation was a “force for ill,”  whereas only 31% of those voting to remain did so.  It seems that there is a tacit understanding of what is happening.

Finally, it is worth noting the irony in all this.  The neo-liberal globalisation project was ushered in by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Regan in the US.  It is these two nations who have now supplied the backlash. 

Are we going to fight against the eddies, or are we going to use the current in them to arrive at some useful insights?

1. Two-thirds of white people without a college degree voted for Trump.  More than 60% of those with a university degree or higher voted to remain in the EU – the opposite to those who ended education at secondary school ore earlier.

2. Oxfam Briefing Paper, 18 January 2016.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

What to do when Technology is Inefficient?

In the 1970s an explosion took place.  The modern environmental movement was kick started with some seminal works: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought an awareness to the damaging effects of insecticides, herbicides and other such technologies.  E.F. Schumacher wrote Small Is Beautiful that helped us understand the costs of continuing on the same technological path and offered an alternative that had less impact.  Limits to Growth placed before us an array of scenarios for the future, one of which (the business-as-usual scenario) we continue to stubbornly follow today.  Limits to Growth has been shown more than 40 years later to have been uncannily accurate in its scene-setting.  All of these works are still highly relevant, mainly because we have learnt so little from them, and even less from the experience of forty years of history in the interim, particularly in the western-styled culture.

One further offering from the 1970s was a simple equation that has been largely forgotten in the debates on climate change, environmental degradation, soil and forest depletion and species extinction.  Simple it may be, yet it is extremely powerful in providing a fuller understanding of what is going on the world, particularly when we try to understand the impact we humans are having upon the world.  Here it is, in its simplest form:
What does it mean?  The equation expresses the human impact (I) upon the planet as a function of population (P), affluence (A), and technology (T).   Thus, our impact will increase if the population increases, or if our affluence and consumption increase.  If we can make technology (T) more efficient then that will have a lessening effect upon our impact according to this equation.

During the 1970s there was a lot of talk about the P component of this equation with zero population growth being discussed.  Today, most of the discussion centres on T – the technological component.  Increasingly efficient technological solutions are being produced and promoted everywhere.  Solar and wind power, hybrid cars, energy efficient light-bulbs and whiteware with 5-star energy ratings are all being  heralded as the technological breakthroughs that will reduce our collective impact.

In the 1970s there was little talk of the A component of the equation.  Today there is even less discussion of the A component.  Yet, it is becoming clear that the A (affluence) component is of great importance, possibly of fundamental significance.  It is becoming more and more so partly because the efficiency of technology does not translate into a lessening of impact as we would like to think it does.  That is because of the Jevon’s Effect  (also known as the Rebound Effect) – the phenomenon whereby when something is made more efficient it is consumed in greater amounts so that the possible advantage of greater efficiency is wiped out.  Much of modern technology shows this detrimental side to increasing efficiency.  Take these three examples for instance:

Undeniably the efficiency of modern cars is much greater than those built twenty or thirty years ago.  Yet this increased efficiency has had no impact upon energy consumption in total nor in per capita terms.  Indeed, energy consumption has increased dramatically, partly because the number of passenger-kilometres increased by 30% between 1990 and 2005 in affluent nations, with cars accounting for 87% of this.2  In Australia the number of passenger vehicles increased from 153 per 1,000 people in 1995 to 568 per 1,000 in 2013 – an almost four-fold increase in less than twenty years.  Statistics from the UK show a similar trend.  In the sixty years after the 1950s the number of households with at least one car jumped from just 14% to 75%.  These are all cases of the Jevons Effect.

Perhaps the biggest expansion in technological efficiency this century has come in the telecommunications field.  The spread of technologies such as iPhones, Smart Phones, tablets has been like wildfire upon the human landscape.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and other social media technologies are ubiquitous.  The efficiency of communication has grown enormously.  Meanwhile, though, something else has grown in our social milieu – the rates of depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation in many western nations have increased.  We may be able to more efficiently “communicate” on one level, but on the level where it most matters, we are hopelessly losing it.

Renewable sources of electricity are becoming cheaper, more efficient, and easier to come by.  This should be good news shouldn’t it?  Yes, and no.  Yes – if we kept our consumption at the same level, or reduced it.  No – if it means that we consume more and more electricity.  Unfortunately, it appears that it is the latter scenario that is playing out.  The amount of electricity used in the world tripled between 1980 and 2015.  Per capita electricity consumption is expected to increase world-wide by 2030 with much of this being in the emerging nations of India and China, although no area of the world is exempt from this increase.3  This increased consumption comes at the same time as we are gaining efficiency via renewable energy sources.  Stanley Jevons would be saying “I told you so.”

This all points to an uncomfortable truth.  We have to do something about our affluence, and we have to do it soon.  We cannot continue having more and more.  We cannot continue to put our faith in technological solutions.  We cannot continue thinking that science or technology will save us.

That means taking a good, long, hard, look at the A component in the equation: I = PAT.  That’s uncomfortable isn’t it?  Because by taking that hard look we find that it means having to reach into our psyches and discover who we are.  We have to ask ourselves: who am I? who are we? what are we doing here? what is my purpose here?  Uncomfortable – maybe.  Difficult – definitely.  Fulfilling – yes (if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and each other).

1. In 1865 Stanley Jevons wrote The Coal Question showed that when the amount of coal needed to produce a ton of iron was reduced by over two-thirds the total consumption increased ten-fold between the years 1830 and 1863 in Scotland.  The effect has been known as the Jevons Effect ever since.
2. Worldwide Trends in Energy Use and Efficiency, International Energy Agency, 2008.

3. Source: International Energy Agency.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

What is...?

Remember the child-hood game of saying the first thing that comes into mind in response to a word
provided by someone else?  Well, here is a technique that utilises that idea and takes it a bit further.  It can be used as an ice-breaker or an introduction game.  It can be used to tease out meanings and nuances of concepts and notions, or it can be used to explore some of our deeper beliefs and views.  I’ll outline the technique and then provide some examples for different settings.


Group members pair off with one of the pair designated A the other B.  Person A is the questioner, person B the responder.  Person A asks person B a question.  Person B responds with the first thing that comes to mind, in just a word or a few.  Person B is not answering with a whole story.  The response is simply the first brief thought or feeling that comes, without any restriction.  Person A then says “thank you” and proceeds to ask exactly the same question again.  Person B responds again with the first thing that comes to mind, again not elaborating or judging.  This proceeds for 2 or 3 minutes with Person A saying thank you and repeating the question.  If at any stage Person B does not respond immediately then both members of the pair should just sit in silence until a response from Person B does arise.  Person A offers no comment or appraisal at any stage in this interaction, although often some sort of empathetic response (a smile, a laugh, a nod) may naturally arise.

After the end of the 2 or 3 minutes, each member thanks the other and then the procedure is repeated, with Person B this time being the questioner and Person A the responder.

There may be a series of questions that are used in this technique, in which case allow a minute or twos reflection before moving to the next in the series.

Icebreaker or Introduction Examples

Some examples of questions for icebreaker or introductory games may be:
  • What is here?
  • What is funny?
  • What is a cat (dog, bird or some other animal)?
Concepts and Notions Examples

Some examples of questions to ask to tease out some of the concepts or notions amongst the group may include:
  • What is community?
  • What is fair?
  • What is equity?
  • What is justice?
  • What is power?
  • What is development?
Beliefs and Views Examples

When it comes to exploring some of our beliefs and views we start to go a bit deeper, so it is important that a level of trust has been built up in the group before asking these questions.
  • What is fear?
  • What is love?  (Often it can be useful to follow the question on fear with this one on love)
  • What is spirit?  What is soul? may elicit different responses.  Find out.
  • Who are you?  This last question can go deep within one’s sense of who they are, especially after the first few “surface” responses (e.g. “I am a man,” “I am a woman,” have been said.)
Following the series of questions return to the larger group and ask for reflections, insights, comments.  Did anyone discover something about themselves that they had not been aware of previously?  Did anyone gain an insight useful for the group as a whole to know about?

As you work with this technique you will discover questions that are useful in the group you are working with.  When using the technique to explore beliefs and views it can be useful to ask the participants to spend a minute or two in silence before the questions start.  This allows both members of the pair to become present to whatever may arise for them.  Following the responses from Person B to Person A’s questions it is worth spending another minute or two in silence, to allow for the responses to settle before the pair switch roles.

Remember to advise the questioner in each case to thank the other person before they repeat the question. 

Simple but very effective.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Feminism Had To Happen

Mary Wollstonecraft
Feminism had to happen.  It had to happen for women primarily.  But, it also had to happen for men, for children, for animals.  It even had to happen for the planet.  It still has to happen.  To take just one example.  The World Economic Forum recently published an estimate that it would be another 170 years before women gained pay equality with men on a global scale.  One – hundred – and – seventy – years!! 

Feminism had to happen for men.  That is because feminism didn’t point the finger at men as a gender, it pointed the finger at a system called patriarchy.  Patriarchy, coming from Greek roots, means “rule of the father.”  The term patriarchy has been broadened to recognise that the rule of the father extends beyond the family to the state, to industrial and economic society, and into our cultural arena.  During the 1960s and 70s numerous books were published seeking to unpick how this system operated, who it benefitted, and who it oppressed.

Firstly, women rightly claimed, patriarchy oppressed women and benefitted men.  However, the system also oppressed - or at least marginalised - young men, gay men, men of colour, pacifist men, children, and nature.  Those who mainly benefit from the system of patriarchy are primarily older, rich, white men.  I know that this is stating a huge thesis in fairly blunt and simplistic terms.  I don’t have room for a thorough feminist-patriarchal analysis.  But, that is the basic mechanism of patriarchy.  Consider just three examples.

Take a walk amongst war graves.  Read the epitaphs and inevitably you will notice that the ages of these men are not old,  They are teenagers, or young men in their twenties, possibly into their thirties.  Who sends these young men off to war?  Older men.  Men of power and prestige.  Men with titles such as General, Brigadier, Field Marshall, or perhaps others with titles such as Prime Minister, President, Minister of Defence.  Inevitably, they are older men with authority.  Those young men lying in war graves are the victims of patriarchy.

The slave trade was abolished within the US and Great Britain only fairly recently in human history.  Who did that trade benefit?  The cotton plantation owners in the Americas and the owners of shipping companies.  Who did it oppress?  Men of dark skins from Africa – a continent considered to be backward by men of power and prestige in Europe.  Patriarchy oppressed those slaves.

I grew up in a society that said, often very clearly, that “boys don’t cry,” “put a brave face on it and face it like a man,” “don’t show your emotions.”  I was given cars, aeroplanes, trucks to play with.  When I played with stuffed toys I was looked at askance.  Boys don’t play with dolls – and stuffed toys are only one step away from dolls.  Possible careers for young men then did not include nursing and other caring professions – they were “for girls.”  In short, I was brought up in a culture where I was not supposed to explore my entire human identity.  Many emotions were off limits to me.  I was denied my fullness by patriarchy.

Patriarchy has always been oppressive.  Feminism, rightly, pointed this out.  Feminism had to happen.

Feminism still has to happen.  Today (2016) in the country in which I presently live (Australia) the average full-time wage for a woman is only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.  In other words, a man could take the final 9 or 10 weeks of the year off on an unpaid holiday, and still earn the same as a woman who worked every one of the 52 weeks in the year.  The average superannuation payouts for women are less than 60% that of men in Australia.  Women make up less than one-in-five of the directors on the boards of the 200 largest companies in Australia. 

Perhaps the most damning statistic is that domestic and family violence is the leading preventable cause of death, disability, and illness amongst women aged 15 to 44 years.

Women, particularly feminist women, have been pointing all this out for years - it’s not new.  A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft was published well over three hundred years ago.  Women have been telling men to listen all that time.  Women didn’t suddenly decide to become vociferous in the 1960s or 70s.  Fortunately, some men have listened, but many haven’t.  Some men, notably those belonging to the ill-named Men's Rights Movement, have rejected the basic tenets of feminism and so have come up with an analysis that totally misses the mark.

Where feminism pointed the finger at patriarchy, the men’s rights movement has mistakenly pointed the finger at feminism.  (See diagram below)  This is a big mistake.  Feminism could be a useful tool of analysis for men, but only if men are willing to look.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

I Choose

It’s a world of paradox isn’t it?  A world of seeming contradiction.  If we allow ourselves to get side-tracked by the news on television we will see, night after night, a world of war, terrorism, corrupt politicians, tragic murders, disasters.  The one light in all this may come with a feel-good story of a minute or so right at the very end of the news hour, after the weather report.

If we go outside and watch the sunset, or listen to the birds, or smell the fragrance on the air, we will find the world is full of beauty, wonder, and inspiration.

The reality is, it’s neither one nor the other – it is both.  But, I can choose my attitude towards the world, towards other people, and towards myself.  I’m reminded of the story about two people walking down the road in the middle of a rainstorm.  One of them is huddled over, a grimace on their face, mumbling and grumbling.   The other is skipping along, smiling and occasionally whooping for joy.  Each of them have made a choice.  It doesn’t matter which of the choices are made – both of them get wet.  Given that I’m going to get wet, I think I’d prefer to be the skipper.

So, here are the choices that I wish to make in my life.


Empathy stems from a Greek word – pathos, that can be translated as suffering, feeling, emotion or calamity.  Literally, it means what befalls one.  Empathy adds the prefix em meaning in.  Empathy, then, is the ability to experience the suffering of others.  Empathy allows us to understand what others are feeling either because we have experienced similar feelings or have the ability to step out of our own experience and discover the feeling that the other person or persons are undergoing.  Our brains contain what are known as mirror neurons which effectively mirror what is happening emotionally for another person. Via this mechanism our brains react as if what we are seeing or hearing from another person is actually happening to ourselves, within our own bodies.

Fortunately, our mirror neurons don’t confine themselves just to feelings of suffering. When others are happy, joyful, or having fun, we can feel those emotions also via our mirror neurons. 

It is possible to develop our empathy.  Becoming more self-aware helps.  Being in touch with our own feelings and emotions, being able to identify them and then able to express them increases our empathic response to others. 


Many of us look for happiness in our lives.  We try to find it by looking inside ourselves, or immersing ourselves in material possessions or experiences.  The key to happiness, however, may actually lie in our interaction with others.  The Dalai Lama has eloquently noted that,
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
The word itself gives us a clue that this is in fact so.  Compassion is passion with the small prefix com attached.  Com is Latin for with.  So, very simply, compassion is passion with others.


When we are able to empathise and act with compassion then being able to forgive almost follows as naturally as day follows night.  Many of us find it difficult to forgive because we mistakenly associate it with being a subversion of justice, forgetting, weakness, or some sort of quasi-religious righteousness.  It is none of these.  Indeed, forgiveness is often more something we do for ourselves than for the person we are forgiving.  How many of us go through life with some grudge or animosity against another person?  We are trapped.   Trapped by our own lack of forgiveness.   Yet, as soon as we forgive we find that we become free. 


Love?  What is it?  Philosophers, playwrights, religious teachers, poets, musicians, psychologists, and all of us, have sought to understand this emotion over generations.  So, I’m not going to try to define it here.  All I know is that love is something that I choose to bring into my life: unconditional love, fully-embracing love, love for others, love for animals, love for nature, love for the earth.  A love that flows through me and I through it.  That’s all I can say.


Embracing a love that is all-encompassing means that I choose connection.  I choose connection rather than disconnection, rather than separateness.  Indeed, it could be that connection allows us to choose  empathy, compassion, forgiveness and love.  The sense of separateness is an illusion and by attempting to view ourselves as separate beings means that empathy, compassion, forgiveness and love are always going to be difficult to embrace.

Everything is connected, and the more we understand this the more we notice that everything is connected.  Yes, I know that is almost a tautology, yet it is a self-confirming cycle that underpins the whole of life.  Embrace it!

These are the attitudes that I choose for myself.  None of this is suggesting that these are easy to keep in mind or continually act on.  I do choose them though.

When I make these choices there is less room for fear, hatred, anger, and isolation.  I still expect to get wet though.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Creating Creativity (Part 2 of 2)

In last weeks blog I looked at some of the blocks and hindrances that impede our individual and collective creativity.  This week I offer a few techniques for harnessing and encouraging our creativity.

Be Curious and Keep Questioning

Last week I began with a quote from Albert Einstein.  I’ll begin this week with another from him:
“The important thing is to not stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
As children we constantly asked questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “Why does grandad use a walking stick?” “Why do I have to go in the car?” Indeed, by the age of 4 we are asking around 300 questions each and every day. Between two and five years of age most children will have asked 40,000 questions.

But then, during our elementary, or primary, school years we stop asking questions. Our education system teaches us that answers are more important than questions, so we are discouraged from asking questions.

Research indicates that being curious stimulates and strengthens the brain. As it is for muscles, the more we use the brain the healthier it remains.  And that is excellent news for developing our creative powers.  When we exercise our curiosity we obtain the following three benefits as well:
  • We are motivated to learn and we become better learners.
  • Our personal growth is stimulated and the connections we make with people is deepened when we first meet them. 
  • Our sense of personal meaning and purpose in life is heightened when we are curious. There is always something new to explore, discover, or learn.
Inner Listening

We know it is important to learn and develop our skills for listening to other people.  To harness our creativity learning to listen to our inner voice is also important – we call it our intuition.  It is worth noting that intuition is not a magical process whereby an idea or answer just pops into our head out of nowhere.  Intuition is literally learning from within: in-tuition.  Intuition is “nothing more and nothing less than re-cognition” according to the psychologist Herbert A Simon.

How do we develop our intuition? Most writers on the topic seem to agree that there are four barriers that we need to overcome:
  1. Declutter your mind. Tapping into your inner wisdom is difficult if there is a lot of clutter in the way. You will find your own way to declutter; some ways are to go for a walk, get into nature, listen to music or meditate. Perhaps a shower.  Have you noticed how often you’ll get a good idea in the shower? It’s surprisingly common.1  Whatever you do, you need to give your mind freedom.
  2. Ignore what you know.  Intuition deals more with feelings, insights and emotions than it does with facts and figures.  This does not mean that you reject the facts and figures, just put them aside and ask yourself how you feel about the question, issue or problem?  How is your body responding?
  3. Get out of your head.  Go with your gut.   Often we get a “gut feeling” before our brain takes over and becomes the “knower.” Get in tune with your gut. Do your stomach muscles contract and tighten or do they relax?  Does your heart and chest feel as if it is expanding?
  4. Let go the need to control.  Our rational mind tells us that we should be in control at all times.  However, when we wish to tap into our intuition we need to surrender this desire, and trust that our intuition will provide us with insights without our need to dictate what those insights might be.

Anyone who has attended a Playback Theatre performance (or watched the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?) will have roared with laughter at the antics of the actors as they act out, without pre-prepared scripts, scenes, situations and scenarios from the random suggestions of the audience.  Those of us in the audience marvel at the ingenuity, spontaneity, and creativity the actors bring to the performance.  How do they do it, we may ask?

Can we adopt the ideas of improvisation (Improv as it has come to be known) for our own explorations of creativity?  The answer, according to at least one Improv teacher and writer is a resounding “yes.”  Improv, says Patricia Ryan Madson, is based on 13 very simple maxims.2
  1. Say Yes.  Saying yes means being open to what is happening, going with the flow, being open to the opportunities that arise.  Saying yes builds on the ideas already in existence.  Saying no, on the other hand, can be a desire to control the flow, which then leads to everyone being stifled.
  2. Don’t Prepare.  Too much planning can block being in the present; it can distract from listening to others.
  3. Just Show Up.  Just be there, make the effort.  Woody Allen is reputed to have remarked that “eighty percent of success is showing up.”
  4. Start Anywhere.  We can lose focus, energy, or time by trying to figure out where to start.  Indeed, worrying about where to start can lead to never starting at all.
  5. Be Average.  There is no need to strive for perfection (it’s not possible anyway), just be natural.  Bring who you are to the situation, not who you think you ought to be.
  6. Pay Attention.  Although being aware of your own thoughts, ideas and feelings is helpful, being overly focused on them can mean missing the opportunities that are offered by other people or the situation.
  7. Face The Facts.  Worrying about the future is pointless, so too is agonising over the past.  Mark Twain, with characteristic wit, noted that, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.”  Things may not be ideal but they are what they are.
  8. Stay The Course.  Keep with it.  Keep in mind the purpose, not what you are doing or even the goal.  The purpose of meeting with someone, or acting with others, is far more important than the goal you have set yourself.  How many times have we heard the phrase “life's higher purpose” and then forgotten it to think about our immediate goals?
  9. Wake Up To The Gifts.  Opportunities are everywhere, be open to them.
  10. Make Mistakes, Please.  Last weeks blog noted how the fear of failure can block creativity.  But be wary: this is not a excuse for slipshoddiness.
  11. Act Now.  This maxim focuses on acting, not doing.  Sometimes the best action may be doing nothing, or simply observing.
  12. Take Care Of Each Other.  Share and share alike.
  13. Enjoy The Ride.  Not everything is fun, but we can still enjoy the moment, the situation, the company, for what it is.  When we come from a place within us that is joyful, then almost any situation is tolerable.  We cannot have excitement in our lives all the time, but we can enliven our lives.
Finally, a note about what sort of creativity is needed.  There is much technical innovation in the world today, our rate of technological change is increasing rapidly.  But technological innovation is not the sort of new thinking that Einstein was talking about 70 years ago.  He was talking about a radically different type of thinking.  He was talking about a thinking and creativity that went more to the heart of who we are – not increasing the machinery with which we do things.  I’ll leave it to you to think about that – creatively.

1.  Research by the German bathroom and kitchen fixtures company Hansgrohe SE, in 2014, found that 72% of 4,000 people surveyed from 8 countries reported new insights whilst standing in a shower. Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D. (the researcher) comments that “It’s both surprising and fascinating to learn that people are more creative in the shower than they are at work, with Hansgrohe’s findings reinforcing existing research on the importance of relaxation for creative thinking.”

2.  Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just show up, Bell Tower, New York, 2005

Monday 17 October 2016

Creating Creativity (Part 1 of 2)

Albert Einstein is credited with one of the most oft quoted sayings in the world.  I will quote it again here, although it appears that Einstein didn’t actually use the words the way they are quoted:1
“We can’t solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them”
These words have become more and more critical as the years and decades have passed.  The telegram from which they have been abstracted was sent seventy years ago at the height of nuclear tensions.  We still live with the threat of nuclear terror.  Additionally we face new issues, problems and concerns: environmental degradation, rising inequality, terrorism, refugee crises, climate change, rapid urbanisation to name but a few.  What is more is that all these are interconnected and the world is becoming increasingly complex.

We are still using the same thinking that Einstein and the others of his committee referred to in 1946.
We must think differently.  We must think creatively.

Perhaps enabling citizens and communities to recognise their collective creativity is one of the most fundamental tasks that a community worker can undertake.  If we critically appraise the roles that our world leaders take on we must conclude that acting creatively is not one of them.  It is up to us.  The creative opportunities arise from the bottom, not from the top.  Creative opportunities can be found on the margins, not from central decree.

Those working from an empowerment model, or a strengths based model can help to create creativity.  We can help people see the blocks to their own creativity and we can offer tools and techniques to help strengthen the creativity that is already there.  This blog piece (Part 1) will address a couple of the common creativity blocks and hindrances.  Next week, Part 2, will look at some tools and techniques for fostering creativity.

Left Brain – Right Brain Myth

One of the biggest blocks to creativity is the belief that creativity applies only to artists, musicians, potters, writers, dancers, actors or other such people.  We all have creative potential.  The notion of the left brain-right brain duality has sadly contributed to this cultural myth.  And it is just that – a myth.  Our brains are actually a lot more complex than the simple dualism of right brain – left brain that much of popular psychology has led us to believe.  Indeed, activities like creativity (and rationality for that matter) are more whole-brain activities. 

In the 1960s scientists cut the structure (corpus callosum) that connects the left and right brains of epilepsy sufferers in an attempt to cure them.  They then looked at what sides of the brain were involved in language, maths, drawing etc., and found that one side was more likely to be involved in some functions than the other.  Popular psychology took this to mean that we are all either left brain dominant or right brain dominant.  But this failed to recognise that the experiments were with unconnected brain hemisphere, and neuroscientists have never held to the left-right brain myth.  In 2013 researchers at the University of Utah studied the connected brains of more than 1,000 people and found that,2
"It is not the case that the left hemisphere is associated with logic or reasoning more than the right, (and that) creativity is no more processed in the right hemisphere than the left."
Our culture, unfortunately, would rather we considered ourselves as consumers or producers, rather than as creators.  The first step towards taking back our creative power is to break down the myths and stereotypes.

Fear of Failure

A further hindrance in our creativity is our fear of failure.  In fact, fear of failure has it’s own word – atichyphobia.  Symptoms of atichyphobia can include; a reluctance to try anything new, anxiety, a low sense of worth, or perfectionism (whereby we are willing to do only those things that we know we can succeed at).  But we know from a number of historical episodes that failure can often lead to great success.  Here are just two such cases:

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, reputedly tried 1,000 different filaments for his light bulb, none of which worked. The story goes that a journalist queried him on this and asked why he didn’t give up after 1,000 failures. Edison famously replied “I haven’t failed 1,000 times, I’ve just proven 1,000 ways in which it doesn’t work.”

Michael Jordan is credited with being the greatest basketballers to have ever lived. Here is what he had to say about failure and success:
“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
When it comes to collective creativity there are some further blocks that get placed in the way, amongst them:
  • A desire to conform to group norms.  If group members prize harmony over encouraging their fellows to offer differing opinions, then creativity can be hard to come by.
  • Some groups may have no history or experience with working together and so a collaborative approach becomes difficult to achieve.  It may be that members are used to a competitive culture and so will be suspicious of a more cooperative style.
  • If the working patterns amongst members is one of making judgments, being critical or constant evaluation, then the openness and transparency required for creativity will be elusive.
  • Some group members are more inclined towards the introversion end of the spectrum and so if those of an extroverted persuasion become more dominant in the group, then those who are more introspective or tentative about sharing their views will tend to switch off and not offer their ideas or insights.
Next weeks blog piece will look at some of the tools and techniques for fostering our creativity.

1.Einstein was the Chairman of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists who sent a telegram to hundreds of prominent Americans in May 1946, in which the following phrase was used: “…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” This telegram came in the wake of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and at a time of heightened nuclear tensions.  Somehow that extract from the telegram came to be attributed to Einstein himself and re-formatted to the quotation about not being able to solve problems with the same thinking that created them.  Certainly, when Einstein was interviewed a few months later he reiterated the quote from the telegram and said to the interviewer (Michael Amrine) “We must abandon competition and secure cooperation.”

2. Nielsen JA, Zielinski BA, Ferguson MA, Lainhart JE, Anderson JS (2013) An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071275

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Evidence for the Machine

Last week’s blog post introduced the metaphor of a machine heading towards disaster, with the passengers unaware or unwilling to see the direction in which the machine is travelling.  The fuel for the machine in this metaphor is suggested to be our collective consumerism. 

The machine is a metaphor and hardly an original one.  Like many metaphors the story was devoid of evidence and research.  This week’s blog post provides some of the evidence and research that gives credence to the metaphor. 

  • The size of homes in the US grew by 55% since 1970, yet the number of people living in them reduced by 13%.  Source: Clive Hamilton, Requiem For A Species, Allen & Unwin, Crows nest, NSW, Australia, 2010.
  • Meat consumption per capita has tripled since 1961 and is now significantly disrupting the global nitrogen cycle.  Source: Emily Matthews & Allen Hammond, Critical Consumption Trends and Implications, World Resources Institute, 1999.
  • Since 1960 more than 1/5 of the world’s tropical forest cover has been removed.  Ibid
  • Globally we consume 50% more of the earth’s resources than the earth has the capacity to restore.  Unsurprisingly, this consumption pattern is unequally distributed, with some nations consuming at a rate 400% greater than the earth can provide.  I’ll leave you to guess which nations these may be.  Source: Ecological Footprint Atlas, Global Footprint Network.
  • Following the end of World War II the world’s consumption of oil grew rapidly from around 5 million barrels per day to over 65 million barrels per day in 1980.  A slump during the early 80s saw it drop to under 6o million barrels, but it has been steadily increasing since to around 80 million barrels per day.  Source: Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2011. 
  • During the first decade of the 21st century the cost of oil discovery has tripled.  Source: Heinberg, ibid
  • Simple mathematics tells us that consumerism and the associated economic growth cannot continue indefinitely.  Those with a mathematical understanding will know this.   It is called an asymptote – a limit beyond which exponential growth cannot go.
  • Australians spend $10.5 billion each year on goods that are never used.  Source: Hamilton, op cit
  • Approximately 1/3 of food is lost or wasted each year – 1.3 billion tons per year.  Source: Jenny Gustovsson, Christel Cederberg & Ulf Sonesson, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, Gothenburg, 2011.
  • Consumers in Europe and North America waste 95-115 kg of food waste per person per year.  Meanwhile, per capita food waste in Sub-Saharan Africa and SE Asia is 6-11 kg per year.  Source: ibid
  • Between 2000 and 2010 the amount of municipal solid waste generated per capita by urban dwellers doubled (from 0.64 kg/person/day to 1.2 kg).  The waste is expected to triple by 2025.  Source: Daniel Hoornweg & Perinaz Bhada-Tata, What a Waste, Urban Development Series, World Bank
  • The amount of unwanted (waste) goods is indicated by the rise in the self-storage industry.  In the US this rose by 81% between 1998 and 2006 and 10% in Australia.  In the UK it rose by 35% per year during these boom years.  Source: Hamilton, op cit.
  • Inequality in the US has increased significantly since 1980, and is now higher than it was during the 1930/40s.  The top 1% in the US have 20% of the total income.  Similar trends exist in the UK, Canada and Australia.  Source: Thomas Piketty, Capital, in the Twenty-First Century, Belknap Press, 2014.
  • From 1980 – 2008 the top 1% gained over 40% of the total growth in the period in the US, and more than 20% in Australia and the UK.  Source: The (Australian) Age, October 10, 2013.
  • Global inequality rose between 1980 and 2002 with the Gini coefficient1 rising from 65.7 to 70.7 in that period.  Source: Isabel Ortiz & Matthew Cummins, Global Inequality: Beyond the Bottom Million, UNICEF, 2011.
  • Within the OECD 17 (of 22) countries experienced increased inequality between 1985 – 2008.  Only two nations (Turkey and Greece) had  a decrease in inequality in that same period.  Source: Divided We Stand, OECD, 2011.
  • The richest 1% in the world have more wealth than the rest of the world combined.  Source: Oxfam Briefing Paper, 18 January 2016, citing Credit Suisse, Global Wealth Databook, 2015.
  • “The real income (adjusted for inflation) of most Americans today is lower than it was almost a decade and a half ago, in 1979.”  Source: Joseph Stiglitz in an interview with Cullen Murphy, 5 June 2012.  Joseph Stiglitz has been the Chief Economist with the World Bank, Professor of Finance and Economics at Columbia University, and won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001.
  • Four in every ten Australians feel anxious, guilty, or depressed about the amount of clutter in their homes.  Source: Josh Fear, Stuff Happens, Australia Institute, Research Paper No. 52, January 2008.
  • Ill health and social problems occur more frequently amongst societies with greater levels of inequality.  Higher levels of inequality correspond to: greater feelings of distrust, higher levels of mental illness, lower life expectancy, greater rates of infant mortality, more obesity, lower educational performance, higher levels of teenage pregnancy, greater homicide rate, higher imprisonment rates, and lower social mobility.  Source: Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level, Penguin Books, London, 2010.  Wilkinson and Pickett are epidemiologists at UK universities.
  • The most affluent in high inequality US counties die at a greater rate (912/100,000) than do the poorest (883/100,000) in counties with low inequality levels.  Read that again.  The mortality rate amongst the richest in high inequality counties is higher than it is for the poorest in low inequality counties.  Source: Stephen Bezruchka (University of Washington), Income Inequality and Mortality in US Counties, American Journal of Public Health, January 2002.
  • Greater environmental degradation is correlated with higher levels of social inequality.  Source: Jaqueline Haupt & Carmen Lawrence, Unexpected connections: Income Inequality and environmental degradation. University of Western Australia, February 2012.
  • The number of reported disasters per decade have increased almost five-fold from 1971-80 (743) to 2001-10 (3,496).  Disasters include floods, drought, storms, wildfires and extreme temperature.  Source: World Meteorological Association.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 150,000 people are killed annually from climate change effects.  Sadly, most of these deaths are in poor countries where the infrastructure to deal with climate change effects are minimal.  These are also the countries who have contributed the least to climate change.  Source:  WHO: World Health Report, 2005.
It is worth reiterating the theme of last weeks blog:  It is time to question the machine.


1.  The Gini Coefficient is an internationally recognised measure of equality/inequality, with 100.00 representing absolute inequality, and 0.00 suggesting total equality.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Time to Question the Machine

The economic growth machine has been chugging along for a century or two now.  Following World War II it shifted up a gear and went global.  Now, it’s speeding along on the course designed by it’s makers.  Many of us are on board enjoying the ride.

Many thousands more do not have enough to buy a ticket, whilst some have been thrown off the machine by the conductors.  Yet, the machine keeps whistling along the path that the captains of business and their political lieutenants are keen on having us travel.

Meanwhile, on board we enjoy the ride because it offers us the baubles of success, fame, luxury and leisure.  We happily consume these.  They occupy our time so that we don’t have to look out the front of the machine to see where we are going.  If we did, we might take fright, for on the horizon there is a gaping chasm into which the machine is bound to tumble if we continue in that direction.

What is it that is powering this machine?  Our consumerism.  Our affluence.  Our greed.  Although most of us would not recognise, let alone acknowledge, that it is our greed that fuels this juggernaut.  We have been manipulated.  The captains of industry and their marketing sergeants have prodded at our fears and greed, and at our hopes and desires with a message that says “if you buy then you will gain happiness.”

Indeed, they have been quite blatant about this.  Not long after the end of the second world war Victor Lebow (a corporate director, co-chair of the Economics of Distribution at Columbia University, and a writer) was declaring that,1
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.”
In order to make this happen, Lebow exhorted his corporate colleagues that,
“We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.”
They have been doing it ever since, getting better and better at it.  More and more cunning and devious.  This century the marketers have managed to shift consumption beyond that of social status and meaning.  In the past decade or two they have managed to imbue consumption with our self identity. 

They’ve got us.  We are now trapped.  We go out and buy in order to build our sense of self, to find our identity in a corporate logo worn by our favourite pop singer or sports star.  Then within days (or sometimes even hours) we become dissatisfied.  There is no self-hood in what we have just bought.  We stop using it, we throw it away.  Then what do we do?  Go and buy something else to fill the void in our lives – exactly as Lebow and his colleagues would have us do.

All of this continual buying, discarding, consuming, buying more, discarding more is fuelling that runaway machine.

It’s time that we, the passengers, began to question the machine.  We need to question not just the direction, but the machine itself.  We need to also question the fuel – our own sense of who we are.  If we do that, we might just find that by opting off the machine we find the satisfaction that we really desire.  We may find that our self identity and our satisfaction is found in quietly and simply wandering in the vast earthly realm, well away from the consumerist machine. 

So let us question the machine.


1. Victor Lebow in Journal of Retailing. Spring 1955.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Creative Waste

In a world beset by many complex, interrelated issues and concerns, are we letting the creative talents that we need go to waste?  Certainly the thinking that we have been using to solve these issues has made little impact, if any.  As Einstein is often quoted:1
“We can’t solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”
We need to be more creative.

We have the creative talent.  We have imaginative powers, and we have the resources.  But, are we using them to the most benefit, or are we wasting our collective creative abilities.  Perhaps the one area of human activity that most utilises our creative talents is the advertising industry.  Creativity and lateral thinking are part and parcel of this industry.  And, it’s significant.

Globally, almost $600 billion is spent annually on advertising.  World-wide nearly 1.2 million people are employed in advertising.2  Most of this activity is concentrated in the North American and European markets. 

What is the purpose of advertising?  To get us to buy, to consume.  Not just to consume, but to consume more and more.  The western-styled consumerist lifestyle is what is primarily targeted.  The top 10 companies by advertising spend in the world are made up of car manufacturers (Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors), the entertainment and broadcasting industry (Walt Disney, Comcast), communications (AT & T, Verizon), beauty products (L’Oreal), the finance sector (American Express), and consumer goods (Proctor and Gamble).  All of these, arguably, could be considered western luxuries.  Between them, these 10 companies spend $22 billion annually on advertising.  It is difficult to imagine that any of this advertising spend is going towards helping to tackle the various issues and concerns besetting us.

Consumption is at the root of many of the issues and concerns for which we need the new thinking that Einstein identified.  Our creative talent is going to waste.  Not only are we not using our creative abilities in solving these issues and concerns; we are using our creative talents to create the issues and concerns.  If we stopped to think about it, surely we would recognise a collective madness within that vicious cycle. 

A highly vicious and pernicious cycle it is too, because all of us are subject to it and get trapped within it.  Every day we are bombarded with hundreds of adverts and other messages telling us to “consume, consume, consume.”  Many of these messages we don’t even notice.  Product placement is notable in this regard.  Products, and their corporate logo, are placed, seemingly innocently, within movies that we watch.  Next time you’re at the movies, spend a little time being alert to the placement of products within the movie story-line.  You may be surprised.  One of the most famous examples of this was in the 1982 movie ET.  An American sweet, Reece’s Pieces, was prominently placed in that movie.  Afterwards, sales of the sweet rocketed a staggering 65%.3

Yes, we need to be creative in tackling our issues and concerns.  But, we are wasting what creative talent we have.  It’s time to stop the waste.  It’s time to redirect our creative abilities.

1. It seems that Einstein never actually said this, although he was the Chairman of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists who sent a telegram to hundreds of prominent Americans in May 1946, in which the following phrase was used: “…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” This telegram came in the wake of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and at a time of heightened nuclear tensions.  Somehow that extract from the telegram came to be attributed to Einstein himself and re-formatted to the quotation about not being able to solve problems with the same thinking that created them.  Certainly, when Einstein was interviewed a few months later he reiterated the quote from the telegram and said to the interviewer (Michael Amrine) “We must abandon competition and secure cooperation.”
2. Global Advertising Agencies Market Research Report, July 2016

3. A Product Placement Hall of Fame, Business Week Online 1998,

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Global Is The New Local

Many years ago the slogan Think Global, Act Local was coined within the environmental movement.1  The mass environment movement was just beginning and a number of global environment groups were coming into existence, amongst them Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and others.  Major issues of the time included fluorocarbons and the ozone layer, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, power plants and the attendant disposal of nuclear waste.  The extinction of animal species also elicited a fair amount of attention.  Plus, of course, the second part of the slogan – numerous local environmental campaigns.

Now, four or five decades later, and in the wake of the neo-liberal globalisation process, the global portion of that slogan is of greater importance.  The continued existence of humans on this planet could hang on how much we think globally.  And not just us – many animal species will suffer extinction if we do not think globally.

Thankfully, there are signs that a more global identification may be occurring.  Since 2001 GlobeScan has been conducting a world-wide study tracking how people in 18 countries (more than 20,000 people) identify themselves.  In 2016, for the first time, more than half the respondents in the survey identified themselves as global citizens.  The strongest global identification occurred in non-OECD countries, with citizens in Nigeria, China and Peru showing a higher than 70% agreement with the statement “I see myself more as a global citizen than a citizen of my country.”  What’s more is that the global perspective of citizens in non-OECD counties has been steadily rising since 2007 (when the average was 42%) to an average of 56% in 2016.  OECD countries on the other hand, have seen a reduction in global identification in the same period (from 47% down to 42%), although it has rebounded from the 2011 low of less than 40%.

However, not all OECD countries show low levels of global identification.  Spain (59%) and Canada (54%) buck the trend.

Certainly it can be argued that some aspects of globalisation have contributed towards this growing global identity.  Chief amongst these are those of communication, transport and information flows.  With the growth of the Internet and instant streaming of television images it is possible for people many thousands of kilometres away to witness the suffering of people on the other side of the world and find an empathy for them.  It is as though the suffering of people who are victimised by war, climate change effects, drought and famine are viewed as if they were living down the road from us.  Sufferers are no longer “on the other side of the world,” they are right there in our living rooms.  Because of global transportation systems we could be there within a day.

That’s no longer global – that’s local.  Global and local are merging.

The emergence of global citizenship is a good thing.  Psychological tests suggest that those with a global citizenship perspective tend to score higher on traits of openness, caring, empathy, and agreeableness.  I am not suggesting that one follows from the other four, nor that the four traits follow from a global perspective.  Rather, I suspect, they emerge in mutual formation.

The world of today is highly inter-connected, full of diversity, and amazingly complex.  The issues, concerns, problems that face us are similarly so.  So too are the opportunities, wonders, and delights.  Those four traits – openness, caring, empathy, agreeableness – are vitally needed, as is a global perspective.

Thinking globally and acting locally continues to be a healthy, responsible, and creative slogan for our times.

1. It wasn’t the first use of this or similar phrases.  It had been used within city-planning two decades earlier.  The first to use the phrase from an environmental viewpoint is debatable, although it does appear that its first use may have been David Brower (the founder of Friends of the Earth) in 1969. 

2. The first recorded instance of someone thinking of themselves as a global citizen may be that of Diogenes in 412 BC.  When asked where he came from, Diogenes is reputed to have replied “I am a citizen of the world.”