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 29 March 2016

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

“Slow down, you move too fast,” is the opening line to a Simon and Garfunkel song from 50 years ago.1  In it, the popular duo exhort us to look for fun, watch flowers grow, and love life.  If only we had listened then.

In the 50 years since that song was recorded we have not slowed down, we have sped up – and done so at an accelerating rate.  Our cars are faster and more efficient than they were 50 years ago.  Yet, we are often stuck in traffic, in “rush hours” – a wonderful misnomer if ever there was one.  We rush to answer our mobile phones that we carry everywhere with us.  We spend over $570 billion per year on fast food (a term that only entered the dictionary in 1951).  We flip through TV channels quickly switching from one programme to another, without having to move from the sofa.  And what do we end up watching?  Reality TV in which some random group of other humans are rushing about trying to be the best cook, the latest superstar, or the quickest builder.

During the 1960s the average number of phone calls a person received per day was less than  three.  Today, in the US, those aged 18-24 send an average of 67 texts per day, and receive almost the same number.  Even those in the 55+ category are sending and receiving 8-9 texts per day – that’s three times the number of phone calls that were being made in the 1960s.  And that’s just texting.  Add in actual phone calls, emails, facebook and twitter messages and the fastness of our communicating is staggering.

It has been estimated that over 90% of all the data in the world has been generated in just the last two years.  All of this suggests that it is no wonder we suffer from Information Overload (cynically described also as Infobesity and Infoxication.)   To the neuroscientist this is known as Cognitive Overload and can lead to poor decision-making, indecision, and stress.  It’s no wonder that levels of anxiety, stress and depression are on the rise.

All this speed, going quicker, getting faster is going to burn us out.  Its a physiological given.  Ask any competitive 400m runner.  At the end of a 400m race if you were to approach him or her and say, “get up, you gotta do that again, now” you’re unlikely to get a conciliatory reply.  We cannot keep it up. 

Not only are we doing ourselves damage, we are also damaging our communities and our environment.  Communities are based on human connection and relationships.  If we are moving through life at such a speed that we do not have time for connecting then the glue that keeps communities together and makes them healthy doesn’t stick any more.  Our environment is threatened when we consume fast food at such an enormous rate that species are threatened, local food supplies are ignored.  Transporting food from one side of the planet to the other increases carbon emissions.  The issue of deforestation for beef production or palm oil plantations is well known and documented.

Slow Down

So, what do we do?  Well, it has already started. Following a demonstration against a proposal to build a McDonalds restaurant in Rome in 1986 Carlo Petrini launched Slow Food to promote local, good food, to enjoy the simple pleasure of eating and to slow down the pace of life.  Since then the movement has grown to a network of around 100,000 members and in 2013 Carlo Petrini was awarded an UN Environmental Award.

Petrini’s advocacy for slow food has spawned a number of other slow scenarios:  Slow Travel, advocating remaining in one place getting to know the local environment and culture, rather than flitting from place to place;  Slow Money, moving investment towards local, organic food production;  Slow Schools, enabling children to learn ways to live “slowly” and sustainably – what has been called “ecological literacy;”  Slow Books, rekindling an interest in reading, and moving away from a culture glued to the television or computer screen;  Slow Living, becoming more in tune with what our bodies are telling us – that the fast pace of life is damaging our health.  The list of “slow” aspects of life goes on: slow parenting, slow fashion, slow cinema, slow science, slow technology …

Beyond these slow scenarios the Slow City concept has also emerged.  Beginning in another part of Italy, Cittaslow has grown into a world-wide network of cities and towns.  Today there are well over 200 cities in more than 30 countries that have signed up to the Cittaslow charter.  Slow cities and towns in the Cittaslow network have a maximum of 50,000 residents, reflecting the concept of localisation that characterises much of the slow movement.  For populations greater than 50,000 there is a Supporter category, as well as another category for individuals or families.

Whilst it acknowledges some benefits of globalisation, Cittaslow also understands that globalisation tends to flatten-out the differences between communities and hide the unique qualities in each local community.  Cittaslow wants to develop “local communities based on the ability to share and recognise their intrinsic specific traits, of regaining their own identity, visible from outside and deeply lived within.”2

Whether we live in a Cittaslow community or not, we can all slow down.  When we do so consciously, not only do our personal lives become more healthy, so too do our communities.  We begin to cultivate local networks of farmers, growers, teachers, scientists, mentors, restaurants, and a myriad of other connections. 

Adopting a slow approach to life does not mean that we become isolated or unaware of the global realities and our responsibilities to life everywhere on the planet.  Slowing down in fact allows us to see more clearly the interconnections between what we do locally and the consequences of those actions beyond our immediate environment.  We put into practise the saying: Think Global, Act Local.

1. Paul Simon, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), recorded by Simon & Garfunkel, 16 August 1966, Warner/Chappell Music.

2. Cittaslow International Charter, Attachment A, 2014

Thursday 24 March 2016

Try This... (just for one day)

Try this…

Turn off your mobile phone
Power down the Internet
Unplug your landline
Switch off the television set

Ignore any mail in the box
For those with a little courage
Don’t go into work today
Leave your car in the garage

Watch not the clock upon the wall
Forget the things you must do today
Tear up your “to-do” list
And throw it well away

Try this…

Kick off your shoes, step upon the grass
Or walk along a sandy beach
Smell the salty air of the seas
Or honey dew from mountain beech

Watch eagles soar on thermal drafts
Wonder at butterflies flitting free
Stand up high on mountain top
Or sit beneath a shady tree

Feel the rain upon your skin
Or the welcome warmth of the sun
Watch children run and play
Without a care, all for fun


Once the sun has dipped and gone
And below the horizon slipped
Fall asleep, maybe dream
Nestled in your cosy bed

Before the next day’s dawn
Awake from sleep, arise, arise
Find a place to stand or sit
And to the East turn your eyes


As to the East you turn your gaze
Witness the day’s first ray
Ask yourself just one thing
“Does the sun still rise today?”

Yes, no matter what we do - whether we succeed or fail, whether we win or lose – the sun still rises in the East the next day.  As community workers or social change activists we can sometimes feel as if we are indispensable to the ongoing work or struggle.  We can become blind to our place and feel that we are crucial and vital to the organisation or community we work for or within.

However, none of us are indispensable.  None of us are crucial to lifes continuous journey.  Watching the rising sun is a gentle reminder that no matter how important, or unimportant, we thought of our lives and actions yesterday, the sun still rises today.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Is This The Most Toxic Catchphrase In Our Culture?
You may not read it very often.  It is not commonly used in everyday conversation.  But this catchphrase seems to underpin much of our cultural understandings, motivations and behaviours.  What is this catchphrase?  The survival of the fittest.  Attributed to Charles Darwin, but (as we shall see) not a phrase that Darwin introduced.

Survival of the fittest explains much of our way of life doesn’t it?  That is why it is acceptable, even expected, that some members of society aggregate to themselves the riches and positions of authority.  It explains why nations mobilise their militaries and condone sending those troops into battle.  It explains the current prevalent philosophy of global neoliberalism. 

For that is the state of human nature, or so the myth goes.  It is the fit that will survive, so we must become the fittest.  It is only natural that those who are not fit will slip to the back of the queue, fall to the bottom of the heap.  The fit are obliged to climb to the top.  Because that’s the way of the world – the survival of the fittest.

The idea that human nature is this way predates Charles Darwin by at least 200 years.  Thomas Hobbes, writing in Leviathan describes “the life of man (sic)…(as) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”   For Hobbes  it is a case of “every man is enemy to every man.”1

The notion that human beings are base at our core has remained a common myth right through to the 20th century.  George Santayana, the Italian philosopher, proclaimed that if you “dig a little beneath the surface you’ll find a ferocious, persistent, profoundly selfish man.”2 

Freud, the granddaddy of psychology, did nothing to dispel this view.  Freud considered that “the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting, instinctual disposition.”3  It is little wonder then, that with the voices of such heavy-weights of philosophy and psychology being added to the survival of the fittest catchphrase that the dark side of human nature should come to be commonly accepted as the natural state of human beings.

But it is this catchphrase – survival of the fittest – that most commonly is quoted, accepted and tacitly agreed with in our cultural realm.  But it is a myth.  It is a myth in two ways.  Myth 1.  Darwin used the phrase.  Myth 2. It is correct.  Both are myths.

Myth 1

Survival of the Fittest.  What could more succinctly sum up Charles Darwin’s thesis that this?  It is quintessentially Darwin isn’t it?  But, it was not Darwin who wrote it.  In 1866 Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin suggesting that because the phrase natural selection was misunderstood that Darwin might like to adopt the phrase survival of the fittest which had been used by Herbert Spencer. Darwin accepted Wallace’s suggestion and thereafter used the term in preference to natural selection.

However, Darwin did not use the phrase in the way that it has come to be used.  There are at least two ways to define fit.  One is that it means healthy, strong, enduring.  In this sense, if one is fit then one has the capability to outrun, outjump, outdo someone who is unfit.  The second possible definition is that of fitting something within something else, much like how a jigsaw piece fits neatly and correctly into the jigsaw.  It is the second of these meanings that Darwin was alluding to when he thought of the fitness of species.

But, our culture has chosen to use the first, incorrect, meaning.  We are living with a myth.

Myth 2

The idea that, biologically, we are all just competitors for the same scrap of food, territory or power has not been without it’s critics.  Perhaps the first major rebuttal of this notion came in 1902 when Peter Kropotkin published Mutual Aid.4  Kropotkin studied the lives and societies of many animals in Siberia and Manchuria and concluded that “if we ask who are the fittest…we at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest.”

Since Kropotkin’s time many biologists and social scientists have investigated the more cooperative, compassionate and mutually encouraging aspects of evolution and human beings.  In 2014 Stefan Klein’s book, Survival of the Nicest,5 was translated from the German into English.  The title of his book was a deliberate play on the survival of the fittest notion.  In the book Klein brought together an impressive array of studies, experiments and research that indicated that humans may well have survived because of our natural inclination towards cooperation, altruism, selflessness, and empathy. 

But, our culture has chosen to assume that we have survived because of competition, dominance, and hierarchies.  We are living with a myth.

Do We Think Too Much?

The survival of the fittest myth has taken hold within our culture and our psyches.  The myth has been used to justify all manners of malevolence, violence and destruction.  Hitler used it to justify his atrocities.   In Mein Kampf he writes, "existence is subject to the law of eternal struggle and strife....where the strong are always the masters of the weak and where those subject to such laws must obey them or be destroyed." 

We see the myth everywhere; from Wall Street bankers to hawks in many of the western nations militaries; from dictatorships world-wide to local politicians posturing in parliaments.  And we accept it, because we have so thoroughly identified the myth with reality that we no longer are able to discern nature from culture.

Human beings are thinking creatures.  On this issue have we over-thought ourselves?  We have come to think of human nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and that it is only the fit that survive.  We have thought it so much that we now accept it as reality.

But it is not so.  The catchphrase – the survival of the fittest - may just be the most toxic one we have ever uttered.

1. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter XIII, 1651.
2. I have found many references to this quote by various authors, but have not tracked down the original source, but said somewhere around the beginning of the 20th century.
3. Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and it’s Discontents, 1930.
4. Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: a factor of evolution, 1902

5. Stefan Klein, Survival of the Nicest: how altruism made us human, and why it pays to get along, Scribe Publications, London, 2014 

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Compassion: Innate Or Not?

Source: Hartwig HKD
In last week’s blog I suggested that gratitude has an ally – compassion.  In an earlier blog I contended that compassion is one (of three) essential values for a community development worker.

A number of social change mechanisms (notably Nonviolent Communication) assume, when no violence is present in our hearts, that compassion is a natural state.  This assumption is challenged often by many (especially economists) who contend that our base nature is competitive, nasty, and self-serving.  Which is it?  Are we naturally compassionate, or are we naturally selfish?

Before proceeding, it is worth defining what compassion is.  With the work passion being held within it, there is a temptation to think that compassion is about acting with a strong or intense desire, ie. with passion.  Passion has indeed come to mean a strong, intense desire, but the root of the word is a little different.  Passion derives from the Latin word pati meaning to suffer.  When the Latin word com (meaning together) is added we discover that compassion means “to suffer together.”  From this shared suffering we act to alleviate that suffering.

Recognising the pain and suffering of another human being is, in part, one of the evolutionary instincts that has enabled humans to survive and flourish in the world.  Far from the Social Darwinian assertion of the “survival of the fittest” espoused by apologists for neoliberalism and military interventions, Darwin actually claimed that
“… communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”1
Research over the past few decades strongly suggests that our brains are wired for compassion.  Dacher Keltner asserts that compassion is
“… an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brain.”2
Psychology, almost since it’s inception tended to focus on the “negative” aspects of the brain.  The more “positive” aspects of our thoughts, emotions and feelings (e.g. happiness, empathy, gratitude, and compassion) have only more recently received attention from the psychology or neurosciences fields.  Dacher Keltner is one such psychologist who studies these “positive” aspects.  In his paper, The Compassionate Instinct, Keltner notes that
“Recent neuroscience studies suggest that positive emotions are less heritable – that is, less determined by our DNA – than negative emotions.  Other studies indicate that the brain structures involved in positive emotions like compassion are more ‘plastic’ – subject to changes brought about by environmental input.”
This is important, because it notes that compassion is something that we can cultivate, something that we can enhance.

Hence, compassion is something that we evolved, and by doing so, enabled us to evolve.  Without compassion, we human beings, may not be here at all.

But What Of Those Who Are Not Compassionate?

Debates about compassion can lead us into the age-old argument about good and evil.  But what of those like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, or Pol Pot ask those who dispute the innateness of compassion.  They showed no sense of compassion. 

How could we describe such examples?  The term “psychopath” comes to mind.  Perhaps, as Charles Eisenstein, notes “psychopath becomes the scientifically sanctioned term for wicked person.” 
Psychopathy has the advantage of having been studied longer than have many of the “positive” aspects of the brain mentioned above. 

Some recent research3 on psychopaths, whilst acknowledging that psychopaths often do not act in a compassionate manner, notes that psychopaths do have “empathy” (closely related to compassion) but that the switch in their brain is set to the “off” position.  (For most people “on” is the default position for the compassion switch in the brain.)  However, it is possible for psychopaths to have this switched to “on.”

This research suggests that the notion that there are some who are not capable of showing compassion, and are out-and-out evil doers, is a baseless assumption.

Innate Or Not? 

Innate or not, the research suggests strongly that compassion can be enhanced, developed, cultivated.  For some, it seems, compassion may possibly even be “switched on.”  If, as Keltner attests, compassion is one of the aspects of the brain that is highly plastic, then cultivating it is indeed possible and highly desirable.

Aside from the research about the evolutionary benefits of compassion there has been considerable research into how compassion enhances our well-being.  Studies have linked compassion to greater happiness, lower levels of depression and anxiety, lower cellular inflammation (linked to cancer), and greater self-esteem.  One study suggested that compassion increases our sense of connection with others and hence leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity.

Innate or not, it certainly seems advisable to cultivate our compassion.  Keltner advises forms of meditation, derived mainly from Buddhist practices.  The exact form seems to be irrelevant, the meditation itself is what is important.

Buddhism does seem to be a useful source to tap into, as compassion is strongly emphasised in that tradition.  One of the timeless maxims of Buddhism is the following:
“For the bird of enlightenment to fly, it must have two wings: the wing of wisdom and the wing of compassion.”
Noting the connection to our individual well-being, the Dalai Lama counsels that
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
In our current world compassion is of greater need than perhaps it ever has been.  In our community development work, or our social justice advocacy it is our compassion that will have the greatest benefit.  Compassion is also the greatest gift that we can help bring about within the communities or society in which we work.

Note.  I thoroughly recommend watching Dacher Keltner's TedX talk on compassion.

1. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Chapter IV
2., accessed 7 March 2016.
3. Harma Meffert, Valeria Gazzola, Johan A. den Boer, Arnold A. J. Bartels, Christian Keysers, Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy, in Brain: The Journal of Neurology, July 2013

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Beyond Gratefulness, Towards Gratitude

In the midst of campaigning for social change we can become overly focused on what is wrong with the world.  We may become despondent, perhaps even angry.  We want to fix the world so that our own lives and those of others can be better.

Every so often though, something happens to us, or for us.  A friend shouts us dinner, or a rainstorm breaks a seven week drought.  Suddenly we feel grateful to the friend, grateful for the rain.

Gratefulness can often be like that.  In the midst of all the troubles of the world something good happens, or we receive a benefit of some sort.  Our response is to feel grateful.  Feeling grateful in such situations allows other emotions to be opened up: happiness, joy, or love towards the friend that bought us dinner.

But, what if, at the time the rains began, I had been in a grumpy mood.  The rainfall then may have exacerbated my grumpiness, because I was now getting wet and soaked through.  I would not feel grateful for the rain, indeed, I may feel decidedly ungrateful.

My prior state-of-mind, to some extent, determined whether I felt grateful or ungrateful.

Towards Gratitude

That is where we must move beyond gratefulness, towards gratitude.  Gratitude is something more than the oft fleeting, temporary, feeling of gratefulness.  Gratitude is a state-of-mind, a way to approach the world, irrespective of what life throws us.

Many of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions speak of gratitude.  Notwithstanding our religious, or non-religious, beliefs, their understandings can be informative.

The Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast, declares that gratitude…
“…is not a reaction to the present moment, because that would be something automatic.  But it is a chosen response.  It’s a real response to every moment.”1
The Buddha too, spoke of gratitude.  In his language, Pali, the word katannuta is often translated as gratitude.  Katannuta is a combination of two Pali words: kata meaning “that which has been done,” and annuta meaning “knowing or recognising.”  Katannuta, then, is a conscious recognition that something has been done for us.

Thus, for Steindl-Rast and the Buddha, gratitude embraces a sense of cognition, a deliberate mental focus.  It is this mental focus that moves us beyond the feeling of gratefulness towards gratitude.  Gratitude is, quite simply, a state-of-mind.  Being a state-of-mind means that gratitude can be cultivated; it can be enhanced, developed and nourished.

What is it that we know or recognise that leads to gratitude?  We fully understand, know and recognise the truth of interconnectedness and the complexity of life.

Think of this blog that you are reading right now.  The components of the computer, tablet or smart phone that you are reading it on have been manufactured by workers in other parts of the world whom you have never met.  The materials they used were dug from the earth or manufactured by other workers elsewhere.  The components, and the final product, have been transported by truck or train drivers, perhaps by bicycle.  The final product was then sold to you by a shop assistant in a store.  All of these people are able to do their job because others tilled the soil and planted crops to feed them.  The crops themselves are dependent upon the nutrients and microbes in the soil, by the sunshine and the rainfall.  That’s just a start: think of the power that enables your device to be turned on so that you can read this.  Think of those who taught you to read; your parents who brought you into this world, and transported you to school so that you could learn to read.

Yes, it is a complex world and everything and everyone are interconnected.  That is the knowing and recognising behind gratitude.  It is also what is behind compassion – a close ally of gratitude.  When we know and recognise this great complexity and interconnectedness; and when we keep hold of that knowledge in our consciousness it is possible to maintain gratitude.

So, next time you become despondent about the lack of progress in social change, do as David Steindl-Rast suggests:
“The first thing is that we have to stop.”
Then, in that moment, lies the opportunity to mindfully apply gratitude.

1. David Steindl-Rast in interview with Krista Tippett, On Being – Anatomy of Gratitude, 21 January 2016.