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 20 December 2017

Time For A Break

Rainbow Juice is taking a break for a couple of weeks.  Thanks to all my readers.  Best wishes for the end of the year and the beginning of the next.  I'll be back in early 2018.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

We're All In This Together

Eastern spirituality has known this for millennia.  Some aspects of western spirituality have also acknowledged it.  Since the beginning of the 20th century a few branches of science (notably quantum physics and Complexity science) have begun to understand it.  A few proponents of change have also expressed the idea.  Some within the social change movements have also spoken of it.  What is it?

It is this simple truth: we are all in this together.

We are all part and parcel of the same phenomenon.  We are not separate.  I am you am I, and together we are we.

Although this truth may be acknowledged, expressed and referred to, the full implications of its meaning and significance are still to be made manifest.  We (especially those of us living in western styled societies) remain locked into the myth of separation.  This myth proclaims that: I am separate from everyone else, and I am also separate from nature.  This idea of separation is a cultural myth – perhaps our deepest cultural myth.  Being such a deep cultural myth it informs everything we do, say or think.  And… we often don’t realise it.

If we were to fully accept our connectedness then we would realise that however we treat another person, or nature, then we treat ourselves the same way.  Thus, if we ridicule another, mock another, mistreat another, or do violence to another; then we ridicule, mock, mistreat, or do violence to ourselves.

We may not think we do so, but at a deep level, often unconscious, within ourselves we are doing so.  We become our thoughts.  There is a saying, often attributed to the Buddha, but in truth, lost in anonymity. However, it contains immense wisdom:
“The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And the habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its way with care;
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings.
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.”
When we fully accept the truth of these words and the notion of non-separation then we change who we are, we change our way of being, and in doing that, we change our way of acting.  Significantly too, we change the way we see others and the world.  We begin to see the world through an entirely different lens.

Instead of problems, we begin to see opportunities.  Instead of enemies, we begin to see people with the same needs, desires, hopes and dreams as us.  When we view the world in this way we find that the world begins to change. 

And, when we do that, we look at social change through entirely different eyes.  We realise that the only real change is in ourselves and in our everyday interactions with those around us, including those with whom we may have disagreements, even those we may have even thought of as enemies.

Yes, we are all in this together. 

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Sometimes I Just Sits

This week I want to revisit a post from a few years ago, because I still think it is relevant and important for us to remember.  In a complex and chaotic world we can get seduced into thinking we need to do something, or that we need to fix something.  Sometimes, we just needs to sit.

So, sit back and enjoy this short video.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Lighten Up

How many of us have experienced the discomfort of doing something, or acting in a way which contradicts our ideas, values, or beliefs?  I would guess that most of us have experienced this discomfort, and possibly done so many times.  In psychology it is called cognitive dissonance.  We can experience a similar discomfort when we are confronted with information that contradicts our values or beliefs.  It is uncomfortable, and we will often do anything to overcome the pain and remove the contradiction.

In classic psychology, we attempt to remove the contradiction (or dissonance) in one of three ways:
  1. We can change our actions  or our beliefs so as to conform with the new information,
  2. We can seek new information that conforms to our present beliefs and so eliminates the contradictory information.
  3. We can lessen the importance of the contradiction, so that it does not bother us.
We could think of these three mechanisms as: change, justify, or downplay. 

From my experience, the first of these is the one we are least likely to do.  Why?  Because of belief systems.  We all live within a set of beliefs that interconnect and enhance one another to build a whole system of beliefs.  Most of us, as we grow up, come to adopt the prevailing belief systems of our parents, our schooling, our friends, our work colleagues, our church, our political affiliation, or whatever.  At a macro level, we tend to adopt the belief system of our culture. 

Our cultural belief system includes the outwardly showing phenomena of sports, architecture, music, literature, and the other things we associate with culture.  Our cultural belief system, however, also includes the sometimes hidden aspects of things such as: our attitude to elders, children, strangers; our notions of time and space; whether we are competitive or cooperative; what we think of death and dying; manners and courtesy; how we define beauty or ugliness.

Our belief systems are extremely powerful, to a large extent because we are often unaware of them.  It has been suggested that asking a person to describe their culture is rather like asking a fish to describe water.  Our belief systems surround us, contain us, and direct us, mostly without us noticing.

So it is that when we are confronted with information that contradicts our beliefs, we are extremely unlikely to change our actions or beliefs because of that new information.  Furthermore, our belief systems are how we come to see ourselves, how we define ourselves, and hence, become a means by which we portray ourselves in the world.  In short, our belief systems help define our sense of self.  And, changing who we are and our sense of self is something we are very reluctant to want to do.

So, what do we do?  We resort to one or both of the other two mechanisms.  Justify or downplay.

Justification is easy.  We can all find information or research which seems to confirm the beliefs or values we already hold, even when the weight of contradictory information would suggest otherwise.  Again, psychology has a term for this as well – confirmation bias.  This bias is especially strong when we are faced with emotionally charged situations or issues, or when the contradictory information is at odds with deeply held beliefs.

It is little wonder then that in social justice work, or other similar work, we can often see polarisation occurring. 

Now, here’s the crunch.  What if we - those of us seeking social justice, or a more sustainable world – are experiencing cognitive dissonance and are justifying our own beliefs and values through a process of confirmation bias?  Do we ever stop to consider that?  Or do we simply believe we are right, we are correct in our ideas and beliefs?

If the world is to become more compassionate, more respectful, more peaceful, then all of us need to hold our beliefs and belief systems lightly.  This is at odds with much of the western approach to social change, wherein the social change activist is exhorted to “hold tight to your values or dreams.”

Holding lightly, however, means not being attached to our belief systems in such away that we cannot relate with other people, other cultures, or other belief systems.  This does not imply rejecting our belief systems – we need these in order to navigate healthily in the world.  Its about recognising that all of us can be subject to cognitive dissonance, and that all of us can find ways to confirm our own beliefs.  All we need, as some would say is to – lighten up.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Back To Basics

Graphic by gratuit
Some say the world is in a terrible mess.  Some say that we are on the brink of catastrophe.  Some point to disaster after disaster. 

Others look at the beauty of the world and see a rosy future.  Others are optimistic about the future of the human race.

Some point fingers at our political leaders and say that they are not doing the jobs for which they were elected.  Our political leaders are not facing up to the realities of the world. 

Others start campaigns and join groups to fight against; corruption, big business, pollution, poverty, hunger … you name it, there will be a campaign to oppose it.

No matter what view you have or what your political leanings are, all of this basically comes back to how we make collective decisions.  No matter whether you worry about the disasters befalling us, or whether you seek harmony, peace, and prosperity, the question remains: how do we make collective decisions?  How do we collectively make decisions for our “social” welfare?
This is the realm of politics.  Before moving much further, let me refresh our memories as to the origin of the word politic.  The word comes from the Greek polis, meaning a city.  Polis then provided the Greeks with the word politikos (πολιτικός) – meaning “of citizens, or pertaining to public life.”  Politic then, in its most basic meaning, is about how we come together as citizens to make decisions for our common good and welfare.

This is at the base of all of the above.  If you see the messiness of the world then at the base of that mess is how we make collective decisions.  If you are otherwise inclined, and wish to disregard the disasters, and seek positivity, then how do we make the decisions to bring that about in our public and collective spaces?

Irrespective of your worldview or philosophical stance, our present public and collective decision-making structures do not allow this to happen.  Politics has come to mean government by elected representatives over the past few centuries, particularly in western-influenced nations.  However, this system has run its course, it no longer – if it ever did – provides a mechanism for collective decision-making.  It fails for one very good reason.

It is not representative.

Take a good look at your parliaments, senates, congresses and council chambers.  How many “representatives” come from amongst the common citizenry?   When was the last time the plumber, the hairdresser, the garbage disposal worker, or unemployed person, got to represent us?  Very rarely.

Our “representative” democracy has become less and less … representative.  The representativeness of governments has become highly contracted and restricted.  Indeed, we no longer have representative government – we have restrictive government.

This lack of representativeness is not only a diminishment of fairness, it also seriously restricts our capacity to make wise and informed decisions.  Why?  Simply, because we no longer gain the benefits of diversity and “common” sense.  Yet, these benefits are exactly what we need in a world of growing complexity.

A Systems View

If we step back and take a look at democracy from a systems approach, particularly using the insights of Chaos Theory, then it is possible to discern a change coming in our public and collective decision-making systems.

Chaos Theory tells us that a dynamic system is self-organising, unpredictable and spontaneous.  The theory also tells us that prior to change in a system the system will undergo fluctuations, sometimes enormous fluctuations. 

Looking around our political and governmental systems, this is what we see – fluctuations.  Think of Brexit, the Trump presidency, the calls for independence in Catalonia, the rise of extremism in political parties throughout Europe.  All examples of chaotic fluctuation.  If you look closely within your own communities you may even see such fluctuations occurring at local or regional levels.

So, maybe within the so-called chaos of the world we can glimpse some hope for a new form of democracy that allows for full representation, and one that utilises our collective diversity, wisdom and common sense.  We just have to see the chaos for what it truly is – Chaos Theory playing out in our most basic social system of how we make collective decisions.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

What Came First: Word, World, or Worldview?

According to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word.”  Translated from the Greek word,  λόγος (logos), many consider the “word” here to mean God.  However, the Greek logos can also be translated as thought or meaning.

What does come first?  Do we create words to describe the world we see?  Do the words we use influence our perception of the world?  Or perhaps, the way in which we understand the world (our worldview) shapes the way we view the world, and hence, the words we choose to describe it?  No matter which come first, we cannot deny that each influences and is influenced by the other two.

Sometimes we forget this, and when we do we can slip into a ego-centric or culture-centric viewpoint.  Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean.

Consider the western view of past and future.  In the western cultural worldview the past as viewed as being behind us, whereas the future is in front of us.  So, we say things like: put the past behind you, look to the future, don’t look back, leave the past behind.  Yet, not all cultures see things in this way.  I can think of at least one language in which the word for past is the same as the word for in front of, and the word for future is the same as the word for behind.1  Hence, in this worldview, the past is in front of us, and the future is behind.  Thus, it is easy to see the past – its right there in front of us.  And the future is somewhat murky – its behind us after all.

So, the question remains:  In the western cultural setting, did we think of the past being behind us before we came up with the words past and behind, or did we have the words and then the words shaped our thinking of where past and future lay in relation to us?

This may be a simple example, yet we are consistently applying our language to the world we see, and creating our worldview from that, and then our worldview shapes the way we think of the world and the words we use.

What is the point of this?  Dr Wayne Dyer put it succinctly when he noted that when you “change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  This has important implications for our work for social justice or community development.  For example, if we think of people as victims, needy, or disadvantaged, or even as clients or customers, then that is what we will see.  We will miss seeing the person with skills, knowledge and wisdom.  Yet, if we change that thinking (worldview) then we will be surprised at what opportunities can arise or emerge from our interactions with others.  Not only will creative opportunities emerge, but the interaction itself will be healthier, more respectful, and enjoyable for all concerned. 

Becoming more aware of how we use words to describe our world and in turn how that influences our worldview can help us become more conscious of the limitations of our beliefs and cultural patterns, habits and mores.


1. The Māori language.

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Let's Try Something Different

How long have we been giving away our decision-making power?  How long have we thought that others have more ability to make decisions?  How long have we negated out own expertise?

In the western world we have been doing all this for centuries.  Over one thousand years ago feudalism in Europe began to impose its rule over common folk.  Feudalism morphed into the system of royalty – the supposed “divine right” of kings and queens to rule.  Under these systems, the power of common folk to make their own decisions was wrested from them, often brutally.

Around 2,500 years ago, in the bottom right hand corner of Europe, a different form of public decision-making was being tried out.  Athens and other Greek city states created the world’s first democracies – literally rule of the people.  The Roman Empire saw democracy being tested and eventually done away with.

The Middle Ages saw some small pockets of democratic experimentation.  In 1215 the Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for Great Charter of the Liberties) paved the way for the establishment of the English parliament.  Democracy was given another go.

Following the American Revolution the United States Constitution of 1787 provided for an elected government.  Two years later, Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, and set up the short-lived National Convention.

Modern democracy has evolved from these various experiments into the representative democracy that many of us know today.  Representative democracy owes many of its features to Athenian democracy, although, arguably, more to the Roman Republic.

The representative democracy of today has morphed yet again into a beast that steals our decision-making power yet again.  Certainly, we get to vote in elections.  But, can we truly say that a tick or cross next to a name on a ballot paper once every three or four years is a satisfactory level of engagement in our collective decision-making?  No wonder many around the world are withdrawing from the voting process.  Even in Australia, the 2016 federal election saw fewer people cast a vote than in 1925, when it became compulsory to vote.  In the US which portrays itself as the guardian of democracy, voter turnout for the Presidential election is less than 60%.  Although the past couple of years have seen the trend bucked slightly, voter turnout in Canada, the UK, and New Zealand has been declining since the 1980s.

A measure of dissatisfaction can be found also in the Brexit vote in the UK, or the claims by Catalans for independence from Spain.

Even once we have cast our vote, do we really believe that it is our voices which get listened to in the parliaments, senates and congresses of the world?  The voices that get heard and acted on are those of the trans-national corporations and their lobbyists.  In her 2015 book1, Beasts and Gods, Roslyn Fuller showed that the more money someone spent on a political campaign the greater their chance of being elected.  In other words – money buys political power.

Yet, we persist in thinking that our vote will change things.  We persist in thinking that if we elect a new set of politicians then we will get better decisions.  It is a little like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So, lets stop this insanity.  Lets try something different.

Lets ignore politicians.  Lets ignore elections.  Lets ignore political parties. 

Lets try direct democracy.  If we need to find a representative group to make public decisions, then lets try selecting them by lot (see here, here, and here for some posts about this process).  Lets hold onto our personal and collective decision-making power.  Lets explore together ways to utilise and optimise our decision making power.  We certainly could not do worse than the decisions that currently come out of the parliaments, senates and congresses of the world.

Lets try.

1. Roslyn Fuller, Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed it’s meaning and lost it’s purpose, Zed Books, London, 2015

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Model Making

Buckminster Fuller and geodesic dome
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
So Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller is quoted as saying in 1999.  Bucky Fuller was a remarkable man, an architect and systems thinker, who coined the term “Spaceship Earth,” and popularised the geodesic dome, amongst other things.  Concomitantly, more than sixty years earlier he had advise, “don’t fight forces, use them.” 

Fuller’s observations remain as relevant today as when they were uttered.  I watch as activists fight against systems, rally for causes, or decry the public decision-makers (a.k.a. politicians).  Yet, things don’t change, at least not greatly.  Are we falling into the trap that Fuller warns against?  I suggest we have.

If we step away from fighting the existing reality, then what sort of model do we want to build?  Perhaps, more importantly, how do we build it?

Perhaps the first thing to discover about a new model is that it looks nothing like the one we presently have.  Therefore, we may not even know what it will look like when we have finished building it.  Indeed, we will never finish building it.  Or, if we do, it will then become the model that future generations will want to make obsolete.

This new model will be something like putting together a jigsaw.  There is no Master Jigsaw Director.  I remember sitting around a table with the rest of my family putting a jigsaw together.  No-one directed how the pieces were fitted together.  Each of us picked up a piece and attempted to find a place for it to fit.  If we found that place, we would combine it with the pieces already there.  If we could not find a place, we didn’t despair, we just put that piece aside and picked up another piece.

It didn’t matter if one person worked on the sky, another on the people in the foreground, and yet another on the hills in the distance.  As we progressed the jigsaw came together, piece by piece.

I suspect that a process like that will be how the new model gets built.  All of us have a piece to offer, all of us have a part to play.  No-one can be shut out of the process.  If we stop to think of how this new model is to be built, we will discover some features of the process, including:
  • a tolerance for all those involved in building the model,
  • recognising that all of us have skills, ideas, knowledge, and understandings to offer,
  • creating non-hierarchical decision-making processes,
  • focusing clearly on what we do want, not what we don’t want,
  • being present and accepting what is happening here and now,
  • practising creative listening skills,
  • being willing to engage with those with differing views,
  • perseverance, building the model simply because it seems the right thing to do.

That’s just a few.  I would be keen to hear from readers what else would be involved in how we build the model.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Raising Children

When do we know enough to pass our knowledge on to our children?  When are we wise enough to raise a child?  These questions are not often asked in contemporary western societies.  Perhaps they are not asked because the answers seem self-evident.  We pass on our knowledge to our children from the time they are born.

Yet, the questions are useful to ask.  Indeed, there are prior questions that need to be asked.  When do we become wise?  Do we become wise when we reach the age of 21?  Do we become wise with the birth of our first child?  I would humbly suggest that the answer to these last two questions is: No.  No, we do not become wise just because we attain a certain age, nor do we become wise just because a baby has been born to us.

Into this mix, let me throw another observation.  There is much talk today of the ageing population, and especially, how the economy and society is going to  support these elders.

Could there be a link between the two observations? 

For centuries, in western civilisation at least, the ages at which we give birth to children has been the same as the ages that we raise children.  In other words: those that give birth to children also raise them.

Yet, for many indigenous societies, this arrangement is not the norm.  For many such societies, children are raised by the elders of the community, not by the birth parents, even thought the birth parents may be closely associated.  There is a famous African saying, oft quoted:
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
This concept is at odds with the present-day western view, whereby a child is raised primarily by its birth parents.

The effect of condensing the role of raising a child to that of just its birth parents is that the knowledge, values, ideas, and identities are shaped by those who themselves are often still discovering who they are, what they believe, and what their values are.

Yet, there is a whole sector of society who are ideally situated to raise children, and this sector is largely excluded from society, ignored, told they are no longer productive elements in the cultural economy.  They are the elders. 

Although it would be a mistake to claim that because someone has attained a elder age they are therefor wise; that they have lived for a lengthy period of time has usually endowed them with much life experience.

Perhaps western society needs to re-look at how children are raised.  If it was the elders of society who had greater responsibility for raising children then the benefits of that would be spread amongst the whole of society.  All would benefit.  The children would benefit from being raised by those with a long life experience and who have gained insight and wisdom along the way.  Birth parents would benefit from having greater time to devote to their economic roles as well as their own discovery of who they are.  Elders would benefit by remaining productive and valued members of society, as well as having the joy of passing on the wisdom they have gained.

Western culture has looked at indigenous culture all around the world, and often labelled those cultures “backward,” or “primitive.”  Yet, these cultures have a greater understanding of the full journey of life and the roles that each generation can play within that.  In this respect, indigenous cultures are progressive, life-affirming, and respectful of all members of society.

Western society has a lot to learn from indigenous societies.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Cooperating For The Fun Of It

Many years ago I undertook study for a Certificate in Community Education.  One of the concepts that stuck in my mind from then was this: people may come along to a community course to learn something, but what keeps them there is often the connection they make with other participants.  This simple observation is not just true of education.  It applies in many aspects of human endeavour.

We cooperate with others because we enjoy their company, because we want to share with them – we want to share good times, we want to share happiness, we want to share our humanity.

We may think that we cooperate in order to achieve something, or to accomplish goals; but if we dig further, we find something else going on in the human psyche.  We cooperate because we want to cooperate – it’s as simple as that.

One of the reasons we want to cooperate is because it makes us happy.  In research studies, neuroscientists have found that when participants cooperate, then the part of their brains that generate good feelings are activated.

We are also more inclined to remember people with whom we have shared pleasant, happy, and rewarding times, rather than those who have treated us badly.

Cooperation is also why we have survived.  Although many contemporary ideologies tell us that progress is achieved through competition, it is our cooperative tendencies that have allowed us to survive and evolve.  The diminutive saying that supposedly summarises Darwin’s theories – survival of the fittest – is a misunderstanding and misreading of Darwin.  Not only did Darwin not utter that phrase, neither did he mean “fit” in the sense of fastest, toughest, strongest.  He meant it in the same sense that a jigsaw piece “fits” into a total picture.1

Yes, it seems we cooperate for the fun of it.

Leaders and facilitators of groups do well to remember this.  If groups, communities, or societies are coerced to focus on goals and accomplishments and admonished to cooperate to do so, then those groups, communities, and societies, will begin to lose their zest for life. 

So, let us remember that by cooperating we find our happiness, and this is a greater motivator than are goals or targets.


1.  See an earlier blog for a more thorough discussion of “survival of the fittest.”

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Simply Start With People

Community Development has a tradition of starting where the people are.  Lao Tzu said it some 2,000 years ago:

“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from 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.”

Many have followed his advice and have stated similar concepts over and over.  The great American radical educator, Myles Horton, recognised that
“you can’t want to change society if you don’t love people, there’s no point in it.” 
All too often as I look around at social service agencies I see references to: outcomes, KPIs, targets, goals, and perhaps worst of all, clients.  It is as if the purpose of community is not people at all, but recipients of services – clients.

Its back-to-front.  When people are listened to, when people are trusted, when people are respected, then some creative, sometimes amazing, things can happen.  When they are not, it is just the same, tired old programs that are placed in front of them, rather like limp cabbage on a dinner plate.

Start with people.  That should be the mantra of all community development workers, social service providers, and social justice advocates.  What’s more – its simple.  There is no need to make things complicated.  There is no need for jargon.  There is no need for projecting into the future and devising spreadsheets with rows and columns of what is to be achieved or what has been achieved.

Just – go to the people, as Lao Tzu said.

The simplicity of this suggests to me that the most important skills that a community development worker, social justice advocate, or any social service provider can acquire are the skills of:
  • Listening with an openness that does not impose one’s own beliefs or judgements.
  • Empathising with the emotional content of what the other is saying.
  • Showing respect and trust.
  • Being patient with ourselves so that full stories can be explained and fully heard.
  • Recognising our own thoughts, judgements, feelings, and belief systems.  Then getting out of our own way.
Simple really.  Start with people.

There is a famous, and oft quoted axiom in the land of my birth – Aotearoa (New Zealand).  It comes from the indigenous people of that land, the Māori.
He aha te mea nui?  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
What is the most important thing?  It is people, it is people, it is people.

So true, so simple.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Have We Lit The Explosive Fuse?

In conversation with a friend today he remarked that people often change only in response to pain, or at least, because they are dissatisfied with something.  Disenchanting as that may be, he may have a point.

Could the same be claimed for society as a whole?  Do we, collectively, need to experience pain and anguish before we make needed change?  Do hurricanes and tornadoes need to become bigger and more frequent before we change?  Do floods and bushfires have to become more severe before we make change?  Do our seas have to warm further, or our summers to become even hotter, before we make change?

If an individual plays with matches they will probably burn their fingers at some stage.  With burnt fingers, they may decide that playing with matches is a harmful thing to do.  So, with the benefit of pain, the individual changes their behaviour.  What if, instead of burning their fingers, the individual uses that lit match to light the fuse of an explosive device?  Boom!  No chance for change in behaviour after that.

Perhaps, collectively, we haven’t burnt our fingers enough and have already lit the fuse on the explosive that will condemn us all? 

All systems, especially natural systems, have time lags.  Global warming is no different.  We can experience this lag in our day to day living.  The hottest time of day is often about three hours after midday, when the sun is at its zenith.  Similarly, the hottest days of summer are about two months after the summer solstice.  This simple observation should warn us that global warming will continue to rise – even if we stopped pumping carbon into the atmosphere today.

Indeed, the science tells us that if we did stop completely (yes, completely) emitting carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature would rise by 0.6 degrees C.  That is unlikely – it is more likely to be well beyond that.  Simply by living, we humans will pump carbon into the atmosphere.  Even if we cut back, the likely scenario is that the Earth’s temperature will rise by 4 – 6 degrees C.

James Hansen, the NASA climatologist, warned that in order to avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change we would need to maintain carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.  In 2013 carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million, and earlier this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the level at 405.1 parts per million – well beyond Hansen’s warning level. 

A term has even been coined for this new age – the Sixth Mass Extinction or the Holocene Extinction.  In the earth’s 4.5 billion year life there have been five previous mass extinctions.  This sixth one (sometimes called Anthropocene) is human-induced, and we humans may be the victims of our own behaviours.

I repeat:  Collectively, have we already lit the fuse on the explosive that will condemn us all?  Furthermore, we may not be able to defuse it.

If so, what do we do?  Some, like Paul Kingsnorth,1 reject trying to “save the earth,” and ask us to think about what is possible.  “The only hope I have given up,” he asserts, “is false hope.” 

Perhaps the words of Vaclav Havel2 may be worth listening to: “Hope, in the deep and meaningful sense … is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

What is good?  Surely, what is good about our lives is the connections we make with one another, the sharing of love and beauty, the opportunity to dance and sing.  What is good is to bring joy to the world, and to share compassion and understanding.

Maybe Kingsnorth and Havel are saying the same thing. 

Focus on what is possible and what is good – here and now.

1. In his younger years Paul Kingsnorth was a very active environmentalist and a former editor of The Ecologist magazine.  In 2009, he and other artists and environmentalists formed Dark Mountain Project, a group seeking to discover what is possible without relying on “false hope.” 
2. Vaclav Havel was the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first of the Czech Republic.  A writer, poet, humanitarian, environmentalist and proponent of direct democracy.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

How Close To Climate Crisis Are We?

How close to climate crisis are we?  Some argue, like Paul Kingsnorth, that we have already passed the tipping point and that the best we can do is to hold a wake.  Once an environmental activist, Kingsnorth now refrains from talking about “saving the planet,” focusing instead on what we can do in the face of the crisis.  Others remain firmly of the belief that things will get better, that we can retreat from the impending crisis.  Both of these perspectives suggest we are very close to climate crisis – one believing the crisis has happened, the other that it is near.

There is another way of asking, and answering the question: how close to climate crisis are we?  That is to ask it from the perspective of our individual and collective psychology.

Perhaps the first book (and research) to be published alerting the world to the limits to growth was -The Limits to Growth,1 published in 1972.  Tellingly, the first figure in that book (on p19 of more than 200 pages) was one that looked like the following:

People’s concerns lie somewhere in this time/space continuum.  For most people their concerns are close to home; for their family, friends, and perhaps local community.  Their concerns are for the near future; getting the kids to school today, or next months annual holiday.  The further out from the immediate local environment we go, the less the number of people with concerns.  Similarly, the further into the future we venture, the less the number of people concerned.

This understanding is pertinent to climate change activism.  Climate change, for many people, is not near at hand, it is screened onto our TV from elsewhere in the world.  Climate change is also seen as being off in the future.  Climate change for many is not here and now.

For those concerned about climate change, this perspective is of concern.  Climate change dialogue, activism, policies, and research is mostly situated in the upper right hand corner of the time/space continuum, as pictured below:

Hence, the key question for those concerned about climate change must be: how do we shift the debate from the upper right hand corner to the lower left hand sector, where most people are?  

I do not know the answers to that question.  However, there are some psychological understandings that may be worth looking at when attempting answers.
  • When people are faced with a crisis that they can see no way of preventing, they will tend to withdraw and stop thinking about it.
  • People tend to try to prevent present suffering without regard to long-term consequences.
  • People are often more concerned about something concrete, rather than abstract.
  • People will tend towards the social norm.  People are influenced by the behaviour of those close to them.
  • When faced with bad news, or something scary (e.g. climate crisis) there is a tendency towards the classic fight or flight.  Thus, faced with activism, people will either turn away or will oppose vigorously.
What does all this suggest?

Those concerned with climate crisis need to think about:
  • how to work with established neighbourhoods, communities, and networks,
  • speak to local issues and local concerns,
  • work towards an empathic approach to those in opposition (they may be “fighting” from fear),
  • bring the possibilities of change into the here and now – focus less on UN agreements and global summits.  Make the concerns “real,” and not far off in other times and other places.
Well, I said I didn’t have the answers.  Perhaps I have stimulated some questions though.


1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, Limits to Growth, Universe Books, New York, 1972.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

6 Male Archetypes To Reclaim

Most cultures have used story, metaphor, myth, and archetypes to understand and explain who we are and how we relate to one another and the world.  Western culture is no different.

Throughout western history there have been many such stories: the Celtic myths, the Greek heroic stories, the “fairy tales” of Hans Christian Andersen, or the plays of Shakespeare.  With the birth of psychology in the early 20th century attention was focused on how these stories and archetypes play out in our psychological make-up.  One of the first to explore archetypes from a psychological perspective was Carl Jung.  A disciple of Jung’s, James Hillman, in the 1970s, initiated the movement known as archetypal psychology.  Many others since then, have expanded and refined the ideas contained in that movement.

Out of this has come the notions of male and female archetypes.  In some circles, these are referred to as the sacred male/female archetypes.  As a male, I do not intend discussing the female archetypes, and will concentrate on the male archetypes.

6 Sacred Male Archetypes

Depending on who, or what, you read, you may find reference to anywhere between 4 to 12 sacred male archetypes.  Here, I will discuss briefly 6 key ones: God, King, Priest (Shaman), Warrior, Lover, Sage.

God.  This is the archetype of transcendence, the man seeking for the highest expression of who he is.  The God expresses unconditional love and is at one with all there is.

King.  The King is the benevolent nurturer and supporter of those around him.  He combines strength with wisdom and is the material agent of the God archetype.

Priest (Shaman).  The Priest holds knowledge of the unknown and bears witness to that knowledge.  He connects the material and spiritual worlds.

Warrior.  This is the archetypal protector, in service to humanity and the highest good of all, including those who are vulnerable.  He undertakes this service with courage, even if it may mean at a personal cost.  The Warrior is a collaborative player.

Lover.  The Lover is the sensual aspect; passionate, creative, playful, and vivacious.  The Lover seeks to bond and unite, and looks for beauty.  The Lover enjoys movement of the body, in sex, yoga, dance, or other celebrations of the body.  The Lover is comfortable with “being,” rather than “performing.”

Sage.  Picture a grey-bearded man sitting cross-legged with a serene look on his face and you’ll get the idea of the Sage.  He is observant and uses wisdom to guide “right action.”  He supports the wisdom of others.  He is grounded and earth-centred (you could say Gaia-centred). 

6 Grotesque Masks

If there are 6 sacred male archetypes, then you may have, as I did, noticed something puzzling:  Where are they in today's world?  A very good question.  They’re there, often hidden behind 6 grotesque masks that are distortions of the 6 sacred male archetypes.

Instead of the God, we have the Devil.  Instead of unconditional love we see hatred and intolerance.

Instead of the King, we have the Dictator.  Instead of benevolence we see meanness and animosity.

Instead of the Priest/Shaman, we get the Satanist.  Instead of connecting the material with the spiritual, the Satanist is bent on disconnecting us.

Instead of the Warrior, we find the Conqueror t work in the world.  Instead of service to the highest good of all, we see self-serving Conquerors, who, far from protecting, are murdering and putting at risk thousands, even millions, of people.

Instead of the Lover, we have the Rapist.  Far from being creative and playful, the Rapist exploits others, including the earth,  Instead of looking for beauty, the Rapist is intent upon destroying it.

Instead of the Sage,  we get the Smartass, or Know-It-All.  Instead of using wisdom to guide “right action,” the Smartass thinks they know-it-all and can use this knowledge in the pursuit of actions that may destroy us.

Men – let us rip off the 6 grotesque masks and reveal the sacred male archetypes that hide behind.

There are men all over the world who are re-discovering the 6 sacred male archetypes.  Let us continue to do so.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

If We Can Imagine The Future...

I do not know how the minds of other creatures on this planet work, I’m not a neuro-biologist.  I do know that we humans have the quite remarkable capacity to do two things with our minds.  We can remember the past, and we can imagine the future.

Not only is this remarkable, it is also incredibly useful.  By remembering the past we can learn, we can adapt, we can do things differently than we did in the past. 

If we can imagine the future, then we can see our next step. 

What is this future we can imagine?  Some humans will envision a dystopian, apocalyptic, nightmarish future in which the world is a bleak, nasty and brutal one.  Not me, and I guess, not many of those who are working in community development or social justice fields.  The future we imagine is a rosy, utopian one.  Most of us will no doubt be imagining a world of peace and harmony.  We project a world in which our friends, family and community are living happily, and where our children can play safely.  In this future society everyone has access to education, health, shelter, food, and ample leisure time to pursue their dreams.  It is a world of tolerance, diversity, compassion and forgiveness.

Yes, I’m sure most of us have dreamt of this future world.  We may have even participated in visioning exercises designed to get us to think of what this world will look and feel like.

There is a third aspect that is remarkable about our minds.  Not only can we remember and imagine, we can also centre and ground ourselves in the present moment.  Moment by moment we take step by step (literally and figuratively).

If we can imagine the future then we can see that next step, we can feel that next moment.

When we fully realise the power of this third aspect of our minds then we truly can change the world.  And isn’t that what we dream of – changing the world?

Taking the next step is an incredibly simple task:  we act, here and now.  We co-act, and co-create, with whomever we are with and with whatever is existing right now.  We create the next step.  Our next step does not happen by chance, we consciously take it.  We step towards our future.

If we can imagine the future then our next step becomes our future.  In taking that step we act peacefully and in harmony.  Into that step we take with us tolerance, diversity, compassion and forgiveness.

Our future is our next step, our next step is our future.

The paradox of such a state of mind and being is that we no longer need to imagine what the future will look and feel like.  Our future is already here and now. 

This all sounds so simple that it is almost laughable.  Yet, wait – think about it.  Why wait for our imagined rosy, utopian, future?  Why not act our future now?  We can do it.  All we need is the conscious intent.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

A Young Person's Take on Plastic Pollution (Guest Blog)

Billie Denman
I am honoured to be posting this blog today.  The writer of this speech was 12 years old when she wrote it.  Billie Denman is the daughter of a friend of mine and lives in Sawtell (NSW, Australia).  The speech was written, and read, as part of a school public speaking project.  Billie’s teacher graded this speech 30/30 and told Billie’s mother “I have never given a perfect mark before.”  This grade serves to underscore the passion that Billie brings to environmental concerns.  Following on from last week’s blog, this speech is another example of how inspiring young people are, and that we adults need to stop and listen, or in this case, read.  Enjoy it, and as Billie says, take action.

Plastic Pollution

“They never breakdown, they break up into smaller toxic bits of themselves, that spreads into our oceans, our land, our wildlife, and into the air that we breathe.  Plastic bags contribute to climate change and are polluting this planet severely.

Statistics show that instead of being recycled, plastic bags are thrown in the rubbish because the cost of recycling them outweighs their value.  The Pacific Ocean holds 6 times more plastic than plankton.  Imagine how many whale sharks mistake plastic for plankton.  The great Pacific garbage patch is twice the size of Texas and the plastic in it outnumbers sea-life 6 to 1.

Plastic bags are made from petroleum, gas, and other harmful chemicals.  12 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic bags in the United States alone.  The average time a plastic bag is used is 12 minutes.  To go to the effort of producing plastic bags from a fossil fuel just to throw away after 12 minutes is outrageous.

Plastic bags cause death to marine animals.  For example, in 2008 a Sperm Whale was found washed up dead – more than 22 kilograms of plastic was found in it’s stomach.  Land animals suffer from the pollution of plastic as well.  Humans breathe in the toxic fumes caused by the production of plastic bags too.

160,000 plastic bags are used worldwide every second.  What good is it that doing to the earth?  Ireland has a tax on plastic bags – that tax has decreased the use of plastic bags by 90%.  Other cities, states, and countries around the world have done so too.  It’s time for Australia to become a better country and ban plastic bags.

What you can do is encourage others to use reusable bags; and why not make a petition for the Council or Government to ban or put a tax on plastic bags.

I use reusable bags and it feels good to know that you’re doing the environment a favour.  The benefits of using reusable bags are that they come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, and patterns which makes shopping fun.  You can make your own and get them made for you.  They carry much more groceries than plastic bags.  Reusable bags are fantastically priced at 99 cents to $3.

You may think that you won’t make any impact on this issue, but using one reusable bag means you save 700 plastic bags in one year or 22,000 over a lifetime.  As an individual you need to use reusable bags.

Do the earth a favour: pick reusable bags on your next trip tot he grocery store."

Thank you Billie.  She outlines the issue well and ends on positive calls to action.  Do the earth a favour and listen to her and other young people like her.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Don't Blame It On The Children

Malala Yousafzai (left) and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.
“Don’t blame it on the children,” Sammy Davis Jr sang in 1967.  His refrain could have been sung today, or it could have been sung two centuries ago, or even two millennia ago.  The older generation have oft complained about “the youth of today.”  Plato and Seneca, living in the 5th century BC both complained that the young of their time had “bad manners.”

In the 11th century Peter the Hermit regaled against the young:
“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no respect for their parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone know everything and what passes for wisdom in us foolishness in them. As for the girls, they are foolish and immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour, and dress.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar – yet it was said one thousand years ago.

The sad aspect of this unfair complaint is that young people are dismissed and not listened to.  Yet, young people, all over the world, are inspiring us with their dreams and their desire for a more just, fairer world.

Two Well Known Young People

Most of us by now will have heard of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban at just 15 years of age, because she spoke out about the injustice of girls not receiving an education.  Miraculously, Malala survived and went on to become a global spokesperson for the rights of girls and women everywhere to receive an education.  In 2014 she was nominated, for the second time, for the Nobel Peace Prize, this time winning it – becoming the youngest person to ever receive that award.

In April this year (2017) Malala was appointed as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls education. The appointment is the highest honour given by the United Nations for an initial period of two years.  Recently Malala announced that she has been accepted by Oxford University to study philosophy, politics and economics.

Perhaps also, the name Xiuhtezcatl Martinez may be known.  Xiuhtezcatl is an indigenous environmental activist who has been speaking about environmental matters since he was six years old.  Now aged 17, Xiuhtezcatl has spoken at the Rio UN Summit as well as the UN General Assembly,  He is the youth director of Earth Guardians, a world-wide movement of young people dedicated to growing a resilient leadership co-creating a future they know is possible.

Many Many More

There an many many more young people the world over who defy the myth that young people think of nothing but themselves.  Here are just a few of them:

At just 11 years old, in 2004, Kendall Ciesemier, founded Kids Caring 4 Kids, an organisation of young people in the US who raise money for clean water, healthcare, and education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Valens Ntamushobora is a young Rwandan man who founded LUSA (Let Us Stay Alive) to help young women who are mothers, not in school, or living on the streets.  Now with over 300 member cooperatives, LUSA provides access to land, seeds and future for young women.

NETwork Against Malaria was founded by Madelyn McGlynn when still a teenager,  It’s purpose is to supply bed nets in Uganda to help stop the spread of malaria.  With over 35,000 volunteers, the organisation has provided around 12,000 nets, potentially saving the lives of 35,000 people.

When the Gulf oil sill occurred in 2010, 11 year old Olivia Bouler wept for the plight of the birds of the gulf.  By using her paintings, Olivia raised $200,000 towards Gulf recovery within a year.  Her book, Olivia’s Birds, a collection of her paintings, helps to raise funds for ongoing recovery.

Kyle Weiss is one of the founders of FUNDaFIELD, an organisation that builds soccer fields in Africa in places where young people.  In 2006, at the Soccer World Cup, Kyle met soccer fans from Africa and discovered how the game helped to break down barriers.  The following year, he and his brother set up FUNDaFIELD.  He is fond of quoting Nelson Mandela, especially “sport has the power to change the world.”

Let’s Listen

Young people are inspiring, and they are challenging those of us in the older generations to listen.  Instead of thinking that young people have no respect for their parents or old age, let us, their parents and those of older age, find some respect for young people.  They are worth listening to.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Survival Shelter Simulation Game

With all of the rhetoric coming from both sides of the Pacific (ironically – peaceful) Ocean at the moment (August 2017) I was reminded of a decision-making game.  This simulation game explores co-operative decision-making and what role our individual values have in that.

Materials Needed

All that is needed is pencil/pen and paper for each person.


Participants are told that a nuclear attack is imminent and that everyone will be sharing a survival shelter.  The shelter is equipped with basic requirements for physical survival and health.

Even though it will be cramped it is anticipated that everyone will be able to bring 10 items with them.  Spend 5 minutes coming up with a list of these 10 items – for the purposes of the game, ignore the size and weight of items.

Once participants have their list of 10 items, tell them that there may be a need to prioritise what can be brought into the shelter, so they should spend another 5 minutes listing their items in order of priority from 1-10.  All this is to be done individually.

Then, new information comes to hand.  It is now apparent that time and space will not allow everyone to bring their 10 items into the shelter.  The group as a whole must now decide on priorities, although the exact number of items is still uncertain.  However, it can be assumed to be between 5 and 10 items in total.  The whole group must now draw up a prioritised list of up to 10 items, taking into account each items value to the individual and value to the group.  Voting is not permitted, decisions must be reached by some other method.   Allow up to 15 or 20 minutes for this.


Once the group has come up with its list of 10 items in prioritised form, the following questions can be posed for discussion and reflection:
  • On what basis were decisions made?
  • How seriously were individual priority lists taken?
  • Were the items finally chosen done so more for their importance to certain members of the group, or because they were of value to the group as a whole?
  • How difficult was it to decide?
  • Did everyone have an opportunity to plead for items on their own list?
  • Did people listen to what others had to say?
  • Were everyone’s needs considered?
  • Did anyone think the final decision was unfair?
  • How did people feel about the decision-making method used?
  • How could the decision-making method be improved?
  • How do you think the group would function if this was “real” rather than a simulation?

I have used this, and similar, games many times, and am always amazed at the depth of discussion in the debrief.  Have fun with it.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Paddling Towards Social Change

Those of us working in community development, social justice, or environmental work often have a vision that we strive towards.  We have goals, objectives, outcomes that we wish to achieve.  It is a wonderful vision of the future.  Let’s not get attached to it though.

When we become attached to our goals, objectives, and outcomes we miss the opportunities that exist in the present moment.  We can also become critical and judgemental of those who do not share our vision.  Furthermore, when our goals seem to get no closer we can become despondent.  We then beat ourselves up and tell ourselves we have to work harder, become more committed.  If we do that for too long we may eventually find ourselves in the classic social change activists nightmare – burn out. We have burnt ourselves out.  We question not only our goals, but our selves as well.  We ask “what is the point?”

What has happened?  What became of our idealism?  Where are our “dreams of youth”? 

The problem is often one of attachment.  We can envision the future and then we attach our purpose and our self-identity to achieving that vision.  That is a trap.

To counter-act this trap we need to discover non-attachment.  Before proceeding, let me be clear that non-attachment is not the same thing as detachment.  Detachment is a non-feeling, dispassionate, somewhat heartless, non-caring state.  Detachment is often a closing in, a removal from the world and from feeling.  Non-attachment, however, is spacious and opens up to possibilities.  Non-attachment remains passionate, yet without imposing expectations on oneself or upon the outcome.  Non-attachment says, “wow, isn’t that a marvellous vision, let’s see what happens if we take a step towards it, and if the vision changes then I’ll go with that.”

When we approach our visions and goals with non-attachment we find ourselves opening up to all sorts of possibilities and opportunities.  We notice that there are many people with creative ideas that we have never thought of before.  Using a metaphor of a kayaker may help to explain this concept.

Kayaking Down River

When I was younger I participated a few times in an iconic multi-sport race in New Zealand called the “Coast-to-Coast.”  This race included a 67km kayak section through a gorge with rapids, whirlpools, and eddies along the way.  When I got in my kayak at the start of this leg my goal was to get to the end, 67km away, in the safest and quickest way possible.

If I had been attached to the goal (in this case, a bridge across the river 67km away) then I quite possibly may never have got there.  I had to focus on the here and the now.  I had to concentrate on my paddling technique and my body posture.  I had to watch out for rocks, rapids, eddies.  I had to keep my kayak in the flow of the river.  I also needed to be aware of other kayakers around me, making sure that I gave them space and that my paddling was not disrupted.  Coming to rapids I had to concentrate on my technique even more so, perhaps even upping the tempo to keep me in the flow and not get dashed against the rocks or turned upside down.

With non-attachment to the end goal I was able to give my attention to what was happening right now.  I was then able to proceed towards my goal.

Possibilities and Opportunities

The world is full possibilities and opportunities.  If we become too attached to our goals then we can miss these.  We need to learn to hold our visions, our goals, our objectives with a lightness that allows us to let them go if we find more useful or healthy opportunities.

When we do that we will discover that what we truly want is right here, right now.  Our vision for the future exists right now, it exists with whomsoever we are relating with now, it exists in our present time relationships.  It even exists, right now, with those whom we thought we were in conflict with. 

When we hold our goals and objectives lightly, we also lighten, we become more at ease with ourselves.  And, when we do that, we find that we are less antagonistic towards others, we are more willing to forgive, we are open to learning from each and every person that we meet.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

We Doth Protest Too Much

Queen Gertrude
Sometime around 1600 William Shakespeare wrote his famous play, Hamlet.  In that play, Hamlets mother, Queen Gertrude, drolly answers Hamlet with the line“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  The word protest may have undergone some changes since Hamlet’s day, however, we can apply the sentiment of protesting too much in todays world.

What do I mean by that?  Protest too  much?  Surely, one could say, there is not enough protestation in the world.  Just look at the world: rampant injustice, rising temperatures leading to climate change, war and terrorism continuing unabated, famine in a world of plenty …. This list goes on. 

Protesting is a form of resisting, and in that resistance may be our undoing.  Carl Gustav Jung is said to have formulated the statement, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”  Now often abbreviated to just “what you resist, persists,” Jung recognised that what we think about is played out in our reality, even if we are thinking that we don’t want something.  We all know this apparent conundrum.  Try to not think of an orange.  Can we do it?  Can we not think of an orange?  Difficult isn’t it?

In our abbreviation of the Jungian phrase we have forgotten the second part of the phrase – but will grow in size.  Maybe, just maybe, all the issues and concerns of the world, are growing in intensity and danger, because of our collective resistance to them, just as Jung suggests. 

Since Jung there has been a mushrooming of research into the brain and mind.  Modern neuroscience arose in the second half of the 20th century and has contributed immensely to our understanding of the brain, mind, and consciousness over the past 50 or 60 years.  We now know, for example, that there is a strong correlation between what the mind tells us and what or where our body follows.  A tightrope walker was once asked what made him so good.  He replied that he kept his eyes fixed on where he was going and not looking down.  “Where your head goes, that is where your body is going too,” he answered.

Some Questions?

This psychology, whereby what we resist, persists, and what we don’t want tends only to focus our attention upon it, thus creating it, raises some serious questions for social activists.  Here are just a few:
  • By resisting politicians and governments are we only prolonging the myth of democracy?
  • By resisting big business are we only entrenching consumerism and exploitation further?
  • By protesting against war are we only ensuring that we will continue to attempt to resolve international conflicts by violent means?
  • By putting up barriers against refugees are we only ensuring that their plight will deepen and intensify?
  • By proclaiming that we don’t want what we have had in the past, are we only more likely to create the same past in our present and future?
I don’t know the answers to these questions.  What I do know, however, is that social change movements must begin to incorporate many of the truly revolutionary findings coming out of neuroscience, neuro-plasticity, and the spiritual understandings of laws of attraction and how we collectively co-create our universe.

Another Model

One alternative to re-focus and re-frame our thinking is that of Buckminster Fuller who said1
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Fuller is one of the most influential futurologists, systems thinkers, and inventors the world has ever seen.  Ever dismissive of politicians and entrenched authority, he sought a more expansive understanding of who we are and where we are going.  He is known as the inventor of the geodesic dome and also devised a game he called The World Game which would:
"Make the world work,
for 100% of humanity,
in the shortest possible time,
through spontaneous cooperation,
without ecological offense
or the disadvantage of anyone."
Imagine what could happen if we stopped putting our energies into what we don’t want, and directed our energies towards what we do want.  Instead of railing against the system and out-dated authorities; what if we began to construct new paradigms, new belief systems, new ways of being together.

Perhaps it is to our benefit to withdraw from protesting and resisting, and to put our energies into building a new model, through spontaneous cooperation.  A model that could work for 100% of humanity. 


1. Quoted in Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization : Humanity's Next Great Adventure, Harmony Books, New York (1999).

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Climbing a Group Process Ladder

Anyone who gets into community development, social justice or other community work will end up working in groups.  An understanding of group dynamics and group processes can be beneficial.  There are many models that attempt to describe or explain the stages of a group coming together (being born), living together and ending.  One of the earliest, and still useful, is Cog’s Ladder – a model proposed by George O. Charrier (hence the c.o.g.) in 1972 when he was an employee of Proctor and Gamble.

Cog’s Ladder has five stages:
  1. Polite stage
  2. Why We’re Here stage
  3. Power stage
  4. Cooperation stage
  5. Esprit stage
Let’s look at each of these stages briefly.

Polite Stage

This initial stage is marked by cordiality, simplicity, lack of controversy, and (of course) politeness.  It is a time for group members to acquaint themselves with one another, or perhaps to become re-acquainted.  Most individuals in the group are keen to be liked and not cause waves.  Self-disclosure is kept to a minimum and ideas and actions are simple ones.

Why We’re Here Stage

In this stage people begin to leave aside their concerns about being liked to focus more on the purpose of the group.  There can be much discussion about group goals, agendas, and processes.  If a facilitator or leader is not already present, one may emerge at this stage who will set agendas and the topics for meeting and discussion.  It may also be a stage in which cliques begin to form, although often not rigidly so.  On a personal level, it is the stage at which people will begin to feel that they “fit in” and that the group is one they wish to remain part of.  This stage can see some members drift away.

Power Stage

This is the stage that requires patience and tolerance to get through.  It is the stage at which some group members may attempt to convince, or coerce, others into adopting their solution or way ahead.  There are bids for control of leadership of the group, with others forming alliances around the various power-players.  Many may go silent in this stage, wishing to stay out of the power games.  Conflict in the group rises and decisions taken in this stage may not be optimal.  The unity of the group that seemed to be emerging in the earlier stages dissipates and there is little sense of group identity.  For a facilitator of group processes this is possibly the stage at which your knowledge, skills and wisdom will be at their most useful.  Using this model can help a facilitator remain focused, at ease, and not get caught in a “what the hell is going on” merry-go-round.  it is not a time for a facilitator to step in and save a group.  Doing so could well back-fire.   The needs of the group at this stage are wide and include individual and group needs.  Individually, people may be in need of reassurance, acceptance, being heard.  The group may be in need of reframing its purpose, defining its structure, sharing of skills. 

Cooperation Stage

If a group can enter into a problem-solving mindset towards the end of the previous stage then it will be ready and willing to the cooperative stage.  In this stage, the conflicts of the previous stage are seen as opportunities to learn and to improve rather than as win-lose power battles.  A sense of group identity emerges, and leadership begins to be shared.  Solutions and decisions are better developed in this stage.  Solutions posed in the power stage that were initially rejected or resisted, may re-surface in this stage and be creatively explored.  Hallmarks of this stage are greater levels of listening and accepting of differences.  Once a group gets to this stage it is difficult for new members to fit in and be accepted.  To enable new members to fit in a group may need to go back to an earlier stage and repeat those stages.  Induction and/or mentoring practices may be of assistance in enabling new members to join without the need for the group to go back to earlier stages. 

Esprit Stage

The French word esprit means the quality of being lively, vivacious or witty.  Such liveliness certainly captures the sense of this stage well.  It is a stage at which groups feel as if they could do anything – almost take-on-the-world.  Not all groups reach this stage.  In order to get here they usually must pass through the previous four, including the power stage.  Once at this stage, the sense of cohesion is at a peak with contributions from members building on the contributions of others.  Creativity is high and the group often achieves more than it ever expected to.  Loyalty levels are high and the sense of satisfaction and achievement for individual members can be significant.  It is almost impossible for new members to join at this stage without the group having to go back to an earlier stage. 

Do you recognise these stages?  Have you experienced a group, or groups, that have attained the Esprit Stage?  For a facilitator of group processes and understanding of these stages can be useful.  Remember, however, that this is only a model of group process.  It works well – unless it doesn’t.  There will be times when it doesn’t.  That is the magic of human group processes.  None are ever the same, and none can ever be predicted in advance.  Where this model is useful is in allowing us to become comfortable with a process, including during the times of conflict, turmoil and disruption, knowing that we are all on the same journey.

Play with the ideas, and if you find them useful, it may even be worth outlining this model to a newly formed group early in its life so that group members are also more comfortable with the journey.

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Questioning Memorials

Someone once said “what we memorise, we memorialise.”  Just five words, yet they summarise an unhelpful approach to our unfolding social development.

When we memorialise something we place it on a pedestal, or put it in a museum, and accord it an unquestioned status.  We place it in a state of reverence, locked away to be looked at and memorialised.  We place it beyond question.

Our memorialisation of war is a classic example.  Look around the countrysides and city squares of most nations and we will see statues, plaques, and other memorials to battles, famous generals, or memorials to the victims of those battles.  Some historical battles will be memorialised and remembered by services or parades.  We memorise – we memorialise.

But, do we question, do we learn, do we seek alternatives to war?  Mostly, the answer is no.

Questioning our past battles is often derided as being disrespectful towards those who fought for our country and our way of life.  Yet, is it not more respectful to acknowledge those who went before, and honour their memory by asking how their sacrifice can be something we can learn from, something we can build on.  It was the 18th century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, who noted that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Yes, we must know our history.  If we do not question it then how can we ever learn from it, so that we do not become doomed to repeat it.  The example of war, is only the most glaring of our cultural avoidance of questioning our past.  We must learn, or rediscover, how to question.  Not by forgetting or dishonouring, but by being respectful in our questioning. 

Our culture, however, steers us away from questioning.  Beginning in school, sometimes even earlier, we are told, as children that “kids should be seen and not heard.”  We are told to not ask so many questions, yet it is how we learnt as children.  We asked: why is the sky blue? why does grandpa use a walking stick? how do birds fly? what’s that?  Questions, questions, questions.  By the time of the age of four most children are asking around 300 or more questions each and every day.  School drums that out of us – answers become more important it seems.  If we don’t get the right answers then somehow we are unintelligent, or perhaps lazy. 

Once out of school, our culture doesn’t relent.  Our culture reminds us that our job in life is to toe the line, not question.  How many of us have been told in a work situation, “don’t ask questions, just do the job,” or “that’s not the way we do it round here.”  Follow the rules, don’t ask questions.

It is no wonder then, that when it comes to us attempting to learn from our past, from our history, we don’t seem to be able to do it.  Most of us, by adulthood, have lost the art of questioning.

We need to rediscover the art of questioning.  We need to be asking questions like: is there a better way? can we find alternatives to war? how do we avoid famine and poverty? how do we avoid species loss? how do we ensure a brighter future for the generations to come?

We start with each and every one of us not giving in to a  culture that says memorise this and don’t question it.  Then we move on to our families; we encourage our children to keep questioning.  We don’t stop there though.  We teach the art of questioning, the art of thinking for ourselves.  We teach and expect critical thinking.  We teach and encourage creative thinking.  In everyone!

We stop memorialising.  We start honouring our past so as to build on it.