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 28 March 2017

Changing the World One Coffee at a Time

How do you change the world?  There are many emergencies that face us.  Whether the emergency that concerns you is a global one (climate change, refugees, war, famine etc), a national one (the crime rate, domestic violence, teenage suicide etc) or focused at a local level (green space for children to play in, urban development etc) then I suggest we all have a cup of coffee.

But this is not just any coffee.  Coffee here is a simple acronym that helps us think about how we undertake change in a complex, chaotic world.  COFFEE stands for: Creative Opportunities Flow From Encouraging Encounters.  Let’s tease out each of these words a little:

Creative.  To paraphrase Einstein, we cannot solve the world’s emergencies with the type of thinking that built them.  We will need our collective, diverse creative talents.  Creativity implies being open to new and unexpected thoughts, ideas and intuitions.  It is also worth noting that the idea of left brain – right brain is a myth; so we can all be creative.  The creativity we need is not of a technological nature either.  We need a creativity of spirit, a creativity of consciousness.  We need soul-centred and eco-centred creativity.

Opportunities.  The word derives from old Latin: ob = towards, and portus = harbour.  So, opportunity represents movement towards a favourable place.  It means seeking, being inquisitive and curious.  It means not accepting the status quo.  We can find opportunity in many guises, even in adversity.

Flow.  “Go with the flow” is a common phrase and here it has a similar sense.  Why battle the current?  Why not, as many Eastern martial arts practitioners advise, use the energy that exists.  It does not mean that we are always heading towards our goal, occasionally the flow may become an eddy, a whirlpool or cataracts.  As any kayaker knows, fighting against these flows will often end in disaster.  Going with the flow means staying in the now, the present.  However, it does not imply a non-thinking, laissez-faire, laid-back approach.  It is active.  Much like the kayaker, who knows that to stay in the flow they must keep paddling, making sure that the kayak does not get swept against the rocks or flipped upside-down by a standing wave.
From.  What we do emerges from our encounters.  Our actions are not pre-determined or planned by a far-away authority and then dictated to us.  Change starts with and flows from us, and it flows from the present; we are not dictated by the future.  This means that we must be wary of the cult of expertness.  Certainly listen to and use the knowledge of experts, but when it comes to decision-making, we all have a role to play.

Encouraging.  Who operates better when praised, acknowledged or congratulated?  Most of us think and create at a higher level when we are encouraged. This means that we are encouraged not just in our successes but also in our failures or mistakes.  There are many skills and techniques involved in being an encouraging person: creative listening, empathy, being present, building trust, speaking thoughtfully, appropriate use of humour, offering food.

Encounters.  In a world of complexity we need to embrace our diversity of experience, knowledge, skills, and wisdom.  This means we must encounter one another.  We must join in respectful dialogue, in circle discussion.  There are a myriad techniques for encouraging encounters (e.g. World CafĂ©, Appreciative Enquiry, Open Space Technology, Future Search, Citizen Juries ….)  Furthermore, our encounters are ones in which power shifts from the top to the bottom, from the centre to the margins, from hierarchies to interconnected networks.

Although I’ve just thrown out some thoughts about each of these six words, the power of the acronym is in its whole.  It tells us that if we create open, and caring spaces (Encouraging Encounters) then the solutions (Creative Opportunities) to the many emergencies we face are able to emerge (Flow From).

Thus, if we are going to overcome the emergencies that face us, we are going to have to embrace complexity, chaos and emergence.  We are going to have to meet one another, discover each other’s skills, share our collective wisdom.  Mostly, we are going to have to talk with one another (including strangers) over COFFEE.

You’ll notice that this acronym says nothing about applied techniques,  nor does it offer a step-by-step process.  Instead, it talks about a way of thinking, a mindset if you like.  This is deliberate.  In my professional work I have not presented solutions; rather I have sought to create spaces within which people can discover their own solutions.  I’m not about to change that here.  But I do have a challenge for you.  That is this: how can COFFEE assist in your own work for social justice and sustainability?

This acronym is at the heart of a book soon to be published.  OPPORTUNITIES EMERGING: Social Change in a Complex World goes into greater depth on each of the words of the acronym, as well as looking at the overall meaning of the acronym.  The book also provides a context within which complexity can be readily understood so that those of us dealing with complexity are better equipped to understand its nuances.  Check out the facebook page here.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Emergency and Emergence

What follows is an excerpt from a book I am due to publish in May this year (2017).  OPPORTUNITIES EMERGING: Social Change in a Complex World offers a simple way of thinking about social change, how we act, the consciousness we bring to social change work, and the very process of social change itself.  Critical of traditional top-down, hierarchic, self-centred, technological approaches to social change this book suggests working with emergence.  Emergence is an aspect of Chaos and Complexity Theories and allows us to understand our role in the world, how we influence that world, and crucially, how we acknowledge our part in social change.  This excerpt is from the beginning of the first chapter and the start of chapter 3 and asks us to consider the many emergencies facing us in the 21st century.  I hope you appreciate this introductory snippet.

How many of us worry about the state of the world? When we read the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report we get worried. When we read of thousands of refugees fleeing across the borders of Afghanistan, Syria, or Somalia and into Europe, we get worried. When we turn on the television and watch paramedics struggling to contain Ebola in western Africa we get worried. When we hear Prime Ministers speak of “imminent terrorist threats” or watch the violence erupt in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip or Ukraine, we get worried.

Closer to home, we read daily newspapers reporting on the growth in youth suicide, the obesity problem or the increase in rates of depression and anxiety disorders. These reports are worrying.
We don’t have to dig very far to notice that the amount of plastic in our landfills and our oceans is growing rapidly or that e-waste is now a concern. All worrying.

We look around our own neighbourhoods and communities. We see people living off the street, we see young men sitting outside the Courthouse on Monday mornings waiting for the bailiff to call them before the judge. We see elderly people, or people with disability, struggling to cope with the kerbing or the steps into buildings. If we think of what it is like for all these people, we get worried.

We look to our leaders; the Prime Ministers, Presidents and Premiers of nations. We watch as they debate the issues at Climate Change Summits, G20 meetings or within our own parliaments, senates and congresses. In our own cities and towns, we watch and listen to our mayors and councillors debating and deliberating in Town Halls and council chambers.

Then we really do get worried, because we realise that very few of our leaders have any idea of how to avert these emergencies or, worse still, have no interest in doing so. Many times we may even wonder if they are contributing towards the emergencies - grinning like the pale rider of death, racing full tilt towards the apocalyptic abyss.

Now we have another emergency to add to the growing list: our public decision-making institutions and bodies, or what we otherwise know as government. Democracy (or at least we call it that) is in a state of emergency. We don’t trust politicians, we are wary of the lobbying power of powerful, rich corporations; we are withdrawing from political processes by not voting and joining traditional political parties in fewer and fewer numbers.

In fact, with all the ills of the world only apparently getting worse and no-one seeming to care, it looks as if the world and we humans along with it are on the brink of a series of serious emergencies.
Is this our fate? To collapse from a multi-faceted emergency? Is there an alternative? Perhaps there is.

Instead of EMERGENCY we might look towards EMERGENCE.

Emergence is an aspect of chaos and complexity theory. Although these theories arose within the mathematical and scientific arenas, they have useful insights for those working for social justice, community development and/or sustainability.

Emergence – what’s emergence? Let’s begin with a simple example that illustrates some of the features of emergence.

Everyone has heard of the elements hydrogen (H, oxygen (O and carbon (C). What do we know about each of them? We know that hydrogen is bitter, sour smelling, and explosive. We know that oxygen is tasteless, odourless and a vital ingredient of the air that we breathe. We know that carbon is also tasteless, inert, and cold.

Now, what would we expect to get if we combined these three elements like this: C2H5OH? (Those of you who understand chemistry, please put aside your acquired knowledge for the time being and assume that all you know is the properties of each individual element as outlined above). From our knowledge of each of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon we may expect to get a compound that is largely tasteless, perhaps slightly bitter, with a very faint smell. Knowing what we know about hydrogen we may want to be wary of the compound – it could be explosive.

But, what do we get? We get ethanol – an alcohol that most of us associate with wine, beer or spirits. The result of this particular mixture of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon is unexpected and unable to be explained by our knowledge of the individual elements. That’s emergence.

Emergence is a coherent structure or property that arises from the organisation of component parts where the emergent structure or property cannot be predicted from knowledge of the individual component parts.

As well as being unpredictable, other features of emergence are that:

· It creates an order out of disorder,
· It is sensitive to initial conditions. Meaning that very small changes in the initial state can produce massively different outcomes. (Often known as the Butterfly Effect discussed in the previous section),
· It is often spontaneous,
· It is not simply the sum of its parts,
· It is often dynamic and continuously evolving,
· It is a bottom-up process, not a top-down one. The process is an emergent one rather than one that is compelled.

The book will be published in May 2017 and readers who may be interested in obtaining a copy will find more detail on this site when the time comes.

Tuesday 14 March 2017

What If We Stopped?

We rush out the door, glancing at our watch.  We’ve got to run.  Next appointment is set to begin in five minutes and its at least a ten minute walk.  We finish that meeting, only time for a quick coffee-to-go.  Drink it as we get into the elevator.  Glance at our watch again.  Oh no.  Late.  We’ll have to apologise for being late.  Lunch is eaten whilst checking the mornings emails.  Many can be deleted.  Check our watch again.  Time for the afternoon session.  Rush, rush, rush.

What if we stopped?

Our mobile phone beeps and vibrates.  We open the message.  Read it quickly.  Respond with urgency, maybe adding an emoticon at the end, to show we care.  We’re stuck in traffic.  Cars rush by in the other lane.  But we can’t get out, besides its our turnoff coming up soon.  Behind us someone toots.  Road rage – the anger of the times.  Off the freeway.  Stop quickly at the Supermarket.  What’s needed?  Oh yes; milk, flour, maybe a bottle of red.  Back in the isolation of the car.  Pump up the volume on the stereo.

What if we stopped?

Home at last.  Turn on the tele.  War in the Middle East, famine in Africa, dozens killed in an avalanche somewhere.  The dollars down.  Our favourite footy team lost at the weekend.  Reality TV.  Are those people for real?  Son wants to borrow the car this weekend.  Daughter presents us with a fund-raising leaflet from school.  The dogs barking at something outside.  The wine is okay.

What if we stopped?

Try reading.  Read a few pages and realise we haven’t taken a word in.  Throw the book aside and pick up a magazine.  Flick through it.  Celebrities, sports stars, politicians caught in compromising situations.  What a boring life we lead.  Time for bed.  Brush teeth, set alarm.  Toss and turn.  Get up, drink a glass of water.  Try sleeping again.  The alarm buzzes, rudely disturbing our dream.  Another day.

What if we stopped?

What if we stopped?  What if we had a Stop Hour?  We have Earth Hour, why not a Stop Hour? 
What if we all just stoped for one hour?  What if we all just stopped exactly where we are and asked ourselves “who are we?”  What if we turned to the person next to us and asked “who are you?”  And, what if we were to give honest answers and expect honest answers from the other person?

What if we stopped and continued that conversation.  What if we then asked “what are your dreams?”  What if we asked “what are you here for?”

What if we all stopped for one hour and looked around?  What if we stopped and noticed the blue sky, or the grey clouds in the distance promising needed rain.  What if we looked at the children playing in the playground?  What if we looked at the vibrant colours of the flowers?  What if we sniffed the breeze and caught the scent of those flowers?  What if we just looked?

What if we stopped for one hour and ran and danced in the rain?  What if we stopped and rolled over and over in the grass?  What if we felt the sand between our toes?  What if we touched the hand of a child?

What if we had a Stop Hour?  What would it be like?  What would we do?  Would we know what to do?  Would we see something we have never seen before?  Would we hear a sound that is unusual?  Would we smell a fragrance that delights us?  Would we learn something?  Would we notice something about our self that we didn’t know before?  Would we discover something new about the people around us?

What if we stopped?  Just for one hour.
What would we do when the hour was up?

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Are We Any Safer?

Recently I was involved in a conversation with a dozen men.  One of them made the claim that “we are safer now than when I was younger.”  That claim intrigued me so I thought I’d do some research.  My research question: are we any safer than we were?  Immediately, there are some problems with that question.  First, who is the “we” referred to, and second, “safer” from what?  I decided that safer referred to safety from disease, harm or preventable death.  Here is what I found out.

The number of deaths from war is on the decline.1  Since the 1980s the number of deaths in armed conflict have been decreasing - apart from a spike in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the 20th century.  However, this is not a universal trend.  The death rate from armed conflict in much of the Middle East and parts of Africa (e.g. Somalia, Darfur) number in the millions.

In most of the world the murder rate is dropping.2  So, it can be claimed that you are safer from being murdered, unless you happen to live in the Caribbean, Central America or parts of South America.  In these areas the homicide rate is increasing.

The number of people killed in terrorist attacks, since 2001, in most of the world has remained fairly steady.3  However, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria it has risen dramatically since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.  It has also risen in Nigeria and Pakistan.

Albeit difficult to quantify because of differing reporting methods around the world, hate crime appears to be on the increase.  It has been recently exacerbated by the Syrian civil war, as well as the Brexit and Trump political triumphs.

Suicide rates appear to be stable or declining throughout most of the world, except for Korea, Mexico, Russia, Greece, Poland and Japan where it is increasing.4

Infant mortality is dropping almost everywhere, although it is still high in many parts of Africa.5

If you drive, especially in OECD countries, then you are safer than you were a number of years ago.  The number of road fatalities is not only decreasing per 100,000 people but also reducing in absolute terms.

Although the number of people who are malnourished has been dropping, recently there has been little change and the number remains at almost 800 million world-wide.7

The rate of domestic violence assault in many parts of the world seems to be fairly stable – that is, it is neither decreasing nor is it increasing.  Because of the difficulty of obtaining comparative data it is difficult to gain a clear picture of whether the incidence of domestic violence assault is increasing or decreasing.  There is certainly no evidence that women are any safer from domestic assault.

What Does This Tell Us?

A brief analysis of these trends would suggest that we are safer from being killed in war, by murder or by terrorist attack; we are less likely to die from malnutrition, in infancy or by our own hand (suicide).  But, that only tells half the story.  If you live in the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central America, or parts of Africa, then you are quite possibly less safe than you were at the turn of the century. 

If you are a woman anywhere in the world then your safety from domestic violence is no greater than it was fifty years ago.

But That’s Not All

Species have been evolving and becoming extinct for millions of years.  Over the past 450 million years there have been five mass-extinction periods.  There are indications that a sixth mass-extinction period is underway – this time human-induced.  Of the almost 9 million species upon the Earth around 99% of these are thought to be under threat, with the major threats coming from climate change, agriculture, wildlife crime, pollution and disease – all human induced.  Human habitation and habits have increased the background extinction rate at least one-thousand times (with some suggesting that it is up to 10,000 times the background rate.)

It’s not safe being a non-human on this planet.

There is another factor that must be looked at if we are to assess our safety.  The future of our climate.  Recent trends in extreme weather events suggest that our future safety may be compromised.  Since the 1990s extreme weather events have become more frequent, and more intense.  Although it is difficult to attribute any one such event to climate change, the overall trend is consistent with predictions from climate scientists.  These scientists note that a warming of the planet will precipitate more extreme weather events.  We have already seen these.  Heatwaves becoming hotter and lasting longer.  Cyclones, tornadoes and superstorms ravishing Caribbean and Pacific islands and people.

Our climate will become less safe for us.

Finally, lets consider what the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences has to say.  This Board annually updates the Doomsday Clock – an illustrative representation of the safety of the world: the closer the hands of the clock to midnight, the greater the threat.  On 26 January 2017 the Board again updated the clock, this time setting it half a minute closer to midnight – it is now set at 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.  This is the closest the clock has been set to midnight since 1953, the year the US and USSR decided to proceed with nuclear weapons testing and development.

This year the Science and Security Board decided to move the hands of the clock forward because of the twin existential threats of nuclear weapons proliferation and climate change.  Citing the cases of North Korea, India-Pakistan tensions, the situation in Syria, the inflamatory rhetoric of President Trump, and Russian nuclear development, the Board noted that nuclear weapons threats were greater now than the previous year.  They also noted, despite the Paris accord, that the “international community did not take steps needed to begin the path toward a net zero-carbon-emissions world.”

Eminent scientists suggest our planet is less safe than it was.

Safer or Not?

Are we safer?  From the above, admittedly brief and non-conclusive, analysis, we might suggest that men from rich nations are safer than they were.  However, women in those countries are no safer from domestic violence than they were.  Men from the poorer nations are no safer (some less safe) than they were. 

The question of safety then becomes a question of “who benefits?”  Those that do benefit can claim that “we” are becoming “safer,” but cannot claim it as an universal experience.  The claim of increased safety ultimately becomes one of Euro-centrism, macho-centrism, and anthro-centrism.

1. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
2. Global Study on Homicide, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011
3.  accessed 19 Feb 2017
4. World Health Organisation (WHO)
5. World Health Organisation (WHO)
6. OECD Factbook, 2015-16

7. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2015

Apologies to Readers

My apologies to readers of this blog.   The blogsite has been unavailable for the past couple of weeks because the domain name had expired.  It has taken me until now to navigate my way around the virtual space of the internet to renew the name.

Thank you for your patience.  A new blog will be appearing very soon.