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.

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