The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Creating Us (Book Review)

In a world in which the neo-liberal globalising project robs us of our creativity and our souls, a book titled Creating Us is worth checking out.  So it is with Peter Westoby’s latest offering.  The sub-title - community work with soul - suggests that this is a book worth more than checking out – it is a book worth relishing.

For decades, centuries even, community workers and social justice activists have sought a better world.  We have sought that world in the mountains of idealism and the peaks of activism.  Community work has been redolent with visions, goals – an ever upward striving.

Westoby, in this book, encourages us to divert our gaze (at least occasionally) from the mountain tops towards the valleys and dales where soul resides.  He succinctly notes that “soulful energy within community work practice is … oriented towards gravity and earth, thereby implying a depth perspective.” 

Why is it important, or useful, for community workers to descend towards soul?  Westoby offers a number of answers to this question.

Soul allows us to experience life in greater quality.  Much of our socialised life is quantity driven – the need to get results and to make things happen.  Soul, Westoby claims, wants us to let go and “invites an embracing of community work as a responsive dance.”  Perhaps tragically, community workers can become so locked into making things happen that we forget the meaning of what we are doing.  That is what, he says, is what bringing a soulful approach to community work can guard against.

Looking around the world we can see the dominance of ego.  The ego, Westoby suggests, “wants control, domination and an unified story.”  Soul however, is more comfortable with “multiplicity and complexity,” and seeks these out, if we let it.  Increasingly it is becoming obvious that we must recognise and understand the realities of complexity.  Soul allows us to do this.

The reader of this short book (it is only 140 A5 pages long) will not be disappointed by Westoby’s more detailed musings on these and other answers to the question as to the importance or usefulness of soul in community work.

It is foremostly, a book of reflections.  It is a soulful book.  It is a enchanting book.  Westoby colours in theoretical outlines with stories from his own practice and pertinent quotes from soul thinkers – e.g. Rabindranath Tagore, James Hillman, Mary Watkins, and Thomas Moore.  Adding to the colour and poetic quality of the book are ten delightful Leunig cartoons.1

For those of us seeking a soulful approach to community work, social justice advocacy, or anyone desiring a better world, Creating Us is an excellent place to begin that journey, or indeed, be reminded of that journey if one has already begun.

To watch a 13 minute clip of Peter Westoby discussing the concept of soul in community work click here.


1. Michael Leunig is an Australian cartoonist known for his wonderful, and sometimes cynical, yet always whimsical, commentaries on life and the human condition.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Two Faces of Empathy

Empathy – the ability to understand and to feel the emotional state of another.  Sounds like a helpful state to be in doesn’t it?  Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.

Empathy can lead towards healthy states of understanding – except when it doesn’t.  Sometimes it can lead towards aggression and even violence.  “What?” I hear the cries.  “How can empathy lead towards violence?  Surely stepping into the shoes of another leads us to understanding their situation more clearly and hence to trust them as if they were ourselves?”  Yes, I can hear those questions of doubt.  I had them too until I came across some research that suggests that empathy can, indeed, create harm.

The conundrum arises when the person whose shoes we are stepping into is a victim.  With an empathy for that person we can come to identify with them and their pain so much that we want to right the wrong, perhaps even to the point of inflicting violence on the perpetrator.

History abounds with instances of empathy dissolving into righteous anger and violence against perceived perpetrators of oppression, exploitation, or simply disregard of another.  When the invasion of Iraq was being planned, one of the methods used to get support for the invasion was stories of the abuses committed by Saddam Hussein and his sons.  We empathised with the victims and became complicit in the invasion of Iraq as a a result of our empathy.

Our criminal justice systems are awash with this phenomenon.  A young man punches another in a drunken brawl on a Saturday night, the victim sustaining broken teeth and a fractured jaw.  Our empathy for the victim leads us to wanting the offender to be locked up and punished because of the compassion we now have for the victim.

Our compassion in each of these examples leads us to aggression and violence (of varying degrees) towards the perpetrator of the abuse.  The justification for such aggression can be argued back and forth, and I do not intend discussing that here.  What I do want to point to is that our empathy can become so attached to a victim that we may even wish an aggressive response towards someone who is not the perpetrator – even towards someone who is removed from the situation.  This is the research carried out by Anneke Buffone and Michael Poulin and reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.1

In their research Buffone and Poulin told experiment participants that two (fictional) strangers were to take a test that if they won would give them a financial reward, whereas the other would receive nothing.  The participants in the study pre-read an essay by one of the two fictional competitors in which they talked about the financial and other hardships they were experiencing.  One half of the participants read an essay in which the concluding remarks were fearful with the fictional person wondering “What if I need to pay for something else I didn’t expect?”  The other half read the same essay except that the concluding remarks were hopeful and claimed “I’m pretty sure things will get better soon.”  The participants then had the opportunity to administer pain (by way of getting the fictional competitor to eat hot sauce) on this person’s competitor, should they wish to do so.  The researchers discovered that participants were likely to administer the ‘hot sauce’ treatment to the competitor of the person experiencing financial hardship – even though that person had no relationship with the other and had nothing to do with the supposed hardship of the other.  The likelihood of the participants administering the ‘hot sauce’ was increased in the case where the essay concluded on a fearful note.

This research suggests that our empathy can lead us towards an aggressive response towards someone unassociated with a victim.  Thus, our compassion for a victim could lead towards creating further victims.  We see this occurring too.  The current anti-Muslim crusade in the wake of terrorist attacks is a highly visible one.  Muslim people are becoming victimised, even though they have nothing to do with the perpetrators of terrorism.

So, what to do about empathy?  The first thing we can do is to understand that everything is connected and that there cannot be a single pathway towards social justice.  Empathy is not a single pathway.  Many centuries before Buffone and Poulin carried out their research the difficulty of working with empathy on its own had been given consideration by Zen Buddhist monks.  Within that practice there is a saying that “For the bird of enlightenment to fly, it must have two wings: the wing of wisdom and the wing of compassion.” 

Acting only from a sense of compassion, fuelled by our empathy, we can easily lose ourselves in aggression, a desire for retribution or even violence.  We need to fly with both wings.  The wing of wisdom allows us to bring a full understanding to events and situations.  Wisdom allows us to see the big picture, to recognise the inter-connections, to appreciate our common humanity.  Yet, wisdom alone can become dispassionate, detached or aloof.  Traditional western thinking separates compassion and wisdom, the former being consigned to emotional states and the latter primarily of an intellectual nature.  Eastern psychology (as exemplified in the Zen saying) recognises that the two “wings” are required to allow us to fly.

When we fly in such a way we do so with grace and purpose.  We fly with greater awareness. 


1. Anneke E. K. Buffone, and Michael J. Poulin, Empathy, Target Distress, and Neurohormone Genes Interact to Predict Aggression for Others–Even Without Provocation, in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2014, Vol. 40(11) 1406–1422

Monday 12 June 2017

Remembering the Grandfather of Nonviolence

This week I am re-posting a blog that I wrote four years ago.  Four years ago I wrote about the "Grandfather of Nonviolence" and his nonviolent resistance to British colonisation in New Zealand around half a century before Gandhi.  Now (June 2017, almost 136 years later) the government of New Zealand formally apologised to the inhabitants of Parihaka and to the descendants of Te Whiti, Tohu and those that followed them.  For interested readers here is a link to the news item about this historic apology.

Below is the blog I wrote four years ago.


Mohandas K Gandhi has often been referred to as the “father of nonviolence.”  Certainly, Gandhi did much to make nonviolence a recognised and moral strategy of conflict and resistance, but he did not invent it.

Te Whiti o Rongomai
Almost half a century before Gandhi on the slopes of Taranaki (one of the highest mountains in New Zealand’s North Island) two Māori leaders, Te Whiti o  Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, were utilising nonviolent resistance methods against British colonisers.


During the 1860s New Zealand had witnessed land wars between the colonising Europeans and the indigenous owners, the Māori.  With the Māori largely militarily defeated, the government confiscated large areas of land, including land around Taranaki.

In 1867 Te Whiti and Tohu founded the village of Parihaka on land that had been “confiscated.”  They declared that they would not use weapons to hold onto the land that they had occupied for centuries before the coming of the European.  Initially this action was of no threat to the government as there were too few colonial settlers desiring land.  The village of Parihaka flourished.  Taranaki’s Medical Office visited in 1871 and described the village as having an abundance of food, no disease and that they were “the finest race of men (sic) I have ever seen in New Zealand.”

The Ploughmen

However, during the 1870s Taranaki was experiencing a surge in immigration.  In 1879 surveyors were marking out roads and plots for European settlers.  In May of that year Māori ploughmen began ploughing the fields that were supposedly “owned” by white settlers.  The government responded by arresting the ploughmen, who offered no resistance.  As soon as they were arrested others took their place.  Te Whiti encouraged them to nonviolence by exhorting
“Go put your hands to the plough.  Look not back.  If any come with guns or swords, be not afraid.  If they smite you, smite not in return.  If they rend you, be not discouraged.  Another will take up your good work.”
By August that year, over 200 ploughmen had been arrested.  Fearing that if brought to trial many would be freed the Native Minister (John Bryce) introduced a Bill to Parliament that ensured that the prisoners would be held in custody indefinitely.

The Fencers

1880 saw the government building roads in the area including one that led directly to Parihaka.  These roads were built mainly by unemployed men with the promise of free land.  The Māori response, under Te Whiti’s leadership, was to erect fences across the roads.  Again, as soon as the fences were pulled down, Māori quickly re-erected them.

With the government continuing to sell “confiscated” land in the area, Te Whiti’s followers continued to fence, plough and cultivate the lands paying no heed to survey pegs or notices of sale.


By October 1881 the New Zealand Premier (Richard Hall) with the re-imposed Minister of Native Affairs (John Bryce) completed plans to invade Parihaka.

At dawn on 5 November 1881 almost 1,600 armed constabulary and volunteers encircled Parihaka.  Although settler newspapers were claiming that Te Whiti was fortifying and arming Parihaka, the troops were met by “a line of children across the entrance… (who) sat there unmoving… even when a mounted officer galloped up.  There were skipping-parties of girls on the road.”  (first-hand account given by Colonel William Bazire Messenger)

Arriving at the centre of the village the invaders found 2,500 Māori sitting together.  The soldiers were offered food and drink by the Parihaka inhabitants.  Te Whiti and others put up no resistance to their arrest.  Te Whiti was charged, cynically, with “wickedly, maliciously and seditiously contriving and intending to disturb the peace” and held without trial.

Upon his release in 1883 Te Whiti returned to Parihaka and continued to lead nonviolent protest at colonist occupation.  He was arrested and imprisoned again in 1886 for six months.

Parihaka continued as a centre of nonviolent resistance until the death of both Te Whiti and Tohu in 1907.


Between 2001 and 2006 the New Zealand government formally apologised to four of the tribes involved in the resistance.  Redress amounting to millions of dollars was paid out.

Followers of Te Whiti and Tohu continue to meet monthly, proudly wearing the white albatross feathers – Te Whiti’s symbol.

Was Te Whiti o Rongomai the Grandfather of Nonviolence?  Perhaps he was.  There are suggestions that Gandhi was aware of Te Whiti and his teachings, via a couple of Irish journalists who had visited Parihaka and later met with Gandhi.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Why Wait for the Revolution?

Just a short musing this week.

Many years ago when I was a young, idealistic, impatient activist I recall attending meetings of groups committed to social justice or similar causes.  In many of these groups we discussed our vision for the future, and compared the present times with the times that were to come “after the revolution.”  Those three words – after the revolution – may not have been expressly said, but the sentiment was there.  Somehow, after all the strategies, goals and objectives had been completed then the world would be a much better place.

What was this new world going to look like?  It was going to be more egalitarian, there would be no sexism, no racism, no oppression of any form.  People would be tolerant, caring, and loving.  The world would be full of joy, happiness and contentment.  War would cease, peace would break out.

I remember thinking at the time that there was something odd about waiting for this new world to appear.  Why can we not do this now?  I said to myself.  And I did just that – kept it to myself.  I didn’t share my doubts.  I feared ridicule.  I feared being told that I did not understand the dynamics of social change.

Over the intervening decades I have re-membered more about myself and about how we interact with one another and the world.  I have also discovered links between what is going on in our hearts and what is going on in the world.  That has been quite a journey.  Often that journey has been joyful or exciting.  Sometimes it has been scary or frightening.  A few times it has been painful – physically, mentally, and especially emotionally.  But it has been worth it.

That journey has led me back to the same thought.  Why wait for the revolution?  Why not do this now?  Why not be this now?  The difference now is that I am unafraid to speak this out, to declare it.  I am not fearful of being ridiculed or told that I do not understand.

Of course the other aspect to this question of “why wait for the revolution?”  concerns the word revolution itself.  It is an unfortunate word.  It brings with it connotations of overthrow of governments, bloodshed, violence, upheaval, pogroms, retaliation, reprisals and ultimately, a replacing of one form of oppression with another, one set of oligarchs with another set.

The interesting thing about this is that if we act now and be now, then there is no need for revolution.  There is nothing to overthrow any more.  There is no need for violence.

This understanding may be the most revolutionary thinking that any of us can do.