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 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.