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 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.