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 5 December 2018

Plastic: Reduce not Recycle

Over the past couple of weeks young people, school pupils mostly, have taken to the streets to tell our governments and businesses to stop procrastinating on climate change.  Young people know more these days about the environment than do their older "leaders" it seems.

In support of young people and their voice I am this week posting a short video based on a guest blog that was first published over a year ago.

Billie Denman is the daughter of a friend of mine and lives in Sawtell (NSW, Australia).  The speech was written, and read, as part of a school public speaking project.  Billie’s teacher graded this speech 30/30 and told Billie’s mother “I have never given a perfect mark before.”  This grade serves to underscore the passion that Billie brings to environmental concerns.

Billie's concern about plastic waste is further underscored by the news that China has reduced the amount of plastic it imports for "recycling" purposes.  Recently too, citizens in Malaysia, are exhorting those of us in the "developed" nations to stop sending all our "recyclable" plastic to Malaysia.  They are telling us to reduce our use of plastic.  A sentiment thoroughly endorsed by Billie.  Watch as this 12 year old expertly summarises the situation and outlines steps that could be taken.

Monday 19 November 2018

100 years of Remembrance

Cartoon poster from 1916
100 years ago the First World War came to an end.  This first world war became known as “the war to end all wars.” Immediately after the war ended prisoners in Buchenwald were hanging posters in various languages with the words “Never Again.”

20 million people had been killed, a further 20 million injured.  Around half the deaths were civilians.

What then happened?

Within a single generation a second war killed three times as many, with some estimates putting the number killed at 80 million.

Since then we have gone on to more wars, more suffering, and less remembering that we wanted to end all wars and for them to never happen again.

Could we remember something from that war to end all wars?

Today we remember the lives of those killed in that “Great War.”  Rightly so.  Could we remember and learn anything else?

1.  We could remember that the beginnings of war are often initiated by the rich and powerful.  I am no historian, but I do have enough sense and ability to read and discover that those sending Europe and its allies into war were those from the ruling elites, the arms dealers, and the imperialists desiring resources and control.

2. We could remember that many common, ordinary people did not (and still do not) want war.  Two plebiscites in Australia in 1916 and 1917 voted against military conscription. 

By mid 1917 half the French army were in revolt; refusing to obey orders, attacking politicians and officers, and storming Paris.

The strain the war was putting on local people saw strikes and revolutions in Scotland and Ireland, and the overthrow of the Russian Tsar in 1917.

3. We could remember that the Great War was not won by the Allied Powers.  In large part the war ended because of internal German revolt.  Berlin was in the middle of protest and strikes by 1918. Soldiers in northern Germany mutinied and made an armed rush on Berlin.  The German government collapsed, the Kaiser abdicated, and the war ended.

4. We could remember that around 10 million people were displaced by the war to end all wars.

5. We could remember that civilians die in huge numbers in wars.  Approximately half the victims in WW1 were civilians.  UNICEF estimates that by the end of the 20th century around 90% of all war casualties are civilians.

When we observe Armistice Day do we remember these five aspects?

Furthermore, if we do remember these five aspects, do we learn anything?

The observance of Armistice Day and other such days is deserving of finding ways to end all war, and to say, with those prisoners at Buchenwald – Never Again.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Elders Of Our Time

Fifty years ago (in 1968) Donovan recorded and released the song Atlantis.  It was a world-wide hit that picked up on the hopes and dreams of a generation seeking a different world from the one that was being offered.  The final lines of the song bemoan what was, and heralded what could become:
“As the elders of our time choose to remain blind,
Let us rejoice, and sing and dance, and ring in the new.”
Fifty years on and those who listened to, and sang along with, Donovan, are now of an age where one could expect to find elders amongst them.

Are those who were the hippies, the flower-children, now the elders of our time?  Are the elders of our time still blind?  Or, are there now, amongst these elders, those with clear sight?

Maybe it is best to start with a definition.  What or who is an elder?  One of the most insightful definitions I have found is that of Bill Plotkin, who considers an elder to be:
“… someone who, after many years of adulthood, consistently occupies his/her ultimate place without any further effort to do so.  This frees her/him for something with greater scope and depth and fulfilment, namely, caring for the soul of the world.  (An elder) does this by assisting others to prepare for, discover, and embody their souls, and by supporting the human-Earth system in the evolution of its soul.”1
Thought of this way, an elder is not simply an older person.  Nor is an elder a teacher or mentor.  An elder cares for soul – both of humans and the Earth.  In doing so, an elder understands, expresses, and is at home with, human-nature connection.

An elder then, assists us to connect with nature and our inner nature.  An elder enables us to take life’s journey ever mindful that humans can be much more than consumers and comfort seekers, alienated from our true being.

If such is an elder, has the young generation of the 1960s/70s given rise to such elders?

Yes!  True elders do live amongst us.

Bill Plotkin (quoted above) can be considered one.  He has been an eco-psychologist, wilderness guide, and author of soul-infused books, for more than 30 years.  His Wheel of Life profoundly maps the human soul-centred and eco-centred life journey.

Joanna Macy is another who readily springs to mind as an elder of our time.  Her work on facing the despair of nuclear proliferation in the 1970s, morphed into a larger body of work she called The Great Turning, which outlines a transition from an egocentric Industrial Growth Society to a soul-centric Life-sustaining Society.  She has led hundreds of workshops all over the world, and written many books enabling us to connect with our soul and the soul of the world.

Richard Louv, Thomas Berry, Chellis Glendinning, Joseph Campbell, David Suzuki, and David Korten, are just a few of the elders of our time from within the western cultural tradition.

Indigenous cultures around the world have largely maintained their elders of our times.  Sadly, western cultures have not valued these elders and what they have to offer.  All too often they, and the cultures they represent, were treated with contempt, and dehumanised, denigrated and decimated.

The (western) elders of our time, now treat indigenous eldership with respect.

Yes, we do have elders of our time.  They are no longer blind.

Do we have the ears to listen to them?


1. Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, New World Library, California, 2008

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Cultural Dependence, Nature Deficit

Modern anatomically similar humans began roaming this planet of ours some 200,000 years ago.  Those early humans were part and parcel of the environment; dependent upon it, and intimately bound up in the rhythms and cycles of the natural world.  Around 10,000 years ago the western elements of humanity began to cultivate crops and settle in one place.  Culture began.

Thus, for at least 95% of humanities existence we had been integral, necessary parts of nature.  With the emergence of western-styled culture we gradually began to become more and more dependent upon our culture and less and less on nature. 

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution only 250 years ago (less than 2% of our time on earth) we ramped up that attachment to culture at the expense of our understanding of nature.

Today, the western cultural tradition has almost lost contact with nature and has become almost entirely dependent upon culture.  Even that part of nature that nourished us (food) has been acculturated by the process of genetic modification, the addition of pesticides and herbicides, and on to the ways in which we obtain our food.  Most of us no longer have anything to do with the planting, sowing and reaping cycle; we obtain our food from supermarkets.  What is of even greater example of our detachment from nature is our water supply; we drink from plastic bottles, not from natural springs.

This massive swing away from nature has affected us in more than physiological ways.  Our psychological, emotional and spiritual states have also suffered.  So much so that one commentator, Richard Louv, has coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder, which he describes as describe “the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.”1

Yet, we have a chance to recover from this disorder.  Fortunately, we humans survived for over 98% of our existence understanding and being part of nature.  There are many examples of people and communities attempting to re-discover our natural place in the earth system. 

When we begin to re-discover nature we also re-discover our soul(s) which is not really surprising, if we realise that soul is our nature.

We are fortunate to have a number of examples and guides emerging to help us recover and re(dis)cover our natural selves and our place in nature.  In the western tradition we have the works of Richard Louv (already mentioned) and also many others, such as: Joanna Macy, Bill Plotkin, Thomas Berry, David Korten and Chellis Glendinning.  In the country in which I now live (Australia) we have the example and writings of John Seed.  There are many many others.

Then, of course, we have the example and teachings of indigenous peoples from all over the world.  In learning from indigenous peoples we, from a western heritage, must be careful not to steal or take as our own the practices, rites, or mysteries that do no belong to us.

We do not need to.  All we need do is enter the forest and…
…Stand still.  The forest knows
Where you are.  You must let it find you.”2
1. Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, Workman Publishing, New York, 2005.

2. Final two lines from the poem “Lost” by David Wagoner, quoted in Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008, p 29

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Something Has Come Up

A few days ago a friend rang to postpone a meeting we had planned.  “Something’s come up,” he said.  Following our telephone conversation I pondered that phrase: Something’s Come Up.

Things do, don’t they?  Come up, I mean.  No matter how precisely we plan, and attempt to control, our lives, things change.

Something Has Come Up is the flip side of the coin where the other side is the phrase, All Things Must Pass.  Things arise, things pass.  Understanding, and accepting that simple truth allows us to be content.  Knowing this, we can be content in the midst of happiness or sadness.

Misfortune arises and I react with sadness.  Yet, knowing that All Things Must Pass allows me to be content – knowing that the sadness will pass.

When I feel happy, even though All Things Must Pass and my happiness will subside, I can remain content.

In each of the above two paragraphs I could have substituted the phrase All Things Must Pass with the phrase Something Has Come Up.  My sadness will ease because something comes up.  My happiness will subside because something comes up.

Why do all things pass?  Why does something come up?

Simply because all things are connected.

The world is not a mechanistic machine in which events occur in a linear orderly fashion.  Our western-styled culture has adopted such a view over the past few centuries.  In doing so our approach has been to break things apart and study them in isolation, neglecting the wider context and the systems within which all things exist.  So, we have learnt more and more about less and less. 

Eastern and indigenous cultures, however, have understood the interconnectedness of things and that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

Over the past hundred years or so aspects of western science have also begun to understand this holistic worldview.  Quantum Physics, Systems Theory, Complexity Theory, Chaos Theory, the science of Emergence, the Butterfly Effect, and many more theories and ideas are disrupting the long-held mechanistic view of the world.

Our social environment, by and large, seems to be lagging behind.  The ways in which we approach education, health, social services, commerce, energy, transport, policy-making, ad nauseum, cling to a mechanistic, piecemeal, linear approach.

By clinging to this approach we continue to think that by analysing situations in pieces, planning in a linear fashion, and thinking we have the mechanisms to fix problems, all we are doing is creating bigger and bigger messes.

We must begin to understand that we are part of an infinite, interconnected, co-existing, and co-creating universe.

That means seeing the two sides of the coin:

  • All Things Must Pass
  • Something Has Come Up

Tuesday 31 July 2018

Does Karma Negate Compassion?

What place does compassion play if those suffering are doing so because of karma?  From a deterministic viewpoint offering compassion to those experiencing karmic debts is of little value.  The logic of this simplistic view of karma is that there is no point in seeking to alleviate suffering, no point in seeking social justice.

Such a logic is flawed.  Flawed because of a misunderstanding of karma, and flawed, paradoxically, from an understanding of karma.

Karma is an extremely difficult concept to understand, especially for those of us with a western cultural heritage.  We tend to view karma as a form of retributive justice.  Thus, if I do something “bad” in this, or a previous, life then I will suffer later in this, or the next, life.  From this perspective, it becomes possible to look at someone who is suffering now and adjudge them as having done something in their past that is the cause of their present suffering.  We can also think, mistakenly, of karma as being synonymous with fate or predestination.

Yet, karma, at least from the understanding that the Buddha left us with, is somewhat different.
Although karma can be thought of as providing an explanation for present suffering, it is not the only cause.  The Buddha made reference to a number of other possible causes of events or experiences in our present lives, including physical, biological, and environmental causes.

The concept of karma had been around long before the time of the Buddha.  The Buddha, however, emphasised the element of cetana (translated as volition, motivation,  or intention.)  An illustration of this is to think of two people plunging a knife into another persons chest.  One of these persons is a murderer and does so with the intent to kill the other.  The second is a surgeon and does so with the intent to save the life of the other.  The actions are similar, yet the intentions are vastly different.

Thus, intentions, and state of mind are given more weight than the action and the result.  For those of us brought up in a western culture that emphasises outcomes this can be difficult to fully grasp.

If we think of karma in this way, then it is our present or future state of mind, or consciousness, that is influenced by our past or present intentions.  Thus, our present and future happiness is the karmic result of past or present contentment and intention to live joyfully.  Similarly, our present or future painful state is the result of our focusing on negative energies in the past. 

Returning to the idea that showing compassion in the face of karma is a waste of time and effort, we must ask ourselves: what karmic future are we creating for ourselves if our present intention is to show a lack of compassion?

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Is It Right To Forgive?

It seems right to forgive, doesn’t it?  After all, we hear such proclamations often from pulpits and religious sectors.

We also hear calls for apologies to be made.  Within the public domain we often hear these couched in phrases such as “we call on him/her to apologise, and to withdraw.”

Forgiveness and apology seem to go together.  One person apologises and the other forgives.  Sometimes, forgiveness is not offered until such time as an apology is given.

Then too, there are times when we hear that forgiveness cannot, or should not, be given because the crime has been too horrific, or the hurt too great.

In all these situations, forgiveness is thought of as something offered because someone has done wrong.  A hurt or crime has been committed and the “victim” is sufficiently humane, or compassionate enough, to forgive the “offender” for the wrongdoing.

Apologies, and forgiveness, are couched in the framework of right/wrong and victim/offender.
Is that really what forgiveness is?  Is forgiveness about righting a wrong?  Is forgiveness about a victim forgiving an offender?

Not really.

Forgiveness is really about healing a damaged relationship.  Forgiveness is about recognising our common humanity and restoring balance when harmony is disrupted.  Forgiveness recognises that, being human, we all make mistakes.  Think of it like the making of a movie.  Various takes of scenes are made, sometimes dozens before the final, picture-perfect (excuse the pun) take is accepted.  Each of the takes before that final take can be thought of as mis-takes.  In each of those takes, the actors, the camera crew, the extras, the make-up artists, the director, the producer, and everyone else on set did their job the best they could at the time.  Each of those mis-takes were accepted and the next take was ordered up by the director.  In the same way, our mis-takes can be accepted, we can learn from them, we can acknowledge to those around us that we made a mis-take, and we can yearn for better in the next “take.”

So it is with forgiveness.  True forgiveness is offered (given) even before the mis-take is made.  Indeed, the etymology of the word embodies this idea.  The word forgive comes to us from the Latin word perdonare.  Doesn’t sound or look like it does it?  However, if you trace its journey perdonare was translated into the Germanic precursor of English.  Per became for and donare was translated as giefan, so we got forgiefan, and from there the modern English word forgive.

In Latin, per means with or before, and donare means completely, without reservation.  Hence, we could define forgive as “to give completely, to give without reservation, and to do so beforehand.”

Looked at this way, forgiveness becomes something we do for ourselves, rather than something we do for the person who we perceive to have harmed us in some way.  As too, is apology.  We apologise because it is healing for the relationship, not because it may heal the perceived hurt of the other person.

Whether we perceive ourselves to be the victim or the offender is largely immaterial.  When either, or both, parties make a mis-take, then the relationship between them is knocked out of balance.  The key to restoring balance, as with so many things in life, is honest and transparent communication.  Taking the time to offer an apology or to for-give allows for a restoration of balance and perhaps even, a more satisfying relationship.

Forgiving then, is not right, or wrong.  Forgiving helps to restore a relationship that has become unbalanced.

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Just Breathe

Our aspirations often get phrased in the future tense.  We aspire towards something off in the future.  Aspirations are thought of as a synonym for dreams – something yet to happen.

Dreams are necessary.  Where would we be if we did not dream?  Where would we be if we did not dream of things to improve our lives, individually and collectively?  Without dreams we may not have invented the wheel, the printing press, or iPhones.  Without dreams we would not have abolished slavery, women would still not be eligible to vote, and the Berlin Wall would not have fallen.

Dreamers – there have been many.  We know of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech.  George Bernard Shaw, later quoted by JF Kennedy, famously asked “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  And, of course, John Lennon acknowledged the many dreamers, singing:
“You may say that I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one.”
Yes, dreams (or aspirations) are useful.

We can think of an aspiration in another sense too.  One that is much more immediate.  To aspire also means to breathe.  Not surprisingly really, for it comes from the same Latin root, aspirare – meaning to breathe at, or blow upon.

When we consider our breath we are brought to the here and now.  Our breath is immediate.  We breathe now.  We aspire.  We breathe in, we breathe out.  Our breath also connects us to the cycle of life of which we are a part.  The oxygen in the air we breathe now was once the oxygen released by a tree on the other side of the planet.  At some stage that oxygen has breathed in by another human being somewhere in the world, and sometime in the past.  Our breath connects us to everyone and everything and roots us in the present moment.

Teachers of mindfulness and meditation often get us to use our breath as a tool.  It is the one tool we have access to all the time.  By concentrating on, or focusing upon, our breath we bring ourselves into a space of mindfulness on what is happening here and now.  Our mind begins to let go of its clutter and chatter.  We begin to find a peacefulness and a clarity that is often not there in our busy, hectic, future-oriented days.

Often our community development or social justice work can be future oriented and focused upon our dreams – our aspirations.

Maybe we would benefit sometimes from slowing down and concentrating upon our breath – our aspiration.

By doing so, we may find that what we really want is right here and now.  We may find that by paying attention to the present we become mindful of the opportunities that exist right in front of our (breathing) nostrils.

Saturday 2 June 2018

The Compassion Book (updated information)

This is a quick update on the review of The Compassion Book for those of you who have already read that review.

As a note to that review I said that enrolments for this years online compassion course had closed.  I have had a message from the team to say that enrolments for this years course have been extended to 19 June.  The course itself begins on 20 June.  I thoroughly recommend this course. 

Here is the link again.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

The Compassion Book (Book Review)

Are you interested in exploring more helpful, more satisfying ways to communicate with those
around you?  Who wouldn’t?  This book, by Thom Bond, does just that.

Over a course of 52 chapters – conveniently a year’s worth of weeks – The Compassion Book1, is full of ideas, theoretical background, practical advice, and sufficient exercises to get you started.  Based on the philosophy and practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), introduced to the world by Marshall Rosenberg, this book is a welcome addition to the growing body of resources for the learning of NVC.

Bond helps us understand the basis of NVC, which could simply be summarised in 3 tenets:
  • All our actions are taken in order to satisfy needs.
  • If our needs are met, then “good” feelings arise: joy, happiness, satisfaction, relief…
  • If our needs are not met, then “bad” feelings arise: resentment, sadness, disgust…, up to and including anger.
From this base understanding, Bond guides us through and explanation of feelings and needs.  He helps us gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of the diversity of needs and feelings.  In the process he teaches us a greater vocabulary (the book includes helpful lists of needs and feelings.)  By doing so we come to better understand ourselves, our feelings, our actions, and reactions – as well as the feelings, actions and reactions of others.

Bond shows how this understanding leads to greater compassion, not only for others, but also towards ourselves.  We can, according to Bond, move beyond the constraining dualities we were taught: should/shouldn’t, right/wrong, good/evil.  These, and others, often burden our thoughts and hence our actions.

He also helps us to understand that our feelings, once we become attuned to them, are helpful messengers – they point us to our underlying needs.  The, acknowledging our needs, we are better able to act with self-compassion, self-awareness, and communicate with others in more helpful and satisfying ways.

Working through each chapter, and undertaking the exercises in each, allowed me to gain a greater understanding of my feelings and needs, how these are connected, and how I can have more satisfying connections with others.

Many of my needs were met by reading, and working through this book: clarity, understanding, awareness, learning, acceptance, and self-respect come to mind.

There is just one need I would have liked to have been more satisfied:  the need for greater challenge in the examples given.  Many of Bond’s examples are on the “easy” to “middling” end of the spectrum of difficulty in encounters.  I would like to hear of examples where NVC is applied to the “difficult” end of the spectrum of interactions: e.g. dealing with bullies (at school and in the workforce), racist abuse, all the way through to international conflict.  (These may be the stuff of another book).

My challenge then, is to understand the principles from Bond’s simple examples and discover how to apply these principles in the more “difficult” situations.

These 500 or so words have been unable to fully justify this book.  You’ll just have to buy it, or enrol in Thom Bond’s year-long online course.

Thank you Thom Bond.

1. Thom Bond, The Compassion Book, One Human Publishing, Orange Lake, New York, 2017

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Authentic Authority

Roman Senate
How authentic are our authorities?  How authentic do we want them to be?  If we are going to accept someone’s authority, then surely we would want them to be authentic in exercising that authority.  Ideally, we would want authority to come imbued with authenticity.

Perhaps the two concepts – authority and authenticity – have similar roots.  Tempting as this thought may be, the etymology of each are quite different, and may, coincidentally, offer an insight into two differing approaches to our democracy.  I will return to that later in this blog, but first, let us look at the two concepts and their derivations.

Authority has its roots in the Latin word auctontatem, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, command.  By the time the word entered the English language it had come to mean the power derived from a good reputation, the power to convince, or the capacity for inspiring trust.  Hmmm… glimpses of authenticity there!

However, by the 1600s the concept of authority moved closer to the last of the original Latin meanings and came to indicate those in charge, those with police powers.

Today, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, authority is defined as a) the power or right to give orders, make decisions, enforce obedience, b) right to act in a specific way, and c) official permission.

Authenticity, on the other hand comes to us from Greek.  The Greek word authentikos is a compound word made up of autos (self) and hentes (doer, being).  Adopted into English it meant trustworthy, reliable, real, genuine.

It has a similar meaning today, as well as meaning to represent ones true nature or beliefs, and being true to oneself.

Are we now able to answer the original question: how authentic are our authorities?  If trustworthiness is a measure then we would have to say “not very.”  The Readers Digest has been surveying the trustworthiness of various professions for a number of years.  Politicians are regularly found at the bottom of the list.  In 2014 politicians were ranked at 49 out of 50 in terms of trustworthiness (just one place above door-to-door salespeople.) 

Do we want our authorities to be more authentic?  If so, then how can that be achieved? 
The differing derivations of the two words – authority and authenticity – may offer an often unseen insight. 

When the founders the United States became the first western nation to reject the rule of the monarchy they searched for an historical precedent upon which to draw.  They looked to the Roman Republic, where Latin was the language of administration.  Perhaps the most obvious method they borrowed from the Roman Republic was that of electing representatives.  And, true to form, just as in the times of the Roman Republic, getting elected was more often a case of knowing the right people, and/or having enough money.1  Somewhere along the line, the word democracy was attached, unfairly and misleadingly, to this.

We often think of our modern democracy as deriving from the Greeks.  Indeed, the word democracy does come from Greek.  But, what the Athenians and other Greek city states understood as democracy, is not the form that was adopted in the United States and then transferred to other western nations.

The Athenians rejected elections as the method of choice in selecting their representatives.  They chose selection by lot, today known as sortition.  Aristotle, one of the most famous of Greek philosophers described the selection of officials by lot as being democratical, and the selection by election as being oligarchical.2  Hardly an endorsement for elections as a means for selecting authorities.

The Greeks used a more authentic approach to selecting their representatives.  The sortition method had much going for it according to them.  Primarily, it meant that anyone could have the chance to be a representative.  it meant too, that because the outcome was random the possibility of influencing the outcome ahead of time, or corrupting a potential candidate, was heavily reduced.  Sortition also meant that a greater diversity of opinion, experience, and knowledge was introduced.

And, importantly, the system engendered a greater degree of trust.  The Greek democracies were more authentic.

Perhaps we should consider this option – sortition – today, so that our authorities become more authentic. 
1. For a fuller description and analysis of the links between the US founders and the Roman Republic see the book Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed its meaning and lost its purpose, by Dr Roslyn Fuller, Zed Books, London, 2015.

2. Aristotle, Politics Book IV.

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Mediocre Democracy

Let’s face it.  Most of us are mediocre.  Most of us lie within two standard deviations of the mean (average).  Most of us reside in the middle of the classic bell shaped distribution curve so beloved of statisticians.  That means most of us have an IQ of between 70 and 130.  Most of us, too, have average EQs (Emotional Quotients).

Our elected politicians are also mediocre.  The reality of this hasn’t really occurred to us, though.

For example, most politicians believe themselves to be way above mediocre, or at least, act as if they are.  But, who can blame them?  When we vote for them, we have an expectation that they are above mediocre, and are able to make decisions that are better than mediocre.

Yes, we have higher expectations of elected politicians.  We expect them to be more than mediocre.  Then, we get disappointed, or frustrated, when they don’t meet this high expectation – when they act and make decisions that are mediocre.

Mediocre comes from Latin roots.  Medius meaning middle, and ocris – a jagged mountain.  So, we could metaphorically consider ourselves, along with our politicians, to be part way up a jagged mountain.

Yes, most of us are mediocre, just like our politicians.  Except in one crucial sense.  Our politicians are not representative of the general, average, citizenry.  If we look closely at our politicians, we will find that most of them come from privileged backgrounds and with a narrow range of experience.  There are financial advisers, teachers, business managers, academics, or the occasional celebrity.  How many plumbers, hairdressers, posties, bank tellers, or caregivers are there?  How many common folk are there?  Very few.

The common folk – the commoners – are little represented.  Commoners are the mediocrity of society, and in this sense, are not represented in our parliaments, senates and congresses.  These institutions are more and more unrepresentative, and in doing so, becoming less and less “mediocre” – or “common.”

Beyond Mediocre Politics

Therein, lies the issue at the heart of democracy – our elected politicians are not commoners, they are not representative of the mediocrity.

Yet, we should not despair.  Mediocre has a lot going for it.  If we think of mediocre as being a synonym for common, then let us go back over one hundred years to a story of a country fair and a retired English statistician and hereditary scientist, Francis Galton.  When he walked to his local county fair, Galton, then in his 80s, had spent his life attempting to prove that most people did not have enough intelligence to lead society.  Wandering around the fair he came across a competition to guess the weight of an ox.  Amongst the entrants, there were a few cattle breeders, butchers, and farmers who, Galton surmised, would be expert (better than mediocre)enough to guess fairly accurately the weight of the ox.  However, most of the almost 800 punters were common folk, with no apparent expertise in ox-weighing.  After the competition had ended and the prize-winner announced, Galton obtained all the winning entries from the organisers.

Being the statistician that he was, Galton calculated the average guessed weight. Before doing so, Galton hypothesised that this average guess would be a long way from the true weight because most of the punters were non-experts (simply mediocre commoners).  However, what Galton discovered staggered him and challenged him to re-think his ideas about expertise and “common” knowledge.  The true weight of the ox was 1,198 pounds – the average vote turned out to be 1,197 pounds. This average was closer than that of any of the individual “experts” who had entered the competition.

On that day in Plymouth, 1906, Galton discovered what has since come to be known as “the wisdom of crowds.”  Since Galton’s time, many researchers and activists have sought to discover what can happen when a group of ordinary, common (mediocre) people are brought together for some specific purpose.  These activities and experiments have suggested that Galton had only scratched the surface of the “wisdom of crowds” phenomenon.

How do we tap into this wisdom of crowds?  How do we discover the expertise lying in wait amongst the mediocre?  How do we bring commoner-sense into our collective decision making?  How do commoners become involved and represented in our public decision-making bodies? 

Elections, voting, and so-called “representative democracy” are not answering those questions. 
The simplest way of tapping into that wisdom, and enabling common-folk, is to use random selection.  Yes, randomly select decision-makers from amongst the mediocre.

Wait, don’t dismiss this option too quickly.  It has been used many times throughout history, most notably in the very birthplace of democracy – Athens.  Athenian democracy used voting only in special cases.  Most of their public decision-making bodies were made up of randomly selected commoners.  This method is known as sortition.  I will not go into further depth in this blog, as I have written much on this in past blogs.  Readers interested in searching further may wish to search this site using the keyword sortition.

Perhaps mediocre democracy has a future. 

Wednesday 2 May 2018

How Many Planets Are There? (video)

This post was originally published four years ago.  I decided to revisit it and turn it into a short video - about 3 minutes.  Enjoy!

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Consciousness Emerging?

Readers of this blog and of my book (Opportunities Emerging: Social Change in a Complex World1will know that I am interested in the phenomenon of emergence.  Emergence says that when the component parts of something are combined, then the resultant properties cannot be predicted by an understanding of the individual elements that make it up. 

For example, take the very simple molecule of water (H2O): can the physical aspects of water be predicted from an understanding of hydrogen and oxygen alone?  What do we know of each element on its own?  Hydrogen is bitter, sour smelling, and explosive.  Oxygen is tasteless and odourless.  At normal temperatures, hydrogen is a gas.  So, too, is oxygen.  Yet, when combined as the molecule H2O at normal temperature we get the liquid substance we know as water – the life giver.   Yet, both oxygen and hydrogen on their own only become liquid at extremely low temperatures.  How is that possible?  Scientists call it emergence.

As yet (as far as I am aware) no-one has come up with a scientific theory to explain the process of emergence.2

What About Consciousness

In the past few decades neuroscientists and others have been pondering the question of consciousness.  There is general agreement that consciousness is not synonymous with the brain.  But there does seem to be the assumption that consciousness and the brain are connected.  Furthermore, many assume that consciousness arises from the brain.  This assumption suggests that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.

But is it?

How about this as a conjecture?  Consciousness is the power/energy/process/vibration which informs the process of emergence.  Western science has been catching up on eastern thought since the 18th century, when the French mathematician, Jean Fourier, recognised the importance of information in how our world is made manifest.  Fourier’s insights have been expanded on massively since then and now information is understood as more critical than space, time, matter, or even energy.  But, “information” in the scientific world is not the assemblage of crude data devoid of meaning or context that we usually associate with the word information.  When the inter-relatedness and inter-connections between data is understood, then we have information – literally in-formation.  That is, when there is form to the data then we can start to see and understand patterns, and with that, we gain knowledge.

Is this in-formation what we also understand as consciousness?  This idea is not as far-fetched or outlandish as it may sound.  Many scientists and institutions around the world are delving into this area of knowledge and discovering some amazing insights.  These insights turn our accepted view of the world on its head.

Foremost amongst these insights is that consciousness does not emerge or arise from our brain.  Our brain, just as our body, is immersed in a vast sea of consciousness, or information if you prefer.  The second major insight from this research is that we can, and do, tap into this consciousness and create and co-create the world.  We become both the creator and the creation.

And, those insights change everything.  It may be that we need to shift our idea that “seeing is believing” to one of “believing is seeing.”  Or, as Dr Wayne Dyer stated, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Just think.  What if we fully accepted this way of looking at things?  What if we discovered how this works and worked with it, instead of against it?  What could we achieve?  Could we really move from a focus on emergency to working with consciousness and being open to what emerges.

1. meder, bruce, Opportunities Emerging: Social Change in a Complex World, Rainbow Juice Publishing, Coffs Harbour, NSW, 2017.  This is available in paperback or eBook form from

2. If I am wrong, then I would appreciate readers alerting me.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Gratitude For What's To Come

Gratitude.  Most dictionary definitions define gratitude as being an act of appreciation or thankfulness for something that has already happened, or towards someone who has done something of benefit or kindness towards us.  Dictionary definitions suggest gratitude as being an act that is focused on what has happened, on the past.

Yet, this is a very limited understanding of gratitude.  Gratitude in its fullest sense is a state of being that is forward thinking, focused on the present and the future, on the next moment. 

Gratitude holds within it the twin ideas of appreciation and contentment.  Appreciation for what is, and being content with whatever situation one finds oneself in.  These two notions suggest being fully present in the here and now.

Certainly, there can be a sense of gratefulness towards someone for what they may have done for you.  There may be a sense of gratefulness for something that has already happened – the beautiful sunrise you witnessed at dawn for instance, or perhaps the smile of the person across the aisle in the bus as you travelled to work.

Anticipatory gratitude, however, is a state of mind that approaches life with joy, love and contentment.  Indeed, the etymological root of the word content suggests this.  It comes from two Latin words; com meaning with or together, and tenere, meaning to hold.  Perhaps this is where we get the phrase “hold it together,” which has the idea of being at ease with the situation, or accepting things as they are without reacting inappropriately, or unhelpfully.

Hence, if we approach life with this sense of gratitude, then we may just find that our anticipation, even expectation, that life is enjoyable, abundant, and fulfilling will be exactly that.  We will get what we look forward to.  We will get what we show gratitude for.

Easy said – or written.  How do we do this?  How do we practise gratitude before the event or situation?  There are many suggestions out there on how to do this, here are just a few:

  • Watch for the things we take for granted, then notice how amazing these really are.
  • Approach others with an expectation that the interaction will be helpful to both.
  • Look for the opportunity in every situation to find joy, happiness, or a new learning.
  • Become content.  We all experience sadness, as well as happiness.  It is possible to be content whether it is sadness or happiness we are experiencing at that moment.
  • Keep a journal dedicated to gratefulness.  The more you notice and record what you are grateful for, the more your mind, and soul, will take on anticipatory gratitude.
  • Smile at and with others.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Men Have Nothing To Fear From Feminism (post-script)

Last month I posted two blogs (here and here) about feminism, patriarchy and masculinity.  Since
then I have come across a couple of items that add to or expand on those themes.  I would like to share them here.  One is a cartoon about "toxic masculinity" and the other is a short video about feminism, patriarchy and gender equality in Iceland.

In the cartoon, the artist (Luke Humphris) outlines succinctly how patriarchy can lead to a condition known as "toxic masculinity" which is particularly damaging to men and those around them.

In the video, the presenter/interviewer (Liz Plank) takes us to Iceland where she interviews a group of men who state clearly that feminism has been of benefit to men and that there is nothing to fear from feminism.  (For those who want to jump ahead to this segment of the video, go to 2 min 55 seconds in).

The cartoon strip can be accessed here.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Forgetting How To Walk

For most of us, we are born with two legs and feet.  The anatomical purpose of these is to allow us to stand upright and to walk.  However, we seem to be in danger of using our legs and feet only to manipulate the pedals in a car.

In the nineteenth century it was not uncommon for people to walk up to twenty miles (30+ km) to visit friends and family or to attend a show or spectacle they were interested in.  Within just a generation the number of hours spent walking by children has decreased from 1.5 hours to a little over an hour.  How many children walk to school in today's world?

Amongst adults too the amount of walking is minimal.  For most in the western world the daily average is around 3 to 4 km per day.  And remember, this figure includes walking around the home: to and from the bathroom, the kitchen or the car garage.  It includes walking out to the post box or to put the rubbish bin out.  It is not much.

On the other hand, around one-in-five household car trips in the western world are less than 2km in length, and fully two-thirds are less than 6km in length.

Are we forgetting how to walk?

This forgetting comes at a price.
  • The proportion of people who are overweight or obese is surging ever higher.
  • Air pollution from motor vehicles contributes to the premature deaths of hundreds of people each year.
  • Motor vehicles are a major contributor to atmospheric carbon emissions.
  • Interaction between neighbours and communities is limited when we forget how to walk.
  • Contact with nature is also reduced by spending our time inside vehicles and not walking.
  • One and a quarter million people are killed worldwide each year in road deaths.
Ironically, many attempt to get fit or lose weight by going to a gym and exercising on a treadmill.  During the 19th century being put on a treadmill was a form of punishment.  One famous victim of this form of punishment was Oscar Wilde who was sentenced to imprisonment in 1895 for his sexual orientation.  He wrote of this experience in The Ballad of Reading Gaol:
We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns
And sweated on the mill,
But in the heart of every man
Terror was lying still.”
Is the modern form of the treadmill an improvement on that terror?  It is a treadmill, it is not walking.

This world is a wonderful place, full of beauty and splendour.  What better way to experience it than by walking on a beach, in the bush, along a leafy forest trail, amongst a glade of wild flowers, or in the local park.

Lets do so, before we forget how.

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Risk Perception

Sometimes our psychology gets in the way of what is in our best interests.  We are prone to giving our attention to what is immediate in time and space.  Events or situations that are in the long-term future or on the other side of the world can be put out of mind and ignored.  Yet, these events and situations may be of greater importance (positive or negative) to us.  We may be ignoring them at our peril.

What do I mean?

In the ground-breaking study – Limits to Growth1 – published in 1972, the authors understood this to be a crucial factor in how we approach environmental and social issues.  So much so, that they addressed it early in the book, with a figure similar to that below being the first in the book.

In the figure they plotted the level of concern people had for an event or situation dependent upon how close in time and space it was to them.  As can be seen, there is a concentrated cluster in the bottom left with levels of concern becoming less further away.

Another factor in terms of our level of concern is that we are less concerned about something if it takes a long time to play out, and highly concerned if the duration is short lived.  A graph such as that below illustrates this. 


When Limits to Growth was published the terms and concepts of climate change and terrorism were almost unheard of.  Global warming was just beginning to be talked about.  Terror attacks in Europe were still low, although they spiked in the late 1970s through groups like the Irish based IRA, the Basque ETA and the Italian Red Brigade.

Climate change and terrorism are very good examples of the psychology mentioned here.  Climate change seems to many to be a series of events to come (in the future) and for many the consequences are seen in other parts of the world (from our TV screens.)  Climate change is also something that evolves over a number of years.  Terrorism, however, is an immediate event.  One minute all is normal and serene.  The next moment, a bomb explodes, or a truck slams into a crowd, and all is chaos, carnage, screams and pain.

Today, terrorism is viewed as a massive threat and nations around the world are acting (and spending huge amounts of money) to reduce the risks.

Yet, we may ask: what is the risk?

The number of terrorist attacks in Europe peaked in the late 1970s with over 1,000 attacks in 1979 and for the next two decades averaged around 10 attacks per week!  Since then, the number of attacks has actually decreased.  So too, have the number of deaths.  Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s the number of deaths in Europe because of terrorist attacks averaged around 300 per year.  Over the last two decades the number of deaths has plummeted to an average of less than 100.

We know what happened in 2001 though.  The US was the victim of a terror attack and suddenly terrorism is seen as a major threat on the world stage.  No wonder really.  The US is the home of six of the largest news media outlets in the world.  And, as the saying goes: if the US sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold.

The risk is low, yet the perception of risk is high.

Climate change, on the other hand, is often perceived as being something that takes place over a long time frame and will happen in the future.  The catastrophe here is that this perception increases the risk, rather than reducing it.  In the late 1980s NASA scientist, James Hansen, warned that the earth could be approaching  a tipping point in its climate, and spoke of a need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm).  Three weeks ago (5 March 2018) Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii announced that the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere reached 408.35 ppm in February.

The risk is high, yet the perception of risk is low.

The message from these two examples is that we need to become aware of how our perception of risk and actual risk can be skewed.  That skewering is the real risk. 


1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, The Limits to Growth, Universe Books, New York, 1972. 

Thursday 22 March 2018

Feminism: What Have Men To Fear? (Part 2)

In last weeks blog I asked whether men had anything to fear from feminism.  In that blog I proposed and briefly addressed two proposals:
  1. Feminism is misunderstood, and
  2. Feminism is not the problem.  Patriarchy is.
In this blog I intend briefly addressing the other two proposals:
     3. Feminism has not achieved its aims, and
     4. Men are also oppressed by patriarchy and stand to benefit by understanding and supporting feminism.

Feminism Has Not Achieved Its Aims

If feminism sought liberation from the patriarchal system, then it has not yet achieved that goal.  In many ways, the patriarchal system has become even more entrenched, with some women participating in it enthusiastically.  The (masculine) values of patriarchy are alive and well:
  • Aggression is still, all too often, seen as the way to achieve what we want.
  • Right and wrong, black and white, good and bad; polarities are still the way the world is portrayed.
  • Adversarial techniques are still the method of choice in our legal system, politics, the media, and our educational system.
  • Self-worth is measured (possibly increasingly so) by economic success, popularity, identification with idols (sports stars and pop idols for instance), strength, power, and influence.
Meanwhile, as patriarchy continues to thrive, the non-human parts of the planet are abused, misused, and exploited.  Other living beings that share the Earth with us are being made homeless, or worse still – extinguished.

The women's’ (and men's’) liberation movement have much to do.

Men Are Oppressed By Patriarchy

When I stated that women sought liberation from the patriarchal system, it is my contention that men could also benefit.  Why do I say that?  Consider these:
  • Under patriarchy, men’s feelings and emotions are stifled.  Most men grew up hearing phrases such as “big boys don’t cry.”  A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend whose father had been in the Australian navy during the war.  His father died young.  A friend of his father’s told him one day that he and the father came back from the war traumatised, yet were told to “go have a beer and get over it.”  Sadly, such sentiments remain today.
  • Stifling of emotion can lead many men to unhealthy coping mechanisms: alcoholism, chronic gambling, and depression to name but three.
  • Afraid to show (or even acknowledge) anything that suggests “weakness” can result in over-compensating by resorting to violence.  This is displayed in everything from schoolyard bullying, to a pub punch-up, through to domestic violence and all the way to the war in Syria.
  • Stifling of emotion is implicated in the high rate of suicide amongst men.  In may parts of the world, men kill themselves at a rate three times that of women.  In Australia, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the third highest cause of death amongst men, behind coronary heart disease and lung cancer,  It ranks higher than such causes as stroke and prostate cancer.
  • Patriarchy coerces men to disconnect from their children, families and community.  The song Cats In The Cradle by Harry Chapin, poignantly notes the sadness of a man trying to connect with his son late in life, only to find that “my boy had grown up just like me,” and did not have the time, nor the energy, to connect with his father.
  • Patriarchy especially discriminates against gay men, black men, young men and boys, and “weak” men.
  • Patriarchy is implicated in the phenomenon known as “toxic masculinity.”  Toxic masculinity aspires towards toughness, but is based in fear: fear of seeming or looking – soft, weak, tender, less “manly.”  It is characterised by domineering behaviour, the devaluation of women (including misogyny), and extreme self-reliance.
No, patriarchy is not good for men.  I must add a rider here.  This recognition that patriarchy oppresses men should not be read as a devaluation of the role patriarchy has in oppressing women.  The intent is to show that men have nothing to fear from feminism.


  • NO!  Women are not the problem.
  • NO! Feminism/Women's’ Liberation is not the problem.
  • YES! Men and women can be partners and allies.
  • YES! Women and men stand to benefit by a liberation from what oppresses each gender – patriarchy.

Friday 16 March 2018

Feminism: What Have Men To Fear?

Often I hear statements such as these from men:
  • Men don’t know who or what they are anymore because of feminism.
  • Men are oppressed by feminism.
  • Feminism says that men and women are equal, but we’re not!
These, and similar statements, suggest that feminism has been damaging to men, to families, and to relationships between men and women.

Is this so?  What follows is one man’s perspective.  I do not claim this to be truth – simply my understanding.  It is also, by necessity, simplified.

Let me begin by summarising this perspective in four proposals, which I will elaborate upon over the next two blogpieces:
  1. Feminism is misunderstood by men (and some women).
  2. Feminism is not the problem that many men make it out to be.  The problem is patriarchy.
  3. Feminism has not achieved what it set out to do.  It has been (in many instances) diverted from that goal.
  4. Men are also oppressed by patriarchy, and have something to benefit from understanding and supporting feminism.
In this blog I will elaborate upon the first two of these proposals.

Feminism Is Misunderstood

Let’s go back to the 1960s.  In that decade women began to meet together in “consciousness raising” groups.  Out of these groups a movement was born (perhaps better thought of as re-born when we think of the women’s rights movements of the 18th1 and 19th centuries.)  This movement became known as “Women's Liberation.”  Very soon, the (male) media subjected this movement to what the powerful often do – minimise and belittle, and dubbed it “Women's Lib.”  Perhaps because of this, the term “feminism” became the more popular name.  Today, the name has morphed into “gender equality.”

In that naming and renaming journey, “liberation” got dropped and was replaced by “equality.”  Indeed, one of the early feminist writers from the 1960/70s, Germaine Greer, caustically noted that “feminism aimed at liberation, but settled for equality.”  She later expanded on this by saying, “… seekers after equality clamoured to be admitted to smoke-filled male haunts.”

So – how is liberation different from equality?  Equality suggests assimilation.  Women are assimilated into male domains, in much the same way as indigenous people are assimilated into western culture.  Assimilation and equality imply getting rid of difference.  Liberation, however, asserts and celebrates difference.

Furthermore, if feminism means women becoming equal with men, then that implies that men and masculinity are the gold standard to be measured against.  Hardly liberation, and hence, not feminism in its original sense.

Feminism Is Not The Problem

… and nor (I might add) are men, per se.  The problem, according to the early feminist writers, is a system called “patriarchy.”  Patriarchy is a self-referring, self-justifying, and self-supporting system of beliefs, values and power.  Patriarchy asserts that “male” values, qualities and behaviours are paramount.  It rewards those who display and aspire to these.  Furthermore, patriarchy, like most systems, is largely invisible to those within it, because it is portrayed as being; normal, traditional, the-way-it-is, or simply “just because.”

Within the system of patriarchy the lessons we learn accumulate in our lives and we come to internalise them.  The longer this goes on, the harder it is to see that these lessons are not necessarily normal or “the truth.”  Then, not being able to see the system for what it is, it is difficult to gain distance from it.

The early feminists were right to point the finger at this oppressive system and to catalogue the range of institutions and establishments that make it up (e.g. marriage, bureaucracy, business, politics, the media, education, science, religion …)  They were also correct to note that women participating in these establishments supported these establishments, and did nothing to enhance the liberation of women (or men for that matter – but I’ll get to that.)

Two examples from politics serve to illustrate this:
  • Margaret Thatcher became “successful” and powerful because she aspired to be as domineering as men.  Indeed, she became moreso to “prove” her masculine values and abilities.
  • Julia Gillard, on the other hand, attempted to bring her “feminine” values and behaviour into the realm of politics.  She was side-lined and ridiculed within the political arena and by the media circus, and eventually tossed out of politics.2
I mentioned earlier that feminism stressed difference and diversity, rather than equality.  Patriarchy, on the other hand, promotes and exploits difference towards its own ends.  Not only in stressing the difference between men and women in order to suppress female values and qualities, but also in other arenas.  It used difference to justify slavery and to send children down mines.  Patriarchy also used difference to “transport” Britain’s “unwanted” to the penal colonies of Australia.

The next blog will expand upon the other two proposals – i.e. feminism has not achieved its goal, and men are also oppressed under patriarchy.

1. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in 1792.

2. Margaret Thatcher (aka the Iron Lady) was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990.  Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

What If These Words Didn't Exist?

“What an idiot.”
“You ignorant fool!”
“She’s a lazy good-for-nothing.”
“He’s an arrogant, stuck-up know-it-all.”

How many times have we heard, or said ourselves, phrases such as these?  Furthermore, there are many many many such phrases that we hear or say each and every day.  Most are much worse; more defamatory, more insulting, more degrading, or more foul-mouthed.

I wonder what our speech would be like if none of these words existed?  What if we didn’t have in our language words that insult, degrade, or abuse others?  What if we had no judgemental words?

What would we say?  How would we talk to one another?

If we had no words of judgement, what would our speech be comprised of?  Perhaps we would have to be more specific, and maybe more descriptive of what we observed.  Instead of jumping to judgemental conclusions, we might have to describe what we saw or heard. 

If we could not immediately respond with judgement, perhaps we could take a moment or two, reach inside, and discover what it is we feel about the situation.  We may become more in tune with our feelings and not confuse them with thoughts.  Then, we might find that instead of judging someone else, we might respond with how we are feeling which in turn may help us to discover the needs that previously we had not expressed.

Maybe then, just maybe, our speech and our conversations might stand a chance of being of mutual benefit.  Our conversations might become inspiring, encouraging, and even gratifying.

One of the outcomes of using judgemental speech is that we fall into the trap of separation.  We set up a distance between ourselves and others, which may end up as a barrier.
This is not something just to think about in terms of the conversations we have with our friends and family, or our neighbour and those we work with.  We could ask ourselves how we pass judgement upon those who we deem to be on an opposing side.  Unfortunately, politics and social causes tend to cast us into opposing camps.  And from those camps it is very easy to label those in another camp as ignorant, arrogant, or having other disparaging traits.

When that happens we are trapped.  We have created a trap and fallen into it.  In that trap, the accusations and the judgements just keep going round and round, escalating in intensity and animosity.  There seems to be no way out.

The only way out is to - stop!  Stop using judgemental words. 

Start observing what is going on.  Start identifying and expressing our feelings.  Start noting our needs.  Start hearing the feelings and needs of others.  Start empathising.  Start truly conversing.

Yes, I wonder what our conversations would be like if we didn’t have judgemental words in our language?

Thursday 1 March 2018

Prisons: Retribution or Rehabilitation? Part 3, Restorative Justice

Last week I briefly outlined the process of Restorative Justice as an alternative to retributive justice and the use of prisons.  That blogpost outlined 3 lessons that I had learnt from working in the restorative justice arena.  This week I am posting the other 4 lessons.

1.      We All Make Mistakes.

Let’s face it - we all make mistakes.  We make many mistakes in our relationships with one another, especially in our younger years.  One of the most common sentences I heard directed towards offenders in the restorative justice conferences was “we all make mistakes.”  The speaker would then often go on to describe an incident in their youth, or talk about how mistakes can be used as something to learn from.  Many times the conference itself was a vehicle for that learning to take place.  Because restorative justice is a community-based program offenders are often put in contact with agencies, counsellors, psychologists, or other specialists, that can help them learn from their mistake.

Surely, it is far preferable that someone learns from their mistake, and finds ways to ensure that they do not make it again, than it is to dismiss the incident as “youthful exuberance” or, at the other extreme, lock them in jail with other offenders.

The offender learns that their offence isn’t simply one of them and the person they directly offend against.  The direct victim always has family, maybe a husband or wife, or children that are affected in some way.  The victim has work colleagues, or friends that they play sport with or socialise with.  All these people are affected by the single incident involving the victim and offender.  The ripple effects of crime can be extensive.  Many times I saw the realisation of this dawn in the awareness of offenders.  The restorative justice format is an excellent crucible within which these ripple effects can be displayed, heard, and appreciated.  The “normal” court systems, and retributive justice, are unable to do this.

2.      We Are All Human.

In last weeks blogpost I observed that all participants come into the restorative justice process with an array of feelings and emotions, many of them what we could call unhelpful emotions: pain, anxiety, hurt, fear, uncertainty, or anger.  What I noticed was that these emotions were the most often displayed ones, irrespective of the participant’s role.  Victims and offenders were just as likely to feel fearful or anxious.  Supporters also displayed fear and hurt, whether they were supporters of the victim or the offender.

My observations of these universal feelings suggest to me two truths:  First is that we are all human, we all react to trauma, disharmony, and upset in similar ways.  We are not immune to a set of emotions just because we are the initiator of the disharmony.  The second truth is that emotions such as fear, anxiety, and uncertainty suggest that we wish to re-establish order or harmony in our lives.  Human beings desire to live harmonious lives, in concord with one another. 

3.      There Is Always A Bigger Picture.

When people come together to share their story, and to relate how they have been affected by someone’s actions, a bigger picture than the “simple” offence emerges.  Victims share their hurt, their pain, and how the offence impacted their lives in an ongoing way.  Victims get to look the offender in the eyes and tell them how they felt the next day at work, or what it was like to go home and tell their children why they have a black eye.

It does not stop there though.  Often the back-story of the offender emerges also, whether told by the offender themselves or perhaps a supporter.  Often I found that the offender was, at the time, experiencing a low point in their lives.  Sometimes too, the mental state of the offender is discovered to include anxiety, depression, and perhaps even suicidal tendencies.  Maybe the offender was working through some relationship or employment difficulties, with little or no support.  None of this is to excuse the offence, but it does allow other participants to understand, even empathise, with the situation being faced by the offender.

Recognition of the bigger picture is crucial for enabling all the participants in the restorative justice process to recommend, and agree upon, courses of action, or outcomes, that have a realistic chance of making a difference in the offender’s life.  One of the major objectives of most restorative justice programs is to reduce the possibility of re-offending.  A bigger picture makes it more likely that the best possible plan will be forthcoming.  A fine and/or jail sentence is unlikely to do this.

4.      People Are Generous.

People want to help.  I made this simple observation time and time again.  People want to help others fully understand the situation or background.  Often, victims want to help the offender make better choices in life.  Some are able to offer very specific advice, others know of agencies or professionals who can help.  Community representatives in restorative justice conferences can be extremely generous in offering their time, energy and skills for follow-up one-on-one work with offenders.

So much of our cultural and social conditioning tells us that we get ahead by competing with one another, and that the success or failure of others is not our concern.  There is now much research showing that this conditioning provides us with false ideas.  More often than not our happiness and feelings of self-worth are found in our helpful interactions with others.  I witnessed the truth of this often in restorative justice conferences.  I could see it in the faces of all participants when they moved towards grappling with how to make things better in the future.  The frowns, grimaces, and tight jaws, would be replaced by smiles, greater eye contact, and ofttimes even laughter.


Although I witnessed these seven lessons (see last weeks blog also) in almost all of the more than 50 cases I was involved with, it was often not until participants experienced the process themselves that they were able to recognise these outcomes and come to appreciate them.

I could not sit down with a victim prior to a conference and tell them that, as a result of the conference they would come away healed, or perhaps even offering forgiveness.  Creative writing has a phrase, “show, don’t tell.”  It is a phrase pertinent to restorative justice also.  Often I would sit with a victim one-on-one and they would tell me what they wanted for the victim.  Sometimes that was a punitive outcome: “this guy needs to go to jail,” or “I want this person to have a record against their name for the rest of their life.”  I just accepted these statements, without attempting to judge or suggest alternatives.  In all cases where such sentiments were announced to me before the conference, the outcome was entirely different.

I recall one case in which the offender had stolen something from a shopping centre.  Prior to the conference I met with the shopping centre manager who told me that he “wanted this guy locked up and that’s what I will be saying in the conference.”  In the conference itself, he did not make that statement.  By the end of the conference he was saying, as he looked at the offender, “Look mate, I don’t want you to go to jail.  I think you have made some excellent changes in your life since and I support you, and want to encourage you to keep going.”

In at least three instances the victims offered to go along to the offender’s court hearing following the conference to offer support and, if able to do so, tell the Judge that they supported the victim in what they were doing to make changes in their lives.

Such changes can only come about through experiencing the restorative justice process.  Although I have been involved in over 50 restorative justice conferences, I am unable to tell offenders that they will emerge from the process healed and perhaps forgiving.  I can say, however, that by observing this happening, the restorative justice process is of enormous benefit to offenders and victims alike.  It offers healing, and the chance to make better lives of everyone involved.