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, 20 April 2021

4 Requirements For Retirement (or Elderhood)

Perhaps one of the pervasive expectations for a “proper” life trajectory of a person living in western-styled cultures is this: to enter the workforce somewhere in the late teens to early/mid-twenties, work for 40 or more years, then retire.

As one who is now of “retirement” age I have received invitations to retirement seminars, read “how to retire” articles, and been exposed to the conventional retirement know-how.  Within all this information and advice, a lot of the “know-how” suggests four requirements for a “good” retirement:

  • Relationships.  Often this is couched in the requirement for a retiree to have a circle of close friends and family.  A life-partner is frequently extolled as beneficial.
  • Activities.  Having hobbies and interests that keep one busy, occupied, and active is suggested.  Activities help to keep one’s body healthy and mind engaged.
  • Health.  Remaining healthy is extolled as being a prime requirement of an enjoyable retirement.
  • Finances sufficient to be able to do what a retiree wants to do.

In much of retirement know-how these four factors are described in terms of individual choices.  Sadly, this individualisation of retirement choices signals the underlying meaning of the word retire: to retreat, to withdraw.

Retirement in western-styled cultures is all too often a retreat and a withdrawal from society.  The coming of retirement age is when one becomes older and of lesser productive use in society.

Non-western cultures, however, tend to view this time of life as one in which one becomes and elder.  In these societies (albeit, ever decreasing due to western-styled globalisation) such and elder is seen as, and looked towards, as a holder of cultural knowledge, as a wisdom-keeper; a productive, active, treasured, member of society.

An elder (I deliberately distinguish from older) in this sense, also requires the same four factors as those outlined above for an older retiree.  However, there are significant differences.

Relationships.  An elder is in relationship with the entire world, the non-human beings as much as the human beings.  An elder understands what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, terms inter-being.  This way of interpreting relationship means a relationship within which there is no separation.  The relationship is not one of “me here ,other there.”  It is a relationship in which “I am other, other is me.”

Activities for an elder are not simply sources of amusement or a way to utilise time (although these may be an outcome), but of active involvement in the world, active involvement in communities because an elder understands the meaning of service.

Health for an elder means health not only of oneself, but also of communities, cultures, and ecosystems.  This form of health flows directly from the third factor above.  This concept of health understands that I am healthy when society is healthy, society is healthy when the ecosystem is healthy, the ecosystem is healthy when I (and society) are healthy.  There is an intimate connection between personal health and health of the planet.

Finances.  An elder rejects the notion of having sufficient finances to do what one wants to do.  Doing what “one wants” is antithetical to a healthy ecosystem.  Rather, an elder is open and receptive to what wants to be displayed and expressed through the elder.  In one sense, and elder becomes a channel through which the entire world does what it wants to do.  Wealth is necessary for this – but not the wealth of money, shares, or other financial accoutrements.  The wealth an elder requires is the wealth of a considered, and respectful, lifetime of experience.

What do these four requirements mean?

Retirement is not the time to retreat from, or withdraw from, the world.  It is time for one to find one’s place (if one has not already done so) in the world, so that one can give back and be of service to the greater-than-human world.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Don't Expect Change To Come From Governments

All too frequently those seeking social change point to governments
as either: 1. the problem, or 2. the solution.
  Sometimes both!

We hear statements such as “the government needs to do this,” or “the government needs to stop doing that,” or “if only the conservatives/liberals/tories/socialists/democrats/greens were in power.”

Power!  Ah, that slippery, contestable agency to which political candidates and parties aspire.  Ursula Le Guin1 claimed that government is “the legal use of power to maintain and extend power.” (my emphasis, see later)

Yet, government is a socially constructed institution that does not exist in a vacuum.  The great theorist and writer on nonviolent action, Gene Sharp, comments in his seminal trilogy that:

“An error frequently made by students of politics is to view political decisions, events, and problems in isolation from the society in which they exist.”2

Sharp’s understanding turns everything on its head.  Metaphorically, we could imagine government as being the few oranges at the top of a pyramid of oranges.  If one of those oranges at the top is removed, then the pyramid remains, and the orange is easily replaced.  However (as many skits and cartoons have shown,) if we take an orange from near the bottom of the pyramid, the whole pyramid collapses.

Like the orange pyramid, governments ultimately remain (and have their decisions accepted) because the base of the pyramid is not shifted.

The crunch is that it does not shift because many at the base of the pyramid continue to expect change to come from the top.  It never has, it still doesn’t, and it never will.

Where, then, does change come from?  Let us begin by looking at the base of the pyramid.  This base is constructed from our cultural beliefs, norms, behaviours, ideas, concepts, and aspirations.  When we fully recognise the implications of this then we also begin to understand that we can also wield power – collectively.

Furthermore, because all this is a system then it is possible to intervene to change it.

Leveraging systems

Donella Meadows, one of the pioneers of systems thinking, gave a lot of thought into what she called the “leverage points” in a system.  Following her untimely death in 2001, a book she had been working on was edited and released in 2008.3  In it she listed twelve leverage points in an ascending order of effectiveness.

The least effective of Meadows’ leverage points she refers to as the “numbers.”  In the social/political system discussed here these are the individual MPs and political parties.

The next leverage point she referred to as the “buffers.”  Here, we can think of these as the “checks and balances” of the system, including the “legal” use of power referred to by Ursula Le Guin (previously quoted.)

At the other end of the scale (the most effective) Meadows writes of the “paradigms” of a system.  Paradigms are the mind-sets from which an entire system arises, including our collective-cultural belief systems.

From this systems thinking approach some implications arise:

  • Our system of government rests upon a belief that power resides in and is maintained by governments.
  • By accepting that belief we abdicate our personal and collective abilities to effect change.
  • Every time we couch a problem/issue as one of politics and/or government (whether as a social change movement or simply in our everyday conversations) we focus on symptoms and neglect to diagnose or recognise underlying causes.
  • By expecting (and advocating for) change to come from governments we waste emotional energy, often leading to any or all of: frustration, despair, anger, disenchantment, or simply dissociation.
  • Furthermore, often when we “fight” an issue at a governmental level we end up supporting and giving legitimacy to the very system which is at fault.

We can change our mind-set.  We can intervene in the system at a paradigmatic level.

We should expect more of ourselves, individually and collectively.  We can expect more.


1. Ursula K Le Guin (1929-2018) is an American science fiction writer best known for her Earthsea fantasy series and the novels Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.

2. Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Porter Sargent Publishers, Boston, 1973.

3. Donella Meadows (ed. Diane Wright), Thinking In Systems, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, 2008.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

It's In The Language

All over the world original inhabitants have been colonised, invaded, and decimated.  Most of the colonisers originated in Europe, especially the nations of Western Europe.  As a result, much of the world has been “westernised.”  “Europeanised” might be another term.

In so doing the colonisers stole land, raped, murdered, and pillaged.  They also destroyed many of the cultural elements of those they colonised, including indigenous languages.

One of the first actions that colonised peoples have taken when reclaiming their cultural identity is to reclaim, learn and spread the use of their languages.  For many colonised people language is a sacred artifact; language is at the core of who they are as people.  Language both reflects and helps to shape the way in which peoples see the world.  Language is the mechanism by which identity is formed and the medium for explaining the world and society’s place in that world.

Former Australian Senator and member of the Gumbaynggirr people, Aden Ridgeway, has expressed this connection between language, identity, and land well.  He says,

Aboriginal language goes to the heart and soul of one’s identity and gives connection to family, country and instils a sense of enormous pride and provides the strength from which to see the world beyond the fences of your own community - then everything seems possible.”

Language could quite simply be the bedrock upon which the rest of a culture is built.

Many indigenous languages and other languages decimated by colonising powers are now being re-kindled and re-established, after having been almost extinguished.  Welsh, for example, was the main language used in Wales in 1800.  But within a century only about half those living in Wales spoke Welsh.  The language was actively discouraged through measures such as the Welsh Not: whereby children heard speaking Welsh at schools were flogged for using the language.  The language is now undergoing a revival.

In Aotearoa (New Zealand) the Māori language had, like Welsh, been actively discouraged in schools, with Māori children being disciplined for using the language.  The 1980s were a pivotal decade for the language, with the establishment of Māori language nests for pre-school children (later extending to primary, secondary, and tertiary level).  Māori language became an official language of the country in 1987.

Language revitalisation has been pivotal in enabling cultures to survive and thrive. 

What about English?

What if English were to go through a similar re-vitalisation, re-kindling, re-learning?  You might ask: why?  English is well established in the world; 1.35 billion people speak English, and it is the first language of 360 million people.  Surely it does not need reviving!

All languages change and meanings of words get transformed.  Yet, in that process, something other than the old meanings get lost.  Meaning itself often gets lost.  An understanding of the world and our place in it gets lost.  Once lost, those meanings and understandings get forgotten.

Stephen Jenkinson notes that discarded and forgotten meanings of words often hold “…memories (that) testify to inconvenient histories and times that aren’t the authorised version of everything that we learned in school.  They bear inefficient mysteries, mysteries that won’t give in.  They betray the allegations that stand in for tradition.”1

Maybe English has transformed the meanings of words so much that those of us descended from British colonisers (its first speakers) have lost contact also with the mysteries of the world.  Perhaps our own language, and what we have done to it, is partly why we are unable to come to terms with the way in which we destroy our environment and misunderstand what it really means to live a healthy and fulfilling life on this planet.

Consider a few examples:

·   The words tree and truth derive from the same etymological root.

·   The words human and humus (soil, earth) derive from the same etymological root.

How would our association with Mother Earth and with nature change were we to fully recognise the significance of these associations.  Further:

·  The word develop, far from meaning to “add on, to increase,” derives from the Old French word desveloper meaning to unwrap, unfurl, unveil.  Think of it as de- envelope.

·  The word educate, far from meaning to stuff full of knowledge, derives from two Latin words, ex meaning out, away, and ducere meaning to lead.  Hence, etymologically, educate means to lead out, to draw out.

What would our civilisation look like if we understood develop to be more strongly associated with our inward journey rather than an outward manifestation of continued growth?  What would our education system look like if we understood the word educate to be associated with enabling what is innate to emerge? 

What would our worldview be if we re-discovered the mysteries contained in our language?  It’s all there – hiding in plain sight within the language itself.

1. Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2018.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

I'm Not Responsible

Raise the issue of injustices to colonised people, or the number of sexual assaults that take place every day and, inevitably, you will likely hear cries of, “I’m not responsible.”

“I’m not responsible for the atrocities perpetrated by colonisers two centuries ago,” claim present day descendants of those colonisers.

“I’m not responsible for the rape of all those women,” claim many men.

Such claimants are both right and wrong.

Like many words in the English language, the word responsible has various shades of meaning.

One of those is the sense of being the cause of something to happen, being responsible for a particular outcome.  In this sense, a coloniser who shoots and kills an indigenous inhabitant because the coloniser wants to appropriate the land is responsible for that action.

In the same sense, the man who rapes a woman is responsible for that action.

A descendant of that colonising murderer can fairly claim to have not been the cause of that murder.  A man could equally claim to have not raped that woman.

However, when the issue of responsibility is raised in these contexts, such a narrow meaning of the word is not what is meant.

Responsibility also means the ability to think morally and to make good judgments leading to acting in a helpful and correct manner. 

Thinking responsibly also means having the capacity to think about the consequences for other people.

When the consequences for others are considered then it becomes clear that a victim of harm and/or trauma never gets the opportunity to not be a victim.  A raped woman does not have the luxury to set the rape to one side and to “put it behind” them or to “get over it.”

Thinking responsibly means to recognise this reality.

Inter-generational trauma is well known within colonised peoples.  The consequences of that ongoing trauma get played out in present day: poor health, inadequate housing, drug and alcohol issues, greater incarceration rates, lower educational achievement, lower socio-economic status, and many other social ills.

A woman who is raped always remembers being raped and is wary of other men because of that.

So, yes, I may not be responsible (the cause of) a particular action, but I can, and should be, responsible for thinking morally and ethically.

Those who are the descendants of colonisers should encourage responsibility towards creating a society in which colonised people are able to heal from inter-generational trauma.  We should encourage responsibility towards ensuring that ongoing oppression is halted.

Men should encourage men to take responsibility for creating a male culture which is respectful of all women.  Men should encourage men to take responsibility for recognising how patriarchal thoughts and actions continue to support a system in which women are victims of sexual assault.  

For this to happen, we should encourage each other to take responsibility for educating ourselves about how oppression, victimisation, colonisation, and trauma get played out in our culture.

Finally, we should encourage each other to not get trapped in the easy refrain of “I’m not responsible.”  Instead, we should encourage each other to recognise that “I can be, and I am, responsible.”

Monday, 22 March 2021

Don't Fix It, Take Responsibility

This blogpiece references Australia in particular and takes its cue from recent events here.  However, I have no doubt that the theme of the piece has applicability throughout the world.

A week ago, tens of thousands of women (and some men) rallied all over Australia demanding justice for women and protesting systematic and embedded violence towards women in this country.

In 2019 an ex-political adviser alleged that she was raped in a parliamentary minister’s office.  The country’s Attorney-General has been accused of the 1988 rape of a woman who has since taken her own life.  Grace Tame, the recently named Australian of the Year, is a survivor of sexual assault and has delivered some blistering attacks on the lack of governmental action in the face of these and other cases of violence against women.1

Against this backdrop the rallies for justice took place.  Notably, the (male) Prime Minister refused to face the rally in Canberra (Australia’s capital.)

Sexism and misogyny are widespread in Australian society (as they are in most western-styled countries.)  Soon after I arrived in Australia (from New Zealand) in 2012 one of the first speeches I heard from within the Australian parliament was that of the then Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) accusing the Leader of the Opposition of sexism and misogyny.2  Her speech went viral and has been voted as one of the most unforgettable speeches in Australian political history. 

Yes, sexism and misogyny start at the top of the political hierarchy.  But don’t be fooled; sexism and misogyny are also attitudes that come from the ground-up. 

Women in this country (and many others) have been yelling that “enough is enough” since long before Julia Gillard’s speech.  The recent March 4 Justice rallies are only the most current.

Have men (whether an MP or an ordinary man-in-the-street) been listening in all that time?  Some have, it is true, but that is not the point.  To say that some have is simply a way of saying, “Oh look, it’s really not all that bad.”  It is bad.  Sexism and misogyny are bad ideas, bad attitudes, bad behaviours.

Fix it, or Take Responsibility

So, what should men do in the face of the calls, cries, rallies, marches?  First, the listening is vital.  Just listen to the women.  But, we men must not just listen.  At no time in all the rallies and cries have I heard women say “Men, no need to do anything more, listening is enough.”  That is not what the “enough is enough” cry is about. 

Men could try fixing it.  Men could suggest solutions such as: don’t go out at night, watch what you wear, get a consent app on your phone…  Men could step into the fray and try to fix it for women.  By doing so men frame the issue around women being victims and needing to be protected – from other men (oh no, not me!)  Men wanting to fix it frames the issue as a “women’s issue,” abdicating any sense that the issue may be one performed by men.

Or, men could take responsibility.  Men could recognise that men are, by and large, the major perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual violence.  In Australia, in 2018-19, by far the majority of sexual assault offenders recorded by police were male (97%) 3

Men could also take responsibility by recognising that young boys will look towards their fathers, and other men, as their role models.

Men could take responsibility for the comments, jokes, and behaviours of their male friends.  To listen, for example, to a sexist joke is complicit behaviour. 

Men could take responsibility for educating themselves.  Sexism and misogyny do not operate in a vacuum.  They exist within institutional and cultural systems.  Learning about such systems is a response that men could make.

No, men do not need to fix it, in fact, cannot fix it. 

However, men can take responsibility – personally, socially, and culturally.


1. To watch a Youtube clip of Grace Tame responding to ineffectual response by government and calling out what she terms “cover-up culture” go here.

2. An excerpt from Julia Gillards misogyny speech.

3. Sexual Assault in Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Government, August 2020.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Difficult Conversations

Some conversations are difficult to have, aren’t they?  Some are perhaps too difficult.  Who begins the conversation?  Who is willing to risk the loss of friendship, or status, or income, in order to initiate a difficult, yet vital, conversation?

Socially and culturally, we are faced with just such a decision now.

The evidence for environmental collapse, and therefore social collapse, is mounting almost weekly.  We may have already tipped the tipping points of climate chaos.  It may be that we have passed the opportune time to make the changes necessary to avoid runaway climate change.  It may be that no matter what we do now, we will not be able to keep global warming beneath 2 degrees C.

If that is so, and the likelihood is extremely high, then what sort of conversations should we be having?  At a minimum the conversations need to focus on: can we adapt to a rapidly heating world, how do we do so, what do we focus on, do we need to change focus?

What might a post-collapse society look like?  Asking that question is not meant to elicit simply possibilities; such a question requires some deliberate thought put into what do we do to prepare, and what do we do to increase the chance that some form of human existence will rise from the ashes of collapse?  Whatever that future looks like, there is one thing we can be certain of – it will not look like the current society, it will not be a return to “business as usual.”

Those are difficult conversations.

They are difficult because they challenge our sense of hope, they challenge our desire for control, they challenge our wish for certainty.  Fundamentally, they challenge our mortality.  They challenge our self-preservation instinct.  They challenge us psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Tragically, the longer we remain trapped within the, now redundant, conversation of how to avert, stop, and reverse climate chaos, then the longer we put off the conversations that we need to be having.

We had chances before

Since the mid-20th century we have had chances to engage in difficult conversations – and failed to take them.  Had we taken those chances then, we may have been in a different place today and not have to engage in the difficult conversation about what to do in the face of environmental and social collapse.

In the late 1960s through to the late 1970s we had warnings of environmental crises.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962, followed by books such as, The Population Bomb, A Blueprint for Survival, the ground-breaking Limits to Growth, and Small is Beautiful.  All these pointed to the degradation of the environment and suggesting that a change was needed in our approach to living with Mother Earth.  These writers and others hoped for some difficult conversations.  They did not happen, or at least did not happen at a large enough scale.

During the 1990s we had a chance to have another difficult conversation – this time about global warming (later termed climate change and now climate chaos.)  Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature in 1989 heralded the possibility of such a conversation.  Although a global climate conference had been held as early as 1979, it was not until 1988 that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established.  Since then there have been numerous reports and conferences related to climate change.  It would be hard to contend that the difficult conversations needed then (twenty or thirty years ago) took place.  The difficult conversations related to climate change have only begun to occur in the last decade or so.

Far too late!

Climate change has passed us by whilst we stood about engaged in small talk.

Will we let this opportunity to initiate difficult conversations also pass us by?

The conversations we need to be having now are even more difficult than the ones we should have had over the past sixty years.

Recognising Our Mortality

It is claimed that human beings are the only species able to contemplate our own death.  Other species (e.g., elephants) do seem to mourn the deaths of one of their own, but we do not yet know whether they associate that with their own eventual death.  Understanding that we will die on an individual level confronts us with our emotional and psychological response to that knowledge.  There appears to be two broad responses; a fear and anguish-inducing despair, or a calm and deliberate acceptance, almost a contented yearning (for some.)

At a societal and cultural level any talk of demise of humanity raises possibilities of despair and dismal gloominess.  Such feelings can easily lead to inaction and a lacklustre outlook – a “what’s-the-point” attitude. 

These difficult conversations will need to acknowledge and embrace that possibility.

However, recognising the collapse of society need not be faced with despair and anguish.  Moving beyond despair, anguish, anger, and denial may enable us (collectively) to re-discover what is beautiful in the world.  We may move into a realm of love born out of our grief.  Rupert Read, an English academic and active in the UK Extinction Rebellion movement, counsels that, “Grief is how love survives loss.”  Wise words. 

For the future post-collapse to embrace beauty and love we need difficult conversations.  We need to be able to move the conversation from one based on fear (the threat of climate change) to one based on love.  Charles Eisenstein notes in his book Climate: A New Story1 that what often brought people to an environmental awareness and activism was love – a love for the forests, bush, mountains, oceans, birds, animals, trees. 

It is possible to re-animate that love of nature and beauty, even whilst acknowledging social collapse.  Those who are closer to the end of their lives may be able to recognise that easier than someone much younger.  Yet, paradoxically, that is why we must engage in the difficult conversations. 

Older people must engage with younger people.  Because the older generation failed to have difficult conversations in the past, it now means the older generations have failed their children and future generations.  We must have difficult conversations.  We need to tell the truth.  We need to acknowledge that we have failed.  Trying to protect children from that truth is another failure.  We must have the difficult conversations even if it means admitting that our previous failures have condemned future generations to ecological and social collapse.  We must not fail again.

Colonising cultures must engage with colonised cultures.  The colonisers of the world (primarily euro-centric, western-styled cultures) must admit that our impact upon the earth and upon indigenous society has been a failure.  Ignoring that and continuing to act as if we can “solve” the problems we have wrought is another failure.    

No matter who we are, or where we are on our individual life’s journey – we must have difficult conversations.


1. Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2018.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Women Show Men How It Is Done

Delegates at the Hague conference.  Jane Addams is second
from the left at the front.
Today is International Women’s Day, so I thought I would write about an historical event that seems to have almost been forgotten – or perhaps deliberately side-lined.

Nine months to the day after the start of the First World War well over 1,200 women from all over Europe, plus Canada and the U.S., met in The Hague for the International Congress of Women.  This conference had two major foci:

1.     That international disputes should be settled by pacific means.

2.     That the parliamentary franchise should be extended to women.

Of the thirteen nations represented at the conference only one – Norway – had extended the franchise to women at the time.  Within five years of this conference votes for women had been extended in a further six countries.  Two more had done so partially.  Indeed, prior to the outbreak of World War 1 in only two nations in Europe was it possible for women to vote – Norway and Finland.

Women clearly understood the connection between political power and the possibilities for peace.

Newspapers of the time criticised the conference as “hysterical, base, silly, and futile.” Women from Germany, Austria, and Hungary were labelled “Kaiser’s cat’s paws” and denounced as German spies.

Despite these attacks and attempts to discredit, 1,136 women attended as delegates and several hundred more as visitors and observers.  Hundreds more were unable to attend; either because they were stopped by government decree (as 150 or more from the U.K. were when the Home Office refused to issue passports) or were impeded by the lack of shipping because of the war. 

Women who attended risked the opprobrium of families, the disavowal of friends, and the censure of their own governments.  Far from succumbing to massive criticism and ostracism, Jane Addams1 (who presided over the conference) summed up the fortitude of the women when she remarked after the conference that:

“The great achievement of this congress is to my mind the getting together of these women from all parts of Europe, when their men-folks are shooting each other from opposite trenches.  When in every warring country there is such a wonderful awakening of national consciousness flowing from heart to heart, it is a supreme effort of heroism to rise to the feeling of internationalism, without losing patriotism.”

The congress endorsed a document containing twenty resolutions ranging from protesting the violence against women, to the principles and process leading to peace.2  The document outlined steps necessary towards international cooperation and the need for pacific approaches to conflict resolution to be taught in schools.  The role of women in peace processes was noted and included the call for all countries to extend the parliamentary franchise to women.

Participants at this congress did not stop with the endorsement of this document.  Following the conference, the document was printed in English, French, and German and sent to European heads of state in May 1915.  Furthermore, thirty delegates toured Europe from May until June speaking with political leaders and others.  However, the fighting continued.

Today, many of the resolutions from this congress are used as guidelines for many diplomatic negotiations held between hostile nations.

It should be remembered that this conference was held at a time when conferences/congresses were very much the domain of men, and that travel by women (without male company) was largely frowned upon.  Furthermore, at that time (in the middle of one of the most brutal wars in history) travel was extremely difficult.  It is a tribute to the women who participated that they did so, and were not afraid to show their courage and determination.

Had those twenty resolutions been listened to, and adopted, by the European leaders of the time, the world today may well have been a far more peaceful and cooperative place than it is today.

It still could be, if women continue to stand up for their understandings, and if men would stop and listen.


1.  Jane Addams was a leader in the U.S. suffragist movement, a founder of the profession of social work, an activist for world peace, and social reformer.  She was once labelled “the most dangerous woman in America.  She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

2.  A PDF of these resolutions is here:

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Older and Elder: It is more than a vowel difference.

Rabindranath Tagore
Stephen Jenkinson (author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble) claims that:

“the presence of elders in a culture turns out not to derive from an aging population.  We’d be awash in wisdom if it did.”1

David Suzuki (the eminent geneticist and environmentalist) adds to this when he says:

“Native cultures fully recognise that all elderly people have lessons to offer based on their life experiences.  But they also realize that only a few have the specialised knowledge of the cosmos that uniquely equips them to provide wise counsel to the community and the world.”2

So, what might distinguish an elder from an older?  One characteristic associated with older age is that of retirement.  Retirement is viewed largely as the prerogative of older age,

There has been much written about retirement, with much advice and tips on how to enjoy retirement (older age.)  Four factors are often cited as helping to ensure a happy olderness.  These four factors can be useful in elucidating the similarities and differences between older and elder.

1. Health

Taking care of one’s health is crucial to enjoying olderhood.  Most retirement counsellors and advisers recommend active exercise of at least three times per week.  Advice is also given on the types of foods best consumed by those of an older age.  Regular health check-ups by a GP are suggested.  Basically, the advice comes down to: take care of your body.

An elder, however, takes in a bigger picture and considers the health of the entire planet (and cosmos as Suzuki alludes to.)  An elder recognises that one’s personal health is inextricably linked with the health of the planet.  Earth is understood to be a single system – the Gaia Principle – in which everything is linked to everything else.  Everything is inter-dependent.

2. Finances

Older people are advised to manage their finances to ensure an adequate income in their retirement.  Indeed, a cursory glance at the retirement advisory sites would suggest that finances, money, investments etc are the number one retirement planning priority for an older person.  “Putting aside for old age,” or “creating a nest egg for retirement” seem to be two of the catchphrases that are used to promote sufficient wealth to live off in the retirement years.

An elder views wealth in quite different terms.  For an elder it is of little comfort if the accumulation of wealth has come at the cost of damaging the earth or its inhabitants along the way.  An elder is less likely to ask themselves if they have accumulated sufficient wealth for old age.  They are more likely to ask if they have given back more to the earth than they have taken.

3. Relationships

Having supportive friends and family in one’s social circle is cited as very important to how well one is likely to enjoy retirement.  We all know how important the sense of belonging and companionship is to our mental well-being.  In older age this becomes even more important as other sources of self-worth (e.g., work, or social standing) become lessened.

For an elder, relationships are also fundamental, although an elder is more inclined to extend that circle of relationship to the more-than-human world.  The role of the elder in this relationship is one which “assigns human beings enormous responsibility for sustaining harmonious relations within the whole natural world rather than granting them unbridled license to follow personal or economic whim.”2

4. Goals

Almost from the time we are born (in western-styled societies at least) we are imbued with the notion that we must have goals.  As youngsters we are continually asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  At school we are told that we must have a goal in life, and education enables that goal to be realised.  At work we are exhorted to climb the corporate ladder or move to a higher paying/higher status job.  It seems that upon retirement the same encouragement to have a goal (or goals) is made.  In retirement it is advisable, so the advisers say, to have goals, to maintain some sort of interest or hobby. 

An elder, too, may find themselves with some goal, although often the achievement of the goal is of far lesser importance than the journey.  Furthermore, the goal may be for something that, once completed, the elder will obtain no benefit, nor well-being from.  The distinguished Bengali poet, philosopher, and elder, Rabindranath Tagore, expressed this idea well:

“The one who plants trees, knowing that he or she will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”

Or, as Stephen Jenkinson eloquently puts it:

“The elder serves best by toasting the coming of the next day while he or she stands there at five minutes to his or her personal midnight.”1


What these four facets essentially tell us is that an elder takes a wider, more holistic, cosmic view than does someone who has arrived at old age simply by negotiating many years.  An elder is most likely to have begun their journey towards elderhood many many years before they even get close to old age.  Elderhood does not simply a cloak that is put on upon the attaining of a required age.  An elder weaves, stitches, and darns the cloak of elderhood for many years before the local community tells him or her that it is time to don the cloak.


1. Stephen Jenkinson, Come Of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2018.

2.  Peter Knudson & David Suzuki, Wisdom of the Elders, Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, Australia, 1992.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Leave Only Footprints

Fossilized 3.66 million-year-old footprints
from Laetoli, Tanzania, 
Photograph by Raffaello Pellizzon.
When I was young my parents often took us on picnics.  We would pack a hamper of food, throw in a picnic blanket, climb in the car, and drive to some wonderful spot.  Dad would always take his camera on these trips.  Before we sat down for the picnic itself, we would all go for a walk somewhere – along a bushy trail, beside a river or lake, or along a beach.  Dad would take photographs along the way.

One of the things Dad often said on these outings was: “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”  I used to think he was clever to come up with such an original piece of advice.  I have since discovered that he was not so original, although I still consider him to have been clever.

The original sage advice predates the invention of cameras.  The original quote has been attributed to Si’ahl (anglicised to Chief Seattle) of the Suquamish and Duwamish people; he lived from the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries.  He is quoted as saying:

“Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.”

Sadly, our modern-day, westernised, extractivist lifestyles do everything except leave nothing but footprints.  We do everything from trampling upon endangered plants through to digging up the earth for resources.

We pave the landscape with roads and parking lots so that we do not even need to use our feet.  The weight of an average car is around thirty times that of a human.  Currently there are almost 1.5 billion cars in the world.  That is a huge weight upon the earth.  Imagine you are a small sand crab attempting to burrow into your home near the high watermark of a beach.  Suddenly along comes an SUV weighing around 2.2 tonnes.  What do you do?  Burrow down further into the sand, thus using up valuable energy, or take your chances that the SUV monster will miss you by mere centimetres?

That is how life can be for some of the smallest of the earth’s non-humans.  For the larger non-humans life can be just as difficult because of human trampling.  The disruption to eco-systems around the world, because of our trampling, is massive.

What too, of the damage done to ourselves?  Note that the quotes above mention footprints; they do not mention bootprints or shoeprints.  Why is that significant? 

Because, by walking upon the earth barefoot we literally ground ourselves.  We feel the earth, we allow the earth’s energies to enter our bodies through the soles of our feet.  We connect back to Mother Earth. 

Walking barefoot has other health benefits.  Barefoot walking encourages the use of all the muscles of the foot, whereas the wearing of shoes impedes some muscle development.  There is also a growing body of research linking healthy immune systems with barefoot walking and contact with the earth.

Imagine what sort of impact we would have on the earth, and upon ourselves, if we took heed of this quote over our lifetime?  For some, as they near the end of their lives, they will look back and ask if they have left the world in a better state than when they arrived?

If we leave nothing but footprints there is a good chance that they can answer that in the affirmative.