Category Archives: Hearts and Minds

Map of the Day – Syria

Damascus is apparently the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, so it may be useful to reflect on how it might transform itself and what we can learn about transition from it.

With Caliphates and Sultanates, Syria has had a lot of changes over centuries, but the most tumultuous was from 1949 to 1970, including a short period when it was united with Egypt, and military coups were frequent. The Assad family have ruled Syria since 1971. With over 22 million people, but an area of land not that much less that the UK, population density is about half that of the UK, income estimated at $5000 annual on average.

As Syria is one of the oldest civilisations, it is clear that sustainability is no easy thing to maintain.


Krak de Chevaliers has a great festival in August, but I guess current protests might make you think twice about how safe it is to go.

Clearly Syria has a lot of desert, but at over 1% water cover,  and most people living nearer rather than further from the coast, it is not unreasonable to ask why things are as they are, that is, why they are very unsustainable.

The Beetles song, ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’ seem apt here. Syria has had, and continues to have, some pretty unfortunate friends, though even those are now departing. The Geopolitics of ‘Friendship’ is probably one of the sicker aspects of societies, which date back to the origins of Damascus. Another term for it would be playground politics, the kind that has been going on in the US over its Debt Crisis, the kind of ‘if you will be my friend then I will be in your gang another time later’.

It was that kind of playground politics that crippled Africa, first when the battles were between the various European Navies, France, England, Portugal and a few others, then more recently with the old Soviet Union and the USA. That kind of politics also fractured South East Asia, leading to massive corruption and genocide.

This brings me back to Transition. As those involved in ‘Recovery‘ programmes know full well, whether it is recovery from alcohol or drug abuse or recovery from debt, with the wrong kind of friends you will find it very difficult to change for the better. R D Laing had it well documented in his books Self and Others, and Sanity, Madness and The Family, and it runs clear in Mike Leigh’s great film, Secrets and Lies.


So Syria will only come out of this when its ‘friends’ stop supporting abusive behaviours, when their intent is to be a true friend not a selfish friend.

Can this be done? Maybe this report on Brazil and Africa offers us some hope that some countries know what it truly is to be a friend.


A common purpose

There are probably thousands of groups now formed and many thousands more being formed which, like this one, centre on a common purpose, to develop a new kind of society,  one in which selfishness and greed are not predominant, one in which people belong, and one which  has true long term sustainability for all of us and our planet.

Some  may be more political than others, some are simple steps to facilitate change, there is even a Social Enterprise for Social Enterprises.

The August event for Uncivilisation is being held naturally enough at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, England, and the organisers have in mind the Dark Mountain Project, which is an intriguing name to say the least.

They have 8 Principles, which are I guess deliberately open to interpretation. All a bit gloomy and for those who were around when Hippies hit the trail some of it will be very familiar.

It is easy to react to the various versions of Change Process without thinking much about why one may suit you better than another, and this post was inspired by the following picture from the Transition Network web site:

system diagram

The picture came from David Pollard who comments: “What is disconcerting,” he adds, “is that there is relatively little awareness among those in the four movements of what the others are doing, and the possible synergies between the models.”

I think one reason why, in an age of media, we find it difficult to connect these 4 is because we have lost how they connect within ourselves. We have become disassociated people.

Economy: How I manage my life, and it does need managing of sorts

My coexistence with others: How I exchange my emotions with others

My activism: How I work with my vision and sense of mission and purpose

My aesthetics: How my reason and intuition work with each other in harmony

My sense is that our sense of being excessively busy is because we have made efficiency more important than it should be, and it is not delivering effectiveness, in which my life as a worker is integrated with my emotional life and my mission and my aesthetics. The endless cycle of work, giving me money which leads to spending which needs more work and more money, it is not working for people.

I’m sure the Hampshire event will be great fun, and for those who go maybe take a copy of David Pollard’s picture as a guide. Thanks David

‘Life doesn’t get any better than this’ – Robert A Alper

When people tell me things are not going so well, I have a few books I like to lend them. One is a book by Robert A Alper, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

Robert is a Rabbi and Stand up Comedian, from Vermont. There are lots of lovely stories in Robert’s book, but I want to pick out the Chapter on ‘The Man Who Was Not Religious.’

The story is real, it was the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination and Robert was in Washington D C to see how, as a Rabbi Intern, he could help the local community. He met a guy who was trying to get the devastated area back on its feet, as riots had destroyed much of the community assets, though also, usefully, the liquor stores.

Robert called a local businessman and although he did not know him he asked for furniture for the community volunteers.

I quote:

– His answer was abrupt. “Sure. Come over and pick what out what you need.”

And just as quickly he changed the subject. –

They talked about religion, and the man said, “But you know, I don’t attend services very often. I’m not religious.”

– “I’m not religious.” A thirty second request from a stranger and the man was willing to donate furniture to an unknown activist –

And when the man was asked how they would get the furniture to the volunteers’ office the man said “We’ll deliver it. Just stop by and pick out what you need.”

A few of the titles of the Chapters tell you what the book is like, ‘Holding, Loving, and Letting Go’, ‘Moments of Connection’, ‘The Blink of an Eye’, ‘What Really Matters’, ‘A Child Comes Home’, ‘The Glance’, ‘Choosing a Different Path’, ‘Gerda’s Gift’ and many more.

Alper reminds us that life isn’t easy, but for everyone, including those who are ‘not religious’, life is full of the holiest of moments, not only on Sundays, not only with people we know, not only on the good days, but also on the bad days.

Alper reminds us that no matter how bad things seem, somewhere there is someone who has it worse than you and is still smiling. If you think you haven’t enough money, someone has less, and values it more. If you think you haven’t enough friends, someone has fewer, but values them more. If you think life isn’t good enough, then the message is very clear, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This, because actually, it is truly wonderful.

A state of shock

I feel rather uncertain about posting anything today, given the events in Norway. I feel a profound sense of shock, I have lost all sense of feeling about what I should be feeling. Is it a deep need to rationalise it away?

Do I want to walk from all news and just let it pass? Just another incident in an evil world, see it as having no real consequence except of course for everyone in Norway who will be in deep pain.

Do I want to get every tiny piece of news? Seize on some small element which puts it all a long way away from me, find some one to blame, find some way of thinking which I can blame.

Do I see it as something that should make me more aware of my own security? Is it a trigger to much deeper shifts in how people can and will behave in the future?

Do I respond as a Psychologist? Do I just throw some thoughts into the pot and hope some may help, me and others?

The word that will not go away for me is madness. But how is this madness made up? Maybe we should explore madness.

Let’s compare it to some pretty decent rules of life:

1. For everything we do and say, we should always understand it is within a context of other people, other people’s feelings, other people’s rights. When we travel the world we naturally understand the need to behave in relation to the norms of where we are, the ‘When in Rome’ principle. No matter how global we become, no matter how universal the issues are, our rights are always limited, by virtue, and I use that word deliberately, of our being fellow citizens with others.

2. Ends do not justify means, this applies to individuals, groups, behaviour at work, our politics and our religion. We should not ‘Trash the place’ for profit, we should not Enslave, we should not demand people listen, whether it is an ad for a mobile phone or an ad for a political viewpoint, we should always, ‘What are the implications for how I am doing this?’ and some other benefit should not matter much.

One of the toughest questions we ever ask ourselves is:

‘Is this right or is it wrong?’

In a world of complexity where one thing is confounded with another, this question sometimes seems too difficult to answer. But I think it has always been a difficult question, and it has always been very important to ask it, even if we struggle with the answer.

What happened in Norway was evil. Not just wrong, it was evil. Evil is when the two rules of decent behaviour above are put aside totally. The original idea was evil, the planning was evil, the execution was evil. There is no moral uncertainty about such acts of evil.

I hope whatever analysis is put on events, and it will be there in abundance, we don’t lose hold of the simple fact that what happened was evil. Whatever might be wrong with society,  with politics, with religion, it excuses nothing. The act was evil.  Of that I am sure.

La Hambruna

The word in Spanish for hunger is el hambre, and for famine la hambruna. I think famine sounds far too technical, far too removed from what it must be like not just to be hungry but to be with tens or hundreds of thousands of others who are deeply, deeply hungry. Starving, dying.

Here on the south coast if we wander along the lanes we can find berries growing on bushes, plums falling off trees, and soon fields of apple trees will be dropping fruit because there is not enough demand in the markets at a price that makes them worth picking.

As the fruit wastes away on the ground we eat processed foods which make us fat and now it seems massively increase the chance that it will be cancer that takes us out.

I find it hard to support an economic system which does not readily move what is in excess in one place to where there is nothing. It is left to Charity, to the UK Government to donate £50 million on our behalf, and for us to donate as well, clearly there is a need, clearly we should help those in need, it was not their fault the rains failed again. But it seems Charity only occurs when the dying children reach our television screens, at other times we respond to 2 for 1 Pizza offers, with free delivery.

And of course, which Charity? Do we pick the one with the best adverts? Do we pick the one that shows us more pain than another, or one with smiling faces? Do we pick one that offers long term solutions rather than quick fixes? Or do we pick one our parents used to pick out when you went shopping as a child??

OK, so let’s review, who is out there saying what?

Oxfam  – £5 a month for helping to ‘fix the global food System’

Save the Children  – ‘Start saving lives from as little as £3 a month’

Unicef  – many options, it is like choosing a pension, donate for  the future or for now, you wil get a personalised service for large donations

 World Vision – Sponsor a child and see what difference you make

BBC Children in Need – OK, UK children, but every penny counts as costs are covered by investments

Disasters Emergency Committee – Committee doesn’t sound very sexy but they represent a number of charities and donations are directed where they are most needed

Aid for Africa – for projects not emergencies

Breadline Africa –  The ‘Charity with a heart’ – helping small projects in Africa

Develop Africa – It does what it ‘says on the tin’

And, of course, there are many more.

I am sure all these charities are doing everything they can for those in great need. And I am sure we need to continue to support them, but wouldn’t it be better if there was no need for so many charities trying to plug so many holes in a system which means so many people are poor, malnourished, and on occasions, in their millions, are part of La Hambruna?

Around the world groups of people are trying to engage in Transition, Towns, Cities, Streets, and as Individuals, and surely it is Transition that is desperately called for in areas which are so far from being sustainable that from tie to time, and seemingly ever more frequently, the system collapses.

Overweight – we learn what we eat, and more

I was struck by this report on how early learning of food flavours triggers long term changes in dietary preferences.

There is even the suggestion that when babies are thirsty it is good to get them to like drinking simply water, which sounds pretty good to me, no sugars added please.

I have a deep conflict about not wanting a nanny state but also wanting people to understand what we are doing to our children, in relation to all kinds of behaviours. Whether it is war, sex, or just indulging in some kind of excess of speed or binging on food or drink, the 9 p.m. watershed for TV seems to have disappeared on most things that I would have thought we wanted our children to avoid later in life, a bit if not entirely, or at least some form of self control?

I have for a long time said to people I met who were having a new baby, please play tapes of foreign singers, any language, many languages, because then your child will continue to hear those sounds when they grow up. If they don’t hear the sounds up to 6 to 9 months they will lose the ability to hear them.

It seems fairly clear that what children experience in every way becomes normalised for later in life, whether it is food stuffs, sounds, sights or things like anger.

So let’s have a bit more ‘not in front of the children’ shall we?


Flying cars and Sunday Humour 7

When I got the link to flying cars I was dropped back into my schoolboy comic days. This will be funny, I thought. The great thing about humour is it is humbling in both directions. After laughing I realised this is the most serious attempt at flying cars I have seen, and may well start a new trend. I love the safety parachute, for the plane, and it uses unleaded petrol not aviation fuel, so not as environmentally unfriendly as you may assume. And essentially, it may be possible for the plane to have lower fuel use than cars, gliders do! And planes don’t have to journey around too many bends and don’t usually get stuck in traffic jams, so watch this space.

More directly humorous, David West’s Sunday Humour post has its usual mixture of on the edge and humbling comedy, I have not tried the scorpion trick and if you do and it doesn’t work don’t blame me please!

I had thought that planting Apple trees for food was pretty good, but if this is true then maybe not?:

29. Celery has negative calories! It takes more calories to eat a
piece of celery than the celery has in it to begin with. It’s the same with apples!

(I can understand celery, but apples?). Check here.

In David’s post there is a lovely homily on The Jar of Mayonnaise and Two Beers, which is a must to read, and includes this as part of the message:

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you

will never have room for the things that are important to you.

That message matches the slide show on page 2, The Wisdom of Hot Chocolate. As Europe heads for meltdown we need to laugh and then live humbly, and maybe more happily!

If you now need cheering up then this video will bring out smiles in everyone!

Humming birds

It is also in the Sunday Humour post as well, thanks David.

On a completely different note, if the Future of Universities is of interest then you may be interested in this event, which I am kind of helping to organise.

Have a great and funny day!

Observing Cactus

I have just finished reading a great book, a lovely book, with a HORRID title, but you cannot have everything. You will understand why I have put certain phrases in Italics if you read the book, or read the bit at the end of this Blog.

I will tell a story from the book: “One of Erickson’s clients was an alcoholic. Erickson told this man a bit about the humble cactus, how the plant conserves water and can survive for up to three years in the desert without rainfall. He then told the man to go to the local botanical gardens to observe cacti.

Erickson never heard from this man again. Many year’s later, after this client had died, the man’s daughter visited Erickson to tell him that her father had been sober since the day he went to the botanical gardens.”

I was chatting to a friend from Transition Chichester yesterday and we were talking about how you get the message across, how tough it is to change how people see things, and then change their behaviour. Of course I should have known I would then find an example of how easy it is to change behaviour, one’s own or other people’s, it is easy if we only knew how to do it.

It seems to me that if we imagine that changing people’s behaviour is difficult then everything we do will be confirming how difficult it is. But if we imagine that changing people’s behaviour is easy, if only we knew how to do it, then we would be constantly looking out for the easy way and every now and then find it, and then everything would be easy.

The book I have just finished is about Metaphor. The author, James Geary, is saying we live our lives through metaphor, and by changing the metaphor we change who we are and therefore what we do.

Looking back, I remember how easy it was for me to stop smoking when I read Allen Carr‘s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. My metaphor changed. Actually, the book has a few metaphor changes and the more you change the easier it gets to stop. One metaphor he changes is that related to addiction, because you are invited to believe that the addiction is nothing, it is insignificant. I adopted this and found I had almost no withdrawal symptoms. But I think the biggest change in metaphor was seeing smoking as just ugly and smelly.

I think one big metaphor I would like to change is feeling we are still at school. That there are right ways of doing things, things we must do and things we mustn’t do, and by when and how. At work there are things that seem as if they ‘have to be done’, instead of things we want to do. Maybe we are so far away from the natural way of living that we forget that we can just be who we are, that we can just be with people and not do much. That we can just go for a walk, even without a dog. That we can get up at 4 in the morning just to see the sunrise.

I would be more convinced of the need for the school/factory metaphor if I felt that at least now things do get done, get done well and on time, but they don’t. The one metaphor that I learned from my time with some aboriginal people in Australia was that it is possible to live without the sense of owning everything, or even anything.

I think that is the biggest metaphor change the planet needs, it is an orchestra and we are only one small group of players, who all think they are conductors.

The book I referred to is called I is an Other. I think James Geary offered that title to be one of the most challenging he could find for the life as a Metaphor. But to make it a bit easier for us his subtitle is ‘The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world.’

Map of the day

I am still working through Geoffrey Blainey’s A Very Short History of the World, and I am more and more aware of how bad my sense of geography is, even though I have travelled a fair bit, compared to some.

I remember on an aeroplane flying somewhere over Greenland, I was chatting to a young lad as we peered out of the window at the ice below, and despite being near midnight is was summer so it was perfectly light below. His mum came up to find out what was going on, and we all chatted about how odd it was to be up there at midnight looking down on bright ice covered land. She was trying to get her head round flying ahead of the sun and, she felt, that was why it was still light, but of course it was because the earth is tilted, but it was very hard to explain that without a little ball of Planet Earth, to show how the sun would hit the earth as it rotated on its axis and around the sun.

Thinking about the Drought in East Africa I thought it might be good to have a look at what kind of area we are talking about, so I thought I would introduce a Map of the Day feature to this Blog.

So here is a Google Map of Dadaab, where the refugee camp is, of nearly 400,000 people. Maybe 250 kms from the sea.

Here is where it is in East Africa:

This is the desert people are walking across:

Wall to wall that is over 100 kms of it.

For comparison, here is the South Coast, about the same size section:

If we think of the resources available to these different regions, well, a picture or two is worth a thousand words.

The Pledge

When I first went to Leeds many many years ago I heard about The Pledge, which was to be made by anyone who decided that for the rest of their lives they would abstain from alcohol.

That kind of commitment was dropping out of fashion in the 60s, when allegiance to Government and or God was associated with going to war, and subservience, a ‘do what you want’ kind of freedom was emerging.

Perhaps, in these troubled times, there is a  renewal of the idea of making a pledge. So, the construction industry is trying to get its members to agree to pledge to take on 2% of its workforce as technical and professional internships.

You may also have heard of the idea of getting the wealthiest in the world to pledge a good proportion of their wealth to the future benefit of mankind.

NewsCorp seem to be heading in the opposite direction in dropping their pledge as part of their attempt to buy more  of BSkyB.

I guess the essence of the pledge is the broad terms of understanding it suggests. It moves commitment away from petty legality to full moral backing for something, a proposed WILL to do what is being said in the pledge.

Thinking about how we are encouraging people to be more green, to consume less, to offer more to others and keep less for ourselves, to be more self reliant as part of a resilient community, I wonder if we have focused too much on the detail and not enough on the pledge.

I wonder if we need everyone, individuals, companies, all people for their personal and professional lives, to pledge to honour the planet. I think we need Nelson Mandela to come up with the wording of such a pledge, but maybe you could pass this request on to him, or someone else, or maybe have a go yourself. If we are to pledge to honour the planet, what would that pledge sound like?

All comments welcome.