A weblog with random thoughts and reflections on society and ecology.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Here is the discontinued Rants section, expressing some of the frustrations that can come up from living in the US. It is all relatively one-sided. I (mostly) discontinued it for many reasons...
It is vital to have some sense of what is going on. But focusing on the problems rather than the solutions is more likely to continue the same patterns than initiate something more constructive. The most life-affirming approach may be to address the serious issues while focusing on constructive and real-life solutions.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
News & Orientation
This is something I have been curious about for a long time.
Trivial and Problem Oriented News
In the news - and this seems universally true these days - there is typically a focus on a limited categories of stories. (a) Pure entertainment. (b) Single instances of tragedies. (c) Serius issues where the main focus is on what does not work. And/or (d) trivial "good news" focusing on "feel-good" stories of small scope and little importance.
The first one may - in the best cases - tell us something about the universal human situation through a story about a celebrity or someone else. The second may have little but shock and entertainment value, beyond helping us getting in touch with the universal aspect of tragedy in human life in general and ours in particular (one aspect of human life). For the third category, there is a good reason why we are attracted to serious issues - we need to know about what threatens our well being and/or life. But there does not seem to be a good reason to focus mostly on what does not work, beyond strengthening a tendency for judgement, blame, etc (an us-them view). And the feel-good stories are added to sweeten the mix, but they typically do not have much substance.
Solution Oriented News
What is left out is the type of stories I find most interesting and valuable. Stories of substance that focus on real-life, constructive, life-supporting solutions to serious issues. Just about the only publication I know that consistently does this, is Yes! magazine - although they are only a quarterly publications. There seems to be a large unfilled marked here. I cannot be the only person dissatisfied with the problem-oriented angle mainstream news typically takes, and the empty stories that goes for "good news".
Today, maybe more than ever, we need stories that are (a) substancial, focusing on (b) solutions (c) that are proven to work (d) concerning the serious issues that face us.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Big Here & Long Now
Our generation is one where we have the opportunity to develope a more integral and larger perspective view, along with a situation where this is required for our survival.
We need a Big Here & Long Now perspective, to borrow a phrase from Brian Eno.
Here are a few examples...
The Integral Institute
Working on developing an AQAL (all quadrants, all lines) map, exploring how specific approaches fit into the overall picture, and ways to apply the framework and specific approaches in a more effective way - in all aspects of human life.
The Great Story
The story of the universe - as developed through science - as the greater context for our own lives - and as a source of awe, mystery, meaning and sense of belonging.
The Long Now
A project to help us view ourselves within a longer timescale.
An example of a big here/long now view informing our view of ourselves, applied to our relationships with social and ecological systems.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Peak Oil is one of those areas where some of the peculiarities of the human mind is revealed.
Most people are oblivious to the issues around peak oil, although it is something that is likely to significantly impact their lives. Either they have not heard or thought about it, or they know about it but (a) think it will not affect them or (b) that someone else will take care of it.
And some are strongly committed to either the worst or the best case scenario. They tend to be not willing to sincerely consider other views or data that does not fit into their preferred scenario. In Eugene, many have a strong commitment to the worst case scenario and filter any information through this perspective.
Going out in this extreme may be triggered by seeing the obliviousness of the majority of the population, the active denial of another segment, the real challenges in the situation, and - in some cases - a habitual tendency to go into an adversarial and victim mode around these types of issues.
A more rational approach is to accept that it is a significant issue that will impact most of us in our lifetime. We need to take it seriously and make the changes necessary so the transition will go as painlessly as possible (although it will certainly involve various types of discomfort).
This approach also takes into account the enormous adaptivity of life in general and - in this case - humans in particular. The history of Earth and humans certainly does not lack significant crisis situations that life found a way to adapt to, and in many cases turn to its benefit.
History also tells us that what really occurred in most cases were not as bad as the worst case scenario, and not as good as the best case scenario...
In terms of peak oil, we do have the behavioral and technological solutions necessary to make a transition away from oil dependency. We also have an international economy that will pour its resources into these technologies whenever they obviously are more profitable than oil technology (and this transition will occur gradually along with the increases in cost of oil, although it will also occur relatively rapidly). And behavioral change tend to occur when people are forced to, again most likely through steadily increasing oil prices.
There will be a crisis of sorts, but most likely not as catastrophic as the worst case scenarios, and - for that matter - as smooth as the best case scenarios.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Ecology & Mind
When we look at human history across cultures, it almost seems human nature to damage the ecosystems we live in.
Practically all human cultures have done so, mostly because they could. It was not a serious problem. A small population and simple technology allowed the ecosystems to regenerate. And if it didn't, they could move to a different area. In some cases, they could not move and there was a significant loss of population and culture.
Today, we are in a new situation. Our global population and our technologies have reached very high levels, we consume more resources than global ecosystems can regenerate, and we have nowhere else to go.
Our only solution seems to be a deep culture change - a change in technology, behavior and worldview.
We have solutions in all these areas. It is up to us to decide how smooth the transition will be.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Living Systems: Culture, Ecology & Change
All human cultures are self-regulating and self-maintaining. They have a set of structures and processes in place to perpetuate a particular worldview and way of life, and this provides a certain level of stability - which allows human life to be lived out. If there is too much instability and rapid change, even the basic tasks of human existence becomes difficult.
The self-maintaining tendencies of culture is reflected on an individual level in the distribution of people who question the basic assumptions of their culture (few) versus those who live their lives mostly concerned with day-to-day affairs (many). From an evolutionary point of view, and in most situations, this seems a wise distribution. Again, if too many habitually questions the basic assumptions of the culture, it may lead to constant change, instability and disturbance to human life. It may also take too much attention and energy from necessary day-to-day tasks.
Culture Embedded in Ecology
As any human system, culture is embedded in the structures and processes of ecological systems. On a larger scale, it is embedded in the Earth as a whole, and on a smaller scale it is embedded in our physical bodies. And these provide feedback and impulses for correction and adjustments.
When there is a need for adjustment and change, there is a predictable tension which is manifested between those who pick up on the feedback and realize the need for change, and those who would like to continue on the current path and way of life. For a relatively long time, there may be a growing realization of the need to change while the culture as whole continues as it has. Then, a critical mass is reached, or the system meets some other perturbance, and it goes into a period of re-orientation and chaos. Which in turn leads to disintegration or re-integration in a way that is more adaptive in the new situation.
Our current culture is receiving feedback in many areas. On an ecological level, in terms of unraveling ecosystems. On a social level, in terms of poverty and unrest. And on an individual level in terms of stress and stress- and/or ecosystem-related illnesses (cancer is a prime example).
We have an culture of alienation. We perceive ourselves as separate from the larger and smaller ecosystems (the Earth and our bodies), and when we act out of this view - which is not aligned with reality - we experience uncomfortable consequences.
On a personal level, we experience it through social institutions and expectations which reflect this view of alienation. They are based on power-over views in many different ways. Consumerism is one example: We work long hours, do not have time for family and friends, all in order to buy more objects that do not meet our deep human needs. We have a school system based on segregation (not integrated in the larger society), external evaluation, performance pressure, and submission. Our political system is based on an adversarial and relatively ineffective approach to decision making.
And when we align ourselves with these systems, we experience frustration, stress and loss of connection with ourselves and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. These are systems based on subtle and less-subtle forms of violence against life, and we respond accordingly and often below the threshold of awareness.
We need to modify our culture into one that is more life-centered on all levels. One that is more aligned with life as it manifests on a planetary and bodily level. One that is more deeply realistic and takes life into account as it is. One where life is at the center.
Will we change our culture in time? We are the ones who can help this change along - with the silent support of the Earth, our bodies and future generations.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Integral Approach to Change
There seems to be several dimensions to social change...
Individual vs. Structural Change
The individual approach to change is exemplified in the voluntary simplicity movement. It is powerful on the individual level, and has some impact on the social level to the extent it is adopted by the wider population. At it's best, it may be similar to mulching, preparing the ground for deeper and structural changes.
The structural change approach seek changes in how society functions, in the rules of the game. Democracy movements, women's suffragette, and neo-liberal globalization are some examples. Each have been successful in implementing laws and regulations that has a profound effect on how society functions.
Adversarial vs. Partnership
We see various manifestations of the adversarial approach in contemporary political systems. In the US, with its winner-takes-all/two-party system, it is stronger and more obvious than in some parlamentary systems: One political party takes over for a while, repeal policies instated by the other party, and then the other party takes over and do the same. It is a frustrating and not very efficient system. The adversarial approach is also typically used by those seeking social change. They want to implement their view and policies, to the exclusion of those of the "opponent".
A partnership approach to social change is one that seeks to go beyond the typical polarizations. It promotes an inclusive process, such as citizen's deliberative councils, where all voices are heard - and the process supports finding solutions beyond habitual views.
An integral approach combines several approaches to social change. Today, it seems that a partnership and structural change oriented approach is needed and may be effective. The specific strategies could range from public education (media, events), small-scale implementation (e.g. citizen counsils used on hot issues and publizised in the media), and institutionalization (citizen councils as part of the political process, first on a local level, then state and national levels).
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Systems View on Health
Using a systems view on health, we find a very different perspective than what is still current in modern medicine.
The universe can be seen as a holarchy: a whole made up of nested systems. Everything is a whole in itself, and a part in a larger whole.
Applied to health, it means that the health and well-being of the individual is tied to the larger system (ecology and society) as well as smaller systems (body/mind and their subsystems). We need to use a comprehensive and systems view on health to bring about real changes. Focusing on just one aspect (which tends to be just a symptom of processes in the larger whole) may give relief for a while, but the larger system will tend to recreate the same or a similar symptom.
Partnership vs. Adversarial
Western medicine tends to use an adversarial approach, as reflected in the often used war terminology. Instead of supporting the self-healing processes in the body/mind, they try to eradicate the part that expresses the symptom (antibiotics, surgery etc). Western medicine is great for emergencies, but not so good for supporting deeper healing processes.
The area western medicine has had the most impact is probably hygiene and an understanding of how certain diseases are transmitted. It has created profound changes in the overall health of the population where hygiene is taken seriously (and where they have the ability to take it seriously).
In the future, we may see a more integral approach to medicine - a systems view on health. The individual and facilitator (doctor) works in partnership with the self-healing processes intrinsic to all life. And we recognize that these self-healing processes are typically more powerful and precise than what we can come up with on our own.
Integral Medicine - essay by Ken Wilber
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Ecological literacy is among the most important factors in the Great Turning.
Some good sources...
Center for Ecoliteracy
Fritjof Capra et al.
Excellent and profound writings from a systems view
Complexity theory educational organization in the Pacific Northwest
The Natural Step
Consensus developed guidelines for a sustainable social and economic system
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Deep Culture Change
It is clear that we need, and may be in for, a deep culture change. Any number of perspectives tells us so, and even more when seen combined.
Only some of the factors...
- Peak oil
The oil production has peaked , and oil will increasingly become more expensive. This is dramatic news for the western world, and especially so for the US which has the most petroleum dependent society of any. Settlement is organized around cars (suburbs), work is organized around car transportation (commuting), agriculture is petroleum dependent (prices on food will go up dramatically and food production will go down), production of just about all products is heavily petroleum dependent, and transportation of products is completely petroleum dependent. Together, this makes up for a massive crisis unless addressed quickly and with honesty and wisdom. And it will happen within the next very few decades.
Unfortunately, the policy of the US government and transnational corporations is one that is short sighted and a deeply flawed attempt to hold onto a doomed way of life: to use military and economic domination to gain access to the world's remaining world reserves. It will most likely mean...
- Continuing wars. Use of military power, intimidation and war to hold onto dominance and spread fear internationally, especially in oil-rich regions not particularly supportive of the US (as the middle east).
- Reinstating the draft (the US military is already overextended)
- Intimidation domestically. Cracking down on dissent. This is what we are already seeing, and the Patriot Act and use of violence against protesters may be just the beginning. The US system may well move further in the direction of fascism.
- And all this may be supported by an ill-informed population. One that is manipulated by fear and misinformation.
- (it may also mean increasing lawlessness and violence within our communities)
And some of the possible solutions...
- Climate Change
As with any dynamic system, the Earth's climate may undergo sudden and rapid change. It may mean more dramatic weather, mass migrations, wars and more.
- Food Production
Our international food production system is highly fragile, for a number of reasons. There is a significant loss of top soil from modern agriculture, preliminarily masked by synthetic fertilizers. Monocultures, and dramatic loss of varieties within each type, makes the crops vulnerable to international disease epidemics (think potato pest in Ireland). The production and transportation of food is petroleum dependent.
We currently consume natural resources at a rate that is higher than what the Earth's ecosystems can replenish. As they are further eroded, their capacity for generation erodes as well. And all the resources we depend on are from the Earth...
Only one of many examples is food production. We have created a petroleum dependent system both for food production (fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical equipment etc), and foor transportation (often transported long distances). In addition, modern agriculture treat soil as merely something for the roots of plants to hold onto. They spray large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pestecides on the plants, to the detriment of the ecosystem, people and the soil (depleted, toxic). And they use farming practices that allows large amounts of topsoil to erode, and often eventually be washed into the oceans. When oil becomes more expensive, farmers not able to use sufficient petroleum to keep the soil artificially "alive" and keep their machines going, and we realize how depleted the soil really is, we will face a critical food situation that we ourselves have created.
And the path...? As so many times before, it is likely to be less horrific than the worst scenarios, and less wonderful than the most optimistic ones. It will most likely involve a good deal of human suffering (already does), as well as power struggles, power abuse, fear and confusion. The mainstream will most likely not be able to deal with it as well as those subcultures that have explored and developed alternatives for a long time (such as permaculture folks).
- Local culture
Going back to a mostly local culture will be essential. Most of us will need to live in an area where all our daily needs can be met locally: close to work, close to stores, close to education etc. We need to grow most of our food regionally. We need to produce many of our products regionally. This does not mean an end to travel or global communication, but a production that is mostly local. Ideally, trough worker-owned cooperatives.
- Systems view
We also need to develop more of a systems view. Many of our problems today came about through a fragmented and mechanistic view of the world. One that sees the world as a seamless whole, focusing both on the whole and the parts, will help us live more aligned with the world as it is.
- Renewable energy sources
Use of solar, wind, biofuel etc. (although we need resources and energy to develop and produce these as well).
- Ecological design
A holistic approach to design, and one that designs with nature rather than in opposition to it, needs to be applied to all areas of our lives. Instead of designing generic boxes for dwellings and adding mechanical equipment for ventilation, heating and cooling, we can design with the local conditions and use wind, sun, soil and more for those same needs.
- Simple living
We must most likely learn to live with less, and may find that our lives are more meaningful and fuller that way. We may let go of mindless entertainment and consumerism (hardly fulfilling in the first place), and find meaning and support in community instead.
Learning to differentiate our needs and our strategies to meet those needs. Letting go of habitual and learned strategies, and find more flexibility in choice of strategies. Choosing strategies that takes our very real dependence on our larger social/ecological system into account is also essential (our needs met, as well as those of others).
Friday, October 01, 2004
Radical & Subversive
In our culture, a more life-centered view tends to be radical.
Still, it is clear that with our current technology and population, we depend on a life-centered view for our own survival. A view where our circle of concern expands in space, to include the Earth as a whole, and time, to include future generations. A view where the Earth as well as future generations are seen as "us".
Here are some strategies to help shift our views, and eventually our culture.
NWEI Deep Ecology discussion groups
Thousands of people around the US have participated in these.
Tools to help us (a) bring into awareness and (b) differentiate our (i) human needs and (ii) our strategies to meet those needs. There is rarely an inherent conflict between the needs of humans, other species and future generations, but there may be a conflict between the particular strategies chosen. Our task is to explore and choose strategies that meet our own needs, and allows other species and future generation to meet their own. Through NVC, we see again that it is not about sacrifice, but a rich life based on awareness and smart choices.
Practices to Reconnect
Powerful group practices to help us reconnect with ourselves, each other and the Earth - developed and collected by Joanna Macy.
A practice based on Voice Dialogue and expanded by Genpo Roshi to include a Buddhist view. In a very short time, it helps us experience the world from a genuinely trans-dual view. A view that embraces, goes beyond and includes both ends of all polarities. This taste can then be deepened through variuos practices, and brought into everyday life.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Commercialisation of Childhood
Born to Buy
I attened a talk with Juliet Schor this weekend, on commercialisation of childhood. The information was similar to what I have received in drips here and there, but it is scary to receive a fuller picture. Some of what is going on...
Juliet Schor also found that levels of media exposure for children causes increased consumer involvement, which in turn leads to increased levels of anxiety, depression, head- and stomackaches, and deteriorating relationships with parents.
- Children, in particular the tweens (between child and teen), are seen as drivers of family consumption, and the new target group for marketing
- Ad agencies use a variety of techniques to market to kids, including peer-to-peer marketing, dual messaging (ads for kids, and ads for parents to say it is OK), creating "wholesome halos" for a product, etc.
- Food is an important product group (consumed by everyone and on a daily basis), and children increasingly determine what foods the family eats.
- Several of the largest food companies are owned by or in ownership groups that includes large tobacco companies. The strategies used to market tobacco is now used to market food.
- Corporations make strong inroads in schools, including through "news" programming (Channel One - exposing school kids to 10 hours of commercials a year) and ready-made and "free" curricula designed for indoctrination.
Level of media exposure >>> consumer involvement/mindset >>> anxiety, depression, head/stomackaches, deteriorating relationships with parents.Consumer Culture & Human Needs
It is disturbing to see how generations of human beings are absorbed into a materialistic culture. One where the strategies they learn are (a) incapable of meeting most of their needs and (b) often prevent them to meet their needs in deeply fulfilling ways (spend too much time on comsumer related activities such as work, buying, maintenance, etc. to have time for family, friends, community and deeply nourishing activities).
Everything is cyclical and impermanent, so it will not last. But the question is if this culture will collapse for ecological and social reasons (unravelling of ecosystems, social instability due to increasing gap between the few rich and the many poor) or human reasons (internal self-correcting processes w/in human beings). It will most likely be a combination.
This type of large scale culture change will happen for some because they want to, and most because they have to.
Permaculture is a whole-systems approach to design, and can be applied to any area of human activity: architecture, built communities, community organizing, mechanical devices, food production, etc.
To do effective permaculture design, we need to...
- Have a good understanding of the basic principles of permaculture
- Have a good knowledge of the field they are to be applied to. This includes the available techniques, when they are appropriate and not, etc.
For some reason, there are two common misconceptions about permaculture floating around:
- It is primarily (or exclusively) about food production
(wrong - it can be applied to design in any area)
- It prescribes specific techniques
(wrong - it gives a set of guidelines to help us think about the design, and a way to select and organize the different techniques and approaches available in the particular field we are working in. No one technique can be appropriate in all situations, the world is far too variable and complex).
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Although the Open Source approach was exciting from the beginning, it is even more so these days when it is coming to maturity. Open Source products are mature, competetive with anything on the market, and moving into the mainstream.
It is an example of how large number of people, guided by simple rules, can work together for mutual benefit and produce something that exceeds in quality what a corporation can come up with. And isn't that what humans have done throughout history?
Some of the ones I have found particularly useful lately:
An online encyclopedia developed and progressively refined by thousands around the world. New articles are continusly added, and the existing continiously refined and developed.
- Mozilla Firefox
An elegant and easy to use browser with functionality and security beyond IE (including an extension that blocks ads very effectively)
- Mozilla Thunderbird
An elegant and easy to use email application - again with with functionality and security beyond Microsoft products
- Open Office
An office suite equivalent to (and files interchangeable with) Microsoft Office
I have not made the transition to Linux yet as I am dependent on specialized 2D and 3D design software not yet available for Linux. But - for any regular computer use (internet, email, office applications, image processing etc), Linux would be my first choice (stable, secure, always improved).
Saturday, June 19, 2004
It is a simple point: All our energy comes from the Sun.
Currently, we rely mostly on petroleum (stored solar energy). And we know that the end of the oil age is rapidly approaching, probably sooner than most of us realize.
There is an abundance of free and renewable energy (sun, and indirect solar energy through wind, waves, biomass, etc). But there is a lack of willingness to invest in the technology, research and infrastructure required to make a large scale and smooth transition from a petroleum based energy system to a renewable one. The level of trauma in the transition is determined by the choices we make today...
In the future, we will most likely see a wide range of technologies employed. Cities may rely primarily on larger plants (maybe a combination of fusion and the renewables). Less populated areas may rely more on distributed energy harvesting. In both cases, there will probably be a significant reliance on local/micro-level harvesting through for instance roofing, siding and glazing materials that harvest solar energy.
Done well, it is a solution that everybody benefits from - including future generations.
[Guardian - Are we ready for when the oil runs out?]
Sunday, June 13, 2004
We are moving towards a worldview that see humans as just one of many species. There is no separation.
Of course, this is the official scientific worldview, but our choices and behaviors reveal that we still operate from an outdated human-centered worldview.
Over the last several hundred years, we have slowly brought more and more groups into our circle of concern - those we regard as us: slaves, women, and other ethnic, sexual and religious groups. This inclusive human us is something most contemporary people consciously subscribe to, if not consistently act from.
Among the groups still to be included in the circle of concern is the non-human species, and Earth as a whole.
By bringing all species, and the Earth as a whole, into our circle of concern, into what we perceive as us, we align our views more with reality (Earth as one seamless system). We also dramatically increase our own chances of long term survival.
It will have many impacts on how we view the world and act. We will more realistically balance our needs with that of other species. We may appoint advocates (including lawyers) to act on behalf of other species and ecosystems. We will seek solutions that work for all systems, not only our limited human circle.
And we will do it, realizing that our own limited interests (egotism) are aligned with those of the rest of the Earth (altruism), since it is one system. What we do to others, we (literally) do to ourselves.
Thursday, March 04, 2004
The Earth is a seamless whole. Any of our actions contribute in shaping the systems we live within - and are dependent upon.
From being a poor backward nation, Norway is now among the most wealthy nations. This is mainly due to heavy oil extraction - and the good fortune of access to that natural resource. Norway do use it in mostly wise ways, mainly since it is government controlled and not privatized (which almost always only benefits the corporations, not the people of the country).
Since the world is a seamless system, the effects of our global oil extraction and use will also be felt in Norway. One of them may be dramatic a sudden change in the Gulf Stream. From the current (Gulf Stream warmed) moderate climate, Norway and Northern Europe may experience a new ice age, if current predictions are correct. So, the oil extraction may first give wealth, then severe ecological problems. A consequence of not keeping the big picture and long view in mind when extracting and using natural resources...
On a sidenote: If Norway spent more of their oil fund on research and development of renewable energy, it would be another way of looking forward (building technological competence for future wealth) and also to make up for the damage caused by the (brief) oil adventure. This is another opportunity for including a long-term view in our decisions - another test of how mature we are as a collective.
Friday, January 02, 2004
Toxins - the ignored issue
The effects of human made chemicals is a central issue today, and one that often does not receive the attention it deserves. We surround ourselves with chemicals that we are not designed to deal with, many of which are not properly tested. Some of the more dangerous ones are the hormone mimicking chemicals, which triggers biological reactions when present in minuscule amounts.
Recently, several reports have been published that brings a sorely needed attention to this issue, showing a connection between hair dyes and cancer, and antibiotics and cancer.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Ecology & Economy
We know that "environmental technologies" will be a major industry in the coming decades, as ecological problems become more visible, and their impacts closer to our immediate lives (health, water, food, mass migrations, etc).
We also know that solutions good in the short and long term, and for people as well as ecosystems, are not neccesarily more economically expensive. In most cases, what is needed is good design.
In that light, it is somewhat surprising to still see the old attitidue that these solutions are "too expensive". We see it in the Bush administration (which is not surprising since short term profit for buddy old-approach corporations is their main objective) and it also crops up other places. Most recently Russia's hesistations regarding the Kyoto Protocol.
Developing technology that harvests clean energy, industrial processes that provides clean air, water and soil as a by-product, food production that enriches wild ecosystems, all these are areas of the future. Investing in developing these technologies today will lead to short and long term economical benefits.
Instead of seeing these technologies as costly, they can be more correctly be seen as investments that yield profits in all areas.
Saturday, November 01, 2003
Cultural Change Strategies
Joanna Macy outlines three dimensions to The Great Turning - our shift from an industrial growth society to a life-sustainaing and life-centered civilization.
1. Holding actions - stopping the current destruction.
2. Analysis - of causes, processes.
3. Shift in consciousness - to a more systemic, life-centered view, and solutions emerging from this view.
In our current society, especially as reflected in media, the focus is typically on problems, mostly from a limited and mainstream view. There seems to be a perception that problems are more substantial than solutions, and that problem focus is a reflection of a more serious mind than solution focus.
This attitude seems to be an integral part of the industrial growth society, and is ironically enough adopted by many who see some of the problems of this society.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), it is less effective - and far less enjoyable - than a solution focus. Problem focus tells us what is wrong (as if we don't know!), makes the change effort appear dreary (which it is when a problem focus is adopted), and leads to burnout (wisdom of nature). Solution focus helps us see beyond the (often familiar) problems, gives us a direction and longer view (visions), appears more meaningful and joyful (it is), and gives us the energy and joy to keep going.
Some Examples - Democracy [in progress]
Here are some examples of problems and applied solution focus. All related to democracy:
Problem: Diebold and voting machines
Diebold is a company (ultra-conservative) given the lucrative task of providing the US with voting machines. These voting machines are proprietary "black boxes". There is no paper trail, and no-one is allowed to look at the source code etc. to control that the results are accurate. There have been several instances that seriously questions how reliable these uncontrollable machines are, and Diebold happily sues anyone who questions the wisdom of using their machines. (Strikingly Orwellian).
Black Box Voting Blues - Newsweek
All the President's Votes - Independent/UK
Visualize a Fair Election in 2004 - Greg Palast/Yes!
Safeguarding the Vote - Doug Pibel.Yes!
Solution: The solution is Open Source technology. Software with source code open to anyone, and developed and checked by a large number of people around the world.
E-Voting Done Right - article from Wired about e-voting in Australia (open source)
Open Source Everywhere - Wired Magazine
Open Source Initiative
Linux / Open Source (Google News Search)
History of the Open Source Movement
Problem: Marginal democracy between nations
There is an obvious lack of true democracy on an international level. The United Nations is an excellent beginning, but also in need of reform. Currently, the permanent members of the security council have a veto power which takes power away from the general assembly - where it belongs.
Solution: Reform of the United Nations to make it more truly democratic, and giving more power to the United Nations.
Problem: Marginal democracy within nations
There is much room for improvement in democracies around the world. Some of the problem areas are lack of citizen participation, corporate donations to candidates and politicians (in the US, a politician is dependent on corporate sponsorship to have any chance to be elected, even on a local level), corporate media that sets the agenda and content for public concerns and debate, and multinational corporations and their organizations (WTO etc) creating international laws and regulations that undermines national and regional laws (laws protecting workers and ecosystems).
Solution: Increased citizen participation (citizen councils), multiparty system (in the US), better voting systems (instant runoff voting), crassroots globalization.
Co-Intelligence Institute - techniques for citizen participation
Instant Runoff Voting - info from Center for Voting and Democracy
Instant Runoff Voting
Problem: Neoliberal gloablization
Neo-liberal globalization is a code word for removing obstacles for multinational corporations to amass more wealth and power. In the vast majority of cases, it is not in the interest of people, ecosystems, and future generations.
Solution: Local economies
Problem: Corporate media
Corporate media (which is more than 90% of the media these days) align their views with the interest of corporations, and increasingly sets the agenda for politics and society.
CorpWatch - watchdog
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
Who Owns What - Columbia Journalism Review
Media Reform Information Center - resource list
Solution: One solution is citizen media (online).
Guerilla News Network
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Relationship to Life
A society must incorporate a deep respect for all life to maintain itself. To include all life in our circle of concern, to include them in what we see as "us", will help us organize our lives in a way that is truly life-supporting. A way that is sustainable - for ourselves and the larger systems we are embedded in.
The way we currently relate to non-human species reflects a blindly dualistic attitude. We see "them" as separate from "us", and not how we are expressions of and embedded in one system (the universe, the Earth). We do not realize that the way we relate to other living beings reflect how we relate to aspects of ourselves. The dualism, the narrow circle of concern, hurts us as much as it hurts other beings and the ecosystems we all are parts of.
Everything is in continuious change. Galaxies, solar systems, planets, ecosystems, individuals, bodies, experiences - all continually die as they were and is reborn into something else. There is nothing to hold onto - human beings is a transient phenomenon. How long we - and our (human and possibly post-human) descendants - will be around is largely up to us.
There is a good chance that the universe is set up so that species that habitually harm themselves by harming the fabric they are dependent upon, will not be around for long. This may be no tragedy from the perspective of the Earth or the Universe, but it certainly is to us.
Selfishness, combined with a realization of our dependence of a healthy Earth, leads to altruism. Bringing all life into our circle of concern. See them as "us".
Monday, September 08, 2003
I was just reading a review on a book on Fermi's Paradox: If the Universe is teeming with life, where is everybody?
Form what we know about life (which is admittedly limited to this one planet), it would not be surprising if the Universe is indeed teeming with life. Life (as we know it) does seem to arise quickly under the right conditions (liquid water, organic matter). It may also not be surprising that we have had no - verified and "universally" accepted - contact yet.
Contact does require many components to be in place: (a) Another civilization that has developed technology for radio communication (since we listen for radio signals) or long-distance travel. (b) That they desire contact (they may have it as a low priority, want to protect the other civilization or themselves from the consequences of contact, or have other reasons). (c) That they are active in our vicinity (within this galaxy). (d) That they are active at a time that allows us to detect them (so their signals arrive now - when we are finally listening, or have visited during the last few thousand years, wanted their presence known, and the visits were recorded so later generations could decipher it correctly).
Civilizations may be sophisticated and advanced, and yet use neither radio communication nor space travel - their technology may be very different from ours. They may decide that technology is far less important than many other areas of life (culture, spirituality). Or they may have the technology but not desire contact or letting themselves be known. Maybe most likely, civilizations with the rights characteristics for us to detect them (compatible technology, desire) may be (a) far away from us, and (b) active at a time that does not allow us to detect them (in the past or future).
Still, I think that SETI (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence) is one of the most worthwile efforts humans can undertake. It sets our own situation in perspective - we may be just one of a myriad of civilizations out there. And if there is contact, if we do detect another civilization, it will be among the most important discoveries of all time. It will change our own civilization forever.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
Lynn Margulis, one of my favorite scientists, was interviewed on NRK recently. She is the main (nearly the only?) proponent of the importance of symbiogenesis in evolution of life.
Symbiogenesis is the emergence of a new species through the combination (symbiogenesis) of two other species. The cells in all plants and animals have evolved through symbiogensis (this is one of Margulis' theories that met immense resistance when it was first launched, and today is widely accepted).
I thought the program did a good job in explaining symbiogenesis, and in emphasizing that it does not replace natural selection in explaining evolution. Symbiogenesis explains the emergence of some species, while natural selection explains the continuation (or not) of the species. The question - and here is where Margulis' views differ from that of most of biologists - is how important and frequent symbiogenesis is. How many species, and which ones, have evolved through symbiogenesis. Is it as common as she says, or infrequent - an aberration - as others assume. One thing is for certain, none of us would be here was it not for symbiogenesis. All life we see around us is the direct consequence of symbiogenesis (all eukaryotic cells originated through symbiogenesis). It cannot be seen as an aberration.
The program also mentioned the other main theory promoted by Margulis: The Gaia theory - the Earth seen as a living system.
Again, there is a general agreement that the Earth is indeed a living system. It is, after all, a seamless whole, and it is undeniably living. And again, the disagreement is to what extent and how (processes, mechanisms). Is it self-organizing (self-regulating)? Is it self-transcending (evolving)? Is it self-healing? I believe that all the data points to a "yes" to all those questions. The Gaia Theory does fulfull most or all commonly used criteria used to define a living system. It is just difficult for us, still living in an outdated reductionistic and mechanistic worldview, to accept the idea. It is also difficult for us as it is so much larger than us - we are just one small part of it. (Note that the Gaia theory says that Earth is a living system, not living organism).
Monday, August 25, 2003
A More Mature Democracy
The democratic systems seen within nations today are all in their infancies. They are often based on majority rule (excluding minority positions), leave political power to those with financial power, leave decision making to an elected elite and their advisors, and often seem far removed from the lives of the voters. Among nations, the democratic system is even more in its infancy - the UN is a first step, although too often hijacked by the larger nations.
Fortunately, there are several systems and processes emerging pointing to a more mature democracy. These are often explored by smaller groups, although some are already implemented by nations.
Allowing all voices to be heard, and have a real influence, brings stability. Excluding some voices is a surefire way to violence, wars and terrorism.
Here are some examples:
* Deliberative Councils (allowing all voices to be heard, trusting the judegement of well informed smaller groups of citizens)
* Separating politics and corporations (spending limits, not allow political advertisement)
* Multi-party system (vs. the two-party system in the US which gives people no real choice)
* Instant Runoff Voting
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
I realize that this blog is turning more and more into rants about the abysmal state of the US, and although well deserved, I want to consolidate the rants and attempt more entries on positive solutions. These not only show some of the ways out, but focusing on solutions is a more effective way of changing the situation. They open up for partnerships rather than confrontation, and give hope.
Read Rants here...
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Process vs. Positions
We have gained a good deal of experience with our current democratic system. A system where typically two or more factions are in adversarial positions to each other, and where one faction gains power for a while, creates changes, which are reversed when another faction gains power shortly after. We all know it is an imperfect system.
Over the years, I have come to feel that most of the time it does not matter much who is in power. It is the same game of changing policies which then are reversed at next election. A solution to this is a more deeply democratic and participatory system - a system that focuses more on process and less on positions. One example is the citizen juries in Denmark, composed of a representative sample of the population, which examines in depth a particular issue - interviewing witnesses from all sides - and then comes with a recommendation to the government and the Danish people for how to approach the issue. As the juries are composed of a wide range of people and the process is solid, the solutions are typically perceived as balanced and wise by the general population.
The Co-Intelligence Institute describes this and similar approaches to participatory/process oriented democracy on their website, and in the book The Tao of Democracy.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
We have national leaders who accept, encourage and applaud the murder and assassination of leaders of other nations. Bush with Iraq's leaders - as now with the two sons of Saddam Hussein, and Sharon with Palestinian leaders.
In the western world, the principle of ethical universality is strong and at the core of our philosophical and religious traditions - traditions they both claim to uphold and promote. I truly wonder if they would applaud and encourage this particular principle if they were on the receiving end.
It becomes only more obvious that the so called "war on terrorism" is used to excuse inexcusable behavior - to further US global cultural, economic and military dominance (a goal directly stated by many US leaders). If they truly wanted to diminish terrorism, they would make sincere efforts to withdraw culturally, economically and militarily from around the world, and aid countries in strengthening their own cultural traditions and economics (on their terms). This will not happen soon, due to the trinity of multinational corporations (where short term profit is the main guiding principle), US politicians fully dependent on the same corporations for funding to be elected, and mass media owned by the same corporations.
Sunday, July 20, 2003
Our experience of the world is shaped and influenced by a multitude of factors:
(a) The structure and characteristics of this particular universe. The natural habits ("laws") as we know them.
(b) Being a planet-based creature.
(c) Our size. About 5-6 feet - enormous from the perspective of molecules or ants, tiny from the perspective of solar systems, galaxies and the Universe as a whole.
(d) Our life-length. About 50-100 years - long compared to the lifespan of a lightning, a bubble or a fly, a glimpse compared to the lifespan of planets and suns.
(e) Our evolutionary history. Our experiences is filtered through our evolutionary history - traits and patterns that helped our ancestors survive.
(f) Our biology. We perceive with senses that opens up for some impressions and experiences, but leaves a vastly larger number out. We hear in a very limited range (compared to for instance bats). We see in an equally limited range (compared with gold fish). Our sense of touch functions on a limited scale (we cannot sense molecules or even quite significant collections of molecules).
(g) Our culture.
(h) Our personal experiences.
(i) Our mental and physical state at the moment.
It has many benefits to be aware of this. It helps us detect our own bias and that of others, and take it into account. Our experience of the world is always limited and biased. The world is always infinitely more than and different from our experience of it. And our *ideas* of the world are in turn rigid and limited expressions of our fluid experiences... Our views and theories express our particular relationship with the world.
I was reminded of this when I read that an archeologist from Brigham Young University theorized that the Mayan culture disintegrated due to the "loss of the royal court and the erosion of public faith in the hierarchy" (National Geographic, August 2003, p. 99). Of course, Brigham Young is the University of The Church of the Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons), which place a very strong importance on faith in hierarchy.
Saturday, July 19, 2003
We are doing yardwork at our co-op today, which mainly involves lawn maintenance. The lawn will eventually be replaced with something else, but that is still somewhat in the future.
The history of lawns shows how many seemingly insignificant factors combined to have a large impact - on the look of our communities and how we spend much of our time.
The precursors of our modern lawns were the grazing areas around the manors in Great Britain. Following the industrial revolution, maintaining a lawn required hiring gardeners or having significant free time, and they became a symbol of wealth and disposable resources. As Great Britain was the main superpower of the day, this particular status symbol was adopted around the world.
[Possible sequence: (a) The few wealthy graze sheep around their manors. The poorer use the commons. (b) The wealthy shift their investments from livestock to factories during the industrial revolution. They are used to short grass around their manors, and hire gardeners to mimick the effects of grazing sheep. (c) Short grass/lawns become a status symbol, also for the growing middle class. (d) Great Britain is the main superpower of the day, and people around the world adopt this particular British status symbol.]
Today, lawns are partly a status symbol, but more than that - they are a sign of our lack of imagination. We plant, or inherit and maintain, a lawn because we don't know what else to do with it.
There are currently about 30 to 40 million acres of lawn in the US (estimates vary), which makes it the largest crop in North America. We spend $17.4 billion dollars, 300 million gallons of gas and 1 billion hours to maintain our lawns.
A look at biology gives us the reason for lawns being such resource sinks.
All ecosystems evolve towards greater diversity and maturity, and lawns are a prime example of immature ecosystems (a monoculture). Through growing long grass and "weeds" they move towards increased diversity and maturity. In maintaining lawns, we work against natural processes which - not surprisingly - requires an investment of large resources (time, money, gas, chemicals).
There are fortunately many attractive alternatives, ranging from low to high maintenance, and having few to multiple functions. Some examples are rock gardens, meadows and prairie (good insect and wildlife habitat), xeriscaping (plants thriving on regular rainfall in the area), and a flower and herbal groundcover.
Friday, July 18, 2003
I read "Lord of the Rings" as a teenager, and enjoyed it at the time. Now, I find it difficult to relate to the main premise of the story: The battle between "good" and "evil". It is a premise that seems to be at the core of what is unhealthy about our culture. It is the George W. Bush view of the world: The battle against good and evil. Sacrificing oneself for the sake of the higher truth... It is also the view of all caught up in a blindly dualistic view of the world - identifying people with abstract notions of good and evil, right and wrong. Some are "evil"/"bad" and "deserve" to be eliminated. Others are "good" and heroic.
The alternative is to recognize in ourselves what we see in others (shared humanity), and realize that the world is always more than and different from our perceptions of it. Our ideas of the world is just that - our ideas.
Saturday, July 12, 2003
Media & Hindsight
Media these days (especially in Europe) focus on Blair and Bush misleading the public about (a) the threat from Iraq (minimal or nonexistent) and (b) the ease of the war and occupation. The threat was known to be minimal even at the time, and the difficulties were predictable. It is astonishing that it takes so long for it to be a topic of conversation...
Of course, it is a typical pattern: First commit atrocities under the cover of false (often seemingly ethical) excuses to gain power and resources. Then gradually admit the pretense after it is too late to undo the situation. The situation for the First Peoples in North America is a prime example. First committing genocide and stealing their land and resources, then slowly elevate them after they are no longer a threat or in the way.
Here are some examples of what I wrote about the Iraq situation in March, four months before these issues became the focus in media:
Iraq posed no immediate threat towards the US or any other nation, according to their neighboring countries, the UN weapons inspectors and the CIA. There was no reason to not allow the UN weapons inspectors to continue their inspections for a few more months, as they asked for. With more than 200 weapons inspectors in Iraq, and a close scrutiny by the world community, the situation was well contained. "
The US government has systematically misled the public and lied about the Iraq situation. They have insinuated that there is a link between the Iraqi government and past, current or future terrorism, and there is none (again according to CIA and other intelligence sources). There is also no indication that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, according to among others the UN weapons inspectors. Hans Blix has expressed it clearly, and the Norwegian weapons inspector Jørn Siljeholm, said that the US systematically lied on this topic. ("Asked if the Americans lied, Siljeholm said: "Lie is a strong word - but yes, the information Powell presented about Iraq's nuclear program was simply incorrect," Siljeholm said.") "
It is likely that the invasion and occupation of Iraq will run into a number of problems. The main one may be a persistent guerilla warfare. The history of the Iraqi people gives them strong reasons for resenting and opposing an invasion and occupation by the US and the UK. Some examples: [...] To believe that the Iraqi population will welcome them with open arms is remarkably naive, and publicly expressing that assumption must be a willful deception or coming from a surprising lack of insight in human nature in general and the Iraqi history in particular. The Iraqis, no matter their view of Saddam Hussein, will most likely defend their country with any means available against what they see as an illegitimate invasion and occupation."
"Occupation and new government
Any attempt to install a US controlled government in Iraq is likely to run into massive problems, for some of the same reasons as mentioned above. The invasion, occupation and "nation building" process is likely to be long, tortuous, and expensive (in terms of dollars, lives, suffering, and loss of goodwill)."
Sunday, June 22, 2003
I started yesterday with using clicker training with a housemate's cat. He is catching on quickly and can now sit on cue.
Some basic principles:
1. All positive reinforcement (no punishment)
2. Partner approach. Equal partners and free choice (the best is when the trainee initiates the sessions, as Parsifal - our previous cat - did, and my new trainee now is doing, after only a day).
3. Brief sessions. Keep it brief and fun. Stop while there is still a good deal of interest from both of you. It works better with brief and frequent sessions rather than long ones.
4. Appropriate reward. Use a reward that works with the trainee - food, praise, etc.
5. Follow nature. Help the trainee learn behavior that is close to natural behavior, especially in the beginning. Sometimes it may work well to just wait for the behavior you are looking for, and click when it occurs. Sometimes it can be induced easily. With a cat, an easy start is to bring food directly over its head so it sits down naturally, and click.
6. Clicker as communication tool. Use a click to communicate a desired behavior. The click is then followed by the reward (the click indicates the exact behavior, and acts as a bridge to the reward). Click whenever a desirable or interesting behavior occur - you can train several behaviors parallel with each other.
7. Keep it fun. If it is fun for both of you, that is a sign that you are on the right path.
8. I have found that it seems easier and quicker to train older animals. They tend to be more grounded and focused, while younger ones are have a more fragmented and shorter attention. With clicker training, old age is no drawback.
The general principles in clicker training are important principles for all learning - for all of us and in all situations...
Researchers at University of Wisconson (in Madison where I lived for five years) have found that Buddhist practitioners are - on average - more happy than others.
I assume it is due to a combination of mind training and sitting meditation. The mind training (lo jong in Tibetan) offers tools to approach situations in a more fruitful way. The meditation practice offers sentering and a sense of spaciousness and perspective.
Partnership, Choice & Positive Reinforcement
I read Horse Sense for People by Monty Roberts a couple of days ago, on my way from St. Louis to Portland (coming back from Europe).
His approach seems to be in the same family as that of Clicker Training and Nonviolent Communication. They are communication tools and languages, they offer ways to establish good connection between living beings, they help us meet our needs more effectively, and some of them work accross species lines (although NVC is more verbally oriented than the two others).
They also share specific insights and tools. First, a partnership and power-with orientation allows us to seek strategies that will meet the needs of all involved. It allows for choices (giving choice to the other, taking responsibility for own choices), and requests (no punishment). Second, an emphasis on positive reinforcement (punishment is not effective in meeting our needs - we may get the behavior but also resentment, suboptimal performance and loss of connection).
I am working on bringing NVC more into my life, along with the principles from Clicker Training and the Horse Sense approach. One training ground for me was using Clicker Training with our cat, Parsifal. He learned the basic principle quickly (click signals "correct" behavior and food), and quickly picked up tricks such as sit, lie down, sit up, stay, jump up on table/down from table, jump through a hoop, and follow a stick/cone of light - often in one or a few sessions. It engaged his mind (and sense of urgency) to an extent that I suspect only a life in the wild can.
Monday, June 02, 2003
It is often helpful to apply perspectives reverse from those we habitually apply or typically find in mainstream community.
I was reminded of two areas today where perspectives reverse from the mainstream appear to offer valuable insights.
The G8 countries are currently meeting in France. The mainstream view, at least as reflected in mainstream media, is that it is terrible for (a small portion of) the demonstrators to use violence. The reverse is often ignored - the daily and massive violence engaged in by the G8 countries. This is a systematic economic, cultural and military violence aimed at maximizing profits for the few at the expense of the many. (A sidetrack: As is so often the case, the vast majority of the demonstrators are peaceful but the media focuses on the small minority who use violence - against property. The media also portay the demonstrators as "anti-globalization" while they in reality are concerned with one particular form of globalization - the current one that benefits large multinational corporations at a terrible cost to people and ecosystems worldwide. A true grassroots globalization, one that is people and ecosystem focused, is strongly desired by the majority of the demonstrators.)
Another example is tagging. I am visitng family and friends in Norway, and notice tagging at certain locations. What is striking is that the tagging seem to occur on structures most people would find severly lacking in aestethic appeal (aka incredibly ugly). A reverse perspective here will find that the true "crime" may be committed by those who built those structures - structures which do not improve the quality of the community but rather detracts from it. The taggers seem to do us all a service by drawing attention to the most unappealing elements in our built community.
Monday, May 05, 2003
Open Source Approach
The Great Giveaway - article from New Scientist
Open Cola - softdrink with open recipe
Open Source Car
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
NVC & Holarchies
Everything is simultaneously a whole and a part: (a) All phenomena are a seamless self-organizing system - we are a whole. (b) They (we) are also embedded in the processes of larger systems - we are a part. The Universe is thus a unified whole of systems nested within systems - a holarchy.
Nonviolent Communication addresses the level of the individual. From a systems view, a natural question is: how does NVC look when applied to the level of social groups?
Some collective needs of a whole society may be similar to those we have on a personal level, such as security, sustenance, etc. Other needs are emergent qualities, such as ecological sustainability. See more thoughts on this at Tom Atlee's NVC and Social Change page on the Co-Intelligence Institute website.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
I attended three days of workshops on Nonviolent Communication with Marshall Rosenberg. The following is an attempt to organize what I heard and my understanding/reflections on it. It is currently in the form of fragments.
Nonviolent Communication is developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Still, it is nothing new - it is a formalized way of learning and adopting a natural and life-centered way of communicating.
In the west, and increasingly around the world, we are trained in a way of communication that reflect a dominance oriented culture. It includes notions of right and wrong, punishment and reward, authorities and submission/rebellion. On an individual level, it brings about anger, shame, built and depression. On an interpersonal level, we tend to meet our needs at the expense of the needs of others. On a social level, it is characterized by dominance and control structures.
Life-centered communication, as found in some other cultures, reflect a partnership oriented culture. We seek strategies that will meet the deeper needs of all of us. We realize that we freely choose all of our actions. It brings us beyond notions of right/wrong, good/evil, submission/rebellion.
NVC applies a quite different teaching philosophy than what is common in our current educational system. Decisions are made cooperatively among instructors and students. It is made clear that students always have a choice in whatever they do (this is true in all education, although usually not made explicit). The tests are held early in the process, and they give information about the effectiveness of the teaching strategy and on how to change it, not the students' abilities.
Jackal vs. Giraffe
Jackal language is language that is from an orientation where we seek to meet our own needs but not necessarily the needs of others. It is a strategy that is not effective in meeting all of our needs and tend to lead to experiences such as anger, guilt, shame, and depression.
Giraffe is a life-centered language where we seek to first realize the deeper needs of all of us, and then explore strategies to meet those needs.
Observation & Interpretation
Differentiating observations and interpretations is vital in clear communication. Agreeing on the observable situation helps us establish common ground, and realizing that we add a layer of interpretation helps us see that it is just that - an interpretation (one of many possible).
Feelings & Needs Literacy
Learning a rich and precise vocabulary for expressing our feelings and needs helps us connect with ourselves and others.
We all share basic needs. Some of our needs are connection, honesty, play, peace, physical well-being, meaning and autonomy. When we are clear about our own needs, and we help others to be clear of their needs, we can creatively arrive at solutions that will meet all our needs. Our needs are never in conflict, but our strategies to meet those needs may be.
In our culture, we are trained to have a muddled relationship to our needs and strategies. We tend to become attached to certain strategies, without being clear on the needs we try to meet. When we differentiate the two, we can step back and let go of specific strategies, and explore other strategies that may also meet the needs of others.
Requests & Demands
In our dominance oriented culture, we are trained in expressing and hearing demands - one person's needs met at the expense of the needs of others. Demands are characterized by single-mindedness of purpose, submission and rebellion as the only two options for the receiver, and reward or punishment as consequences. In most cases demands and its consequences are expressed in subtle ways. It is an approach that meets some of our needs, but cannot meet all of them (for instance need for connection). It is an approach that alienates us from ourselves and others.
The alternative is a more life-centered approach, seeking to meet our needs as well as the needs of those around us. Having this intention, we can express a request rather than a demand. We stay open for feedback, seek to be clear on feelings and needs of all involved, and choose strategies that works better for all. There is no punishment or external reward - only the inner reward of contributing to life.
Empathy helps us connect with the feelings and needs of yourself and others. It can be done silently, or expressed as a way to connect deeper with another person. Empathy is a way of translating jackal to giraffe: through identifying the feelings and needs behind a jackal expression (criticism etc), we uncover the giraffe language that will help us better meet those needs. And empathy is an excellent way of identifying our basic needs: empathy with feelings takes us to the underlying met or unmet needs behind those feelings.
We always choose our actions. Sometimes we are not aware of our choices, or we do not like the options we see, but we choose all our actions. Becoming aware of this can have a dramatic impact on our life. It frees us up to let go of actions that do not meet our needs, modify others to better meet our needs, and experience more joy in the actions we do choose as we see which needs they meet.
Life-Alienating vs. Life-Affirming Culture
We live in a dominance/control oriented culture, and learn the dominance/control language from multiple sources: Religion, mythology, schools, media, and from those close to us who have learned the language from they were young. This language is also called "jackal language". It is a language that teaches polarities of right/wrong, good/evil, and reward/punishment. It tells us that the "good life" is the good punishing the bad. It teaches us to obey authority. It's symptoms in us as individuals is guilt, shame, anger and depression. It is a life-alienating language. A language that disconnects us from ourselves, each other, and the larger mystery we are a part of.
NVC teaches us another language, a life-affirming language. A language that helps us meet all our needs. A language that helps us see that we always choose. A language that frees us from submission, rebellion, guilt, shame, anger and depression. A language of celebration and connection.
Our culture is a dominance and control oriented culture. It teaches us to obey or rebel against authorities, to act due to external rewards or punishments, and to think ourselves into shame, guilt and depression. It teaches us tragic expressions of unmet needs (criticism, anger), and dualistic approaches where we try to meet our own needs at the expense of others (selfishness) or the other way around (selflessness). It teaches us remarkably ineffective ways to have our needs fully met.
Dominance Culture & Jackal Language
Jackal language is born from, supports and is integral to our larger dominance oriented culture. It teaches thought patterns of right/wrong, good/evil, reward/punishment, and submission/rebellion. All these justify power structures and power-over relationships that (on the surface) benefits the few at the expense of the many. Our needs cannot be fully met in such a structure, so in reality we all suffer from it.
Jackal language further yield anger, guilt, shame and depression. Anger is from a jackal mindset and perpetuates the dominance structures - either by setting up new ones, or by lending justification to the power-over strategies used by the existing structures. Guilt, shame and depression leads to passivity. None of these lead to a constructive approach for deep change.
If we want to explore the common stories and myths we operate from, we need to look at the typical stories in our culture. Today, these are told by mass media, and often reflect a static (identify people with transient experiences and roles) and blindly dualistic way of experiencing the world. These are stories of good and evil, of battles, and of victories involving the extermination of the evil.
In some other cultures, including our own subcultures, there are other stories. These may focus on partnership approaches and commitment to connection until resolutions. They are process oriented (recognize transient experiences and roles for what they are) and go beyond blind polarities. These are stories of life, collaboration, and celebration.
NVC has a strong social change aspect. It has a powerful analysis of our culture, helps us to liberate ourselves from dominance structures, and gives us a powerful language to have our needs met as well as the needs of others.
Classic & Colloquial Giraffe
Classic Giraffe includes several patterns of expressions, for instance (a) observation, (b) feeling, (c) needs, (d) clear and present request. Colloquial Giraffe is a looser and more spontaneous and creative way of expressing the same. Some examples: 1a. Classical Giraffe: "It seems that when what you said was not heard by the others at the table (observation), you felt frustration (feeling) because your need for connection was not meet (needs)?" 1b. Colloquial Giraffe: "So you were frustrated (feeling) because you wanted to connect (need)?" The situation is given by the context, and the need was in that situation expressed as a want.
NVC offers templates as examples of the elements included in that particular form of life enriching communication. The basic template is "When [observation] I feel [feeling] because my needs for [need] is met/not met. Can you [clear request]?" Any of these elements can be expressed silently or explicitly. As a general guideline, whenever you have a sense that the other person is aware of a particular element, it can be silent or expressed nonverbally. If there is an element that the other person may not be clear about, or you want specific feedback, it can be expressed verbally. For instance, showing gratitude can be expressed in "classical giraffe" in this way: "I want to thank you for the three days we spent together [observation]. I feel joyful [feeling] and it met my need for companionship and connection [need]". Or it can be expressed in "colloquial giraffe" in this way: "I enjoyed spending time with you and getting to know you better". The nonverbal component is of course essential.
Dynamic vs. Static Language
Our culture teaches us static language - a language where we objectify ourselves and others, and identify ourselves and others with transient experiences or roles ("I am angry", "She is smart", "He is a socialist", "They are therapists"). It is more accurate and liberating to use a process language, a language that expresses transient experiences as transient experiences and roles as roles ("I experience anger", "She has much knowledge of plants", "He votes for a socialist party", "They work as therapists").
Labels are one expression of static thinking. We identify a person with a particular (transient) experience or role, and attach a label to the person that is meant to convey useful information. Rather than convey useful information, it tends to lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. The person, and those around the person, behave in ways that are consistent with the label. Those transient experiences and roles are then strengthened and become more entrenched. These labels include formal diagnosis (hypochondriac, bipolar), informal diagnosis (idiot, genius, good, evil), and work (doctor, mechanic, secretary). In all cases, the label gives the appearance of permanence where there is none.
The alternative is to use a process language that more accurately reflect the transient nature of our experiences and roles: She tends to be concerned about her health; he experiences strong mood-swings; she did not understand the instructions; he has a solid grasp of mathematics; she works as a doctor/mechanic/secretary.
Jackal & Giraffe Views
The Jackal Show is the Jackal patterns playing out in our minds. We can learn to recognize and enjoy these shows, and use them to be clear about the feelings and needs behind them. This will help us express ourselves in a way that is more Giraffe, more accurate, and more life serving.
In our culture, we are trained in coming up with enemy images. When there is a conflict, typically between strategies, we tend to engage in thought patterns that (subtly) dehumanize and objectify the other person. The alternative is to look at the feeling and needs behind the other person's action, seek to clarify these feelings and needs with the other person, and then seek strategies that will work better for all. We connect rather than exclude, and get our own needs met in a more effective and efficient way.
Restorative Justice is an essential component to a life-centered approach to justice and dealing with situation with strong enemy images and anger. For the person injustice was done to, there is a situation where her/his experiences are truly heard and acknowleged - by the person that commited the act. For the person who committed the act, there is an opportunity to connect with the other on a deeply human level and see the hurt that was caused by the actions. In both cases, there is a tremendous sense of relief. It can diffuse unresolved feelings on both sides that otherwise could lead to further injustice.
I know from my own life is that when I feel that injustice has been done to me, I do not want revenge. That is not powerful enough. I want the other person to truly see the situation and how I was hurt by the action. I want to connect on a human level. That seems immensely more powerful.
Protective Use of Force
In some situation, we choose to use force. This is a minimal force used to protect, not to "punish" (a giraffe force, not jackal force).
The motivation behind our choices is essential. Do our choices come from fear, guilt and coercion? Or do they come from a desire to meet all our needs and enrich life? The answer tells us how well we can expect to meet our needs, and the quality of our connections with each other.
Beyond Control and Permissiveness
NVC helps us go beyond the limited options of control (my needs, not yours) and permissiveness (your needs, not mine). The process is to (a) seek clarity about the feelings/needs of all involved, (b) explore strategies that meets the needs of all, (c) agree on specific actions. When all involved see how their needs are met, we are more likely to follow up on the agreements. And if not, a connection is established that allows us to explore what is going on and modify the strategies to better meet our needs.
Autonomy is among our basic needs (along with connection). When we are presented with a situation where we experience that our autonomy is threatened, we tend to either submit (with resentment) or rebel. This is a dominance approach and typical of how we are trained in our culture. Expressing a request rather than a demand, and making sure that it is heard as a request, is one way of getting beyond submission and rebellion. Similarly, hearing the feelings and needs behind what appears as a demand, and seeking clarification of the underlying needs, can help us go beyond submission and rebellion. It will help us find strategies to meet all of our needs.
"Should" is a central tool of the Jackal language. Shame, guilt, anger and depression are all symptoms of underlying "should" thoughts, and they are often connected with moralistic judgments. "Should" thoughts are effective in making ourselves and others miserable, and not effective in helping us meet our needs.
Needs vs. Shoulds
When we experience anger, shame, guilt or depression, there is most likely a "should" pattern behind it. We feel we "should" do something (shame, guilt, depression) or that someone else "should" do something (anger). Shoulds tend to not be effective in meeting our needs, mostly because they do not point the way to a constructive solution.
Seeing the needs behind the shoulds opens up for a more constructive way of approaching the situation. When we become clear of our needs and the needs of others, we can consciously choose strategies that will help us meet those needs.
Jackal language includes fruitless patterns such as complaining. Giraffe reminds us of our needs that are not met in the current situation, and helps us to actively seek strategies to meet those needs. It gives us a clear solution focus.
Learning a life-centered and life-enriching communication takes time. It involved re-educating ourselves and exploring the tools and stepping stones towards a life centered way of life. It requires patience, for our own learning process, as well as in our everyday situations. Seeking solutions that works for all takes longer than dominance solutions, but the rewards makes it worth it - meeting our needs more fully, and the joy of contributing to life.
Win-Win vs. Compromises
In our dominance oriented culture, we are taught that there are three different realistic alternatives: (a) Getting our needs met on the expense of others, (b) others getting their needs met on our expense, and (c) compromises where none of us get what we want. NVC, and other life-centered approaches, opens up for a fourth possibility: When we are clear on the needs of all involved, we can creatively explore solutions and strategies that will meet all of our needs. Such situations, where we actively seek clarity of the deeper needs of each person, tend to help us let go of our habitual strategies and actively seek creative and new solutions.
Our needs are interconnected. The needs of others are included in our own needs. We cannot fully meet our need for community, connection, meaning and contribution if the needs of those around us are not met. This means that to fully meet our needs, we seek strategies that meets the needs of all of us.
Selflessness (meeting the needs of others at the expense of our own) and selfishness (meeting our own needs at the expense of the needs of others) are both expressions of a life-alienating approach. Neither of these are strategies that are likely to meet our needs well.
Life-enriching communication goes beyond selflessness (meet others needs at the expense of our own) and selfishness (meet our needs at the expense of other's needs). It is self-full - we have joy in contributing to other people in meeting their needs. We realize that our own needs are not fully met as long as the needs of the others are not fully met. If we use life-alienating communication, we are alienated from ourselves and others - our needs for connection and community are not met. If someone's basic needs are not met, our need for their well-being is not met. These needs are at the core of our common humanity.
The honesty/empathy dance.
We always freely choose - although we sometimes do not recognize the choice, or are happy with the options that seem available to us.
Here is an exercise to help us become aware of our choices:
(a) Create a list of your "top ten least favorite activities"
(b) Explore how you tend to talk to yourself about them (these are typically "I have to" or similar phrases).
(c) For each of the activities, rephrase it to "I choose to ..." statements. This helps us re-educate ourselves and become aware that we are always making a choice.
(d) Then, rephrase each to "I choose to ... because I want ..." statements. It helps us stay honest. This is a humbling but also liberating step.
This exercise can dramatically change our life. We become aware that we always make choices, even when we don't particularly like the options that seem available to us. We also bring the underlying reasons for our choices into awareness.
When we realize that a particular choice does not meet our needs well, we can explore other strategies. We may drop or modify certain actions. When we realize that a particular choice helps us meet important needs, we tend to change our attitude towards the activity and do it with more enthusiasm and joy. In general, we enjoy our actions more when we are clear on which needs they meet, and that we freely choose them.
Detecting Hidden Choices
Some phrases reveal hidden choices. The most common are "I have to", "I don't have time", and "I can't". Behind them all is a unacknowledged choice, and freedom waiting to be released when we bring it into awareness.
Here are some of the NVC signposts I am aware of: 1. Body sensations indicating when have connected with the need behind four reactions. 2. Anger, shame, guilt and depression, indicating "should" thoughts. 3. Criticism as tragic expression of unmet needs.
Anger is a symptom of life-alienating thoughts.
Here is a process to help us explore what is behind anger:
1. Observation - what particular behavior triggered the anger.
2. Thought - what did I tell myself that caused the anger? To get at this thought, try this sentence "I am angry because ...". This is typically a (life-alienating/moralistic) judgment with a "should" in it.
3. Empathy - with (a) self and (b) the other person/group. How did I feel, and what needs of mine were not met by the situation that triggered the anger. What needs may the other person try to express through the action/s that triggered my anger?
4. Connection - with the other person. (a) Express your feelings and needs, and make a clear request (e.g. "Can you repeat back to me what you heard me say?" or "What do you feel when you hear me say that?". (b) Guess feelings, needs, and request of the other person, and ask for feedback/check accuracy. Do this first if the other person may otherwise not be ready to hear your feelings/needs/request.
Habits & Addictions
In all our actions, we seek to meet some of our essential needs. When we are clear on our needs, and differentiate them from any particular strategy, we are more free in choosing a particular strategy or action. Similarly, if we are not clear on our needs, we tend to apply less effective strategies and typically become attached to certain habitual strategies. When we are attached to certain strategies while seeing that they do not meet our needs, we call them addictions.
Here is one way of working with habits and addictions:
1. Differentiate needs and strategies (preparation). Become clear on the distinction between (a) our underlying needs and (b) the strategies we employ to meet those needs. For any need, there is an infinite number of strategies that can help us meet those needs.
2. Identify the underlying needs. Which needs do I try to meet by the habit/addiction? Empathy (self-empathy or from another person) can help us explore this.
3. Explore the effectiveness of the strategy. Which of my needs does it meet, and which does it not meet?
4. Explore alternative strategies. Which other strategies can I use that will meet more of my needs?
5. Support for making the change. Support - from ourselves and others - is essential in making any substantial change. It is helpful to find support from someone well versed in a life-enriching communication.
Celebration & Connections
There is a great need for hearing and expressing gratitude in our society, and expressing gratitude in Giraffe is specific and powerful. It contains a reference to a specific behavior, a feeling, a need that was met, and possibly a request. Any of these can be expressed silently and implicit or explicit and verbally. As a rule, if the other person is likely to be aware of a particular element, it is not necessary to express it explicitly - unless you want to emphasize it.
The complete and explicit pattern can be something like this:
(a) Behavior that you are grateful for ("when you ...")
(b) Our feelings ("I feel ...")
(c) Our needs that were met by the action ("it meets my need for")
(d) A request. If not certain that the person heard it accurately, ask "can you repeat back to me what you heard?", or otherwise "How do you feel when I say that?"
When we express gratitude, the verbal part can also be very simple and direct: "I enjoyed getting to know you better." In this case, the time spent together is implicit ("We spent three hours together"), the feeling is enjoyment or lead to a sense of enjoyment ("I enjoyed") and the need is connection ("getting to know you better").