Your Most Important Decision

          Tell me, what is it you plan to do
          With your one wild and precious life?

          The Summer Day by Mary Oliver


Photograph – [WOMAN SITTING IN STORE] – James Jowers (American b. 1938) Date: 1969

Accession Number: 2007:0275:0043

George Eastman House Collection

Girl Power

Camfed – Campaign for Female Education – has discovered that poverty is the main obstacle to the education of girls.

Research shows that the consequences of not educating girls are not only felt by the individual girls but by the entire society.

If you educate a girl she’ll:

  • Earn up to 25 percent more and reinvest 90 percent in her family.
  • Be three times less likely to become HIV-positive.
  • Have fewer, healthier children who are 40 percent more likely to live past the age of five.

So it appears that if you educate girls then you not improve the quality of their lives but, it seems, you also improve the quality of everybody’s life.

Investing in girls and women is likely to prevent inter-generational cycles of poverty and yield high economic and societal returns – Ban K-Moon, United Nations Secretary General.

If we want a functional, happy, healthy world we need to find ways to unleash more girl power it seems…


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In Consequence

It’s hard to see the big picture when your head is jammed with the problems of the moment.

But the big picture is always there even when our view of it is blocked.

The main reason to look at the ‘big picture’ is that it helps us to look at the end of things – the consequences of our actions.

Everything we do matters.

Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.

Norman Cousins


L. E. side

Accession Number: 2007:0274:0069

Maker: James Jowers (American b. 1938)

Title: L. E. side

Date: 1967

Medium: gelatin silver print

Dimensions: Image: 15.9 x 24 cm Overall: 20.1 x 25.4 cm

7 Billion Butterfly Effects for Change?

On October 31st the population of the world is set to reach 7 billion. Obviously this has implications for all of us.

On the one hand, there is no denying that it will be a challenge to feed, clothe, educate, accomodate, provide health care and generally provide for seven billion people.

On the other hand, as well as having seven billion people to care for, we also have – potentially – seven billion people to share the burden.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is running a global campaign called 7 Billion Actions to build awareness of both the challenges and opportunities this population growth will bring.

7 Billion Actions aims to achieve two key objectives:

  • Building global awareness around the opportunities and challenges associated with a world of seven billion people.
  • Inspiring governments, NGOs, private sector, media, academia and individuals to take actions that will have a socially positive impact.
Small actions taken by each of us, multiplied across communities, can create a better world.” — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

7 Billion Butterfly Effects for Change?

We are What we Believe

Belief is not just an optional extra – it is the primary influence on our actions.

However, sometimes we don’t take enough time to think about what we do believe and so our actions leave us feeling uncomfortable and out of kilter with our true selves.

It’s worth thinking about what we believe.  It’s our humanity after all.

The video below is interesting (and fun) – have a look:–taboo-topics.html

Bystanders – Heroes on Stand-By?

Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese

The recent case of Chinese toddler, Yue Yue, who was not only hit by two vans but was ignored in her plight by eighteen passers-by, raises again the issue of how we can stand by and watch as horrible things happen.

When things like this happen in other countries we say – This could never happen here.

We tell ourselves that no matter how bad our societies are, we wouldn’t let such horror happen without trying to help.

The thing is – that’s not true.

The Yue Yue case is most likely nothing to do with Chinese society and everything to do with a social psychological phenomenon known as The Bystander Effect.

This reaction, which we put down to our materialistic, modern attitudes and our growing selfishness, is probably not so much associated with modern life as with ancient, instinctive survival behaviours.  There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the more people present when something bad happens, the less chance there is that anybody will help.  In other words – we do whatever the herd does.

This phenomenon was first documented in 1964, when twenty-eight year old Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered in her New York neighbourhood.  Though thirty-seven people heard Kitty call for help during the attack (which lasted a full half hour) only one person responded by calling the police.

By the time help arrived, Kitty Genovese was dead.

The controversy as a result of the Kitty Genovese murder gave rise to a number of studies and led to the formulating of the theory of The Bystander Effect.

But there is a little known feature of the Bystander effect and that is that it appears to be very easy to overcome.

Simply recognising the possibility that anyone (me, you – anyone) may not intervene in an emergency can mean that we do intervene.  Just that much knowledge can make a difference.

Also, it is well known that, in general, when bystanders are specifically asked for help –Hey man in the blue sweater – they tend to respond positively.   It’s as if a consciousness of ourselves as individuals seems to generally bring with it not just a myriad personal likes and dislikes and idiosyncrasies but also an awakening of moral and ideological beliefs and even a willingness to help others.

So, here’s the question I always ask myself when thinking about this phenomenon – does the war and poverty and violence and hatred we see all around us on our planet flourish because we suffer from a global Bystander Effect?

It would seem logical that this might be the case.  After all, if having six or seven people witness an emergency slows down or destroys our individual reaction and impulse to help others, what happens when 6 or 7 billion people see the same thing?

How can we stop being global bystanders?


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Their Future’s So Bright…

There is a college in India that has few parallels in the world of education.

In this college you can train to be an engineer, a doctor, a nurse, a computer engineer, a solar expert, an architect – amongst other things.

Many colleges provide such training, but few have as an entry requirement that you must have little or no formal education.  Even fewer colleges will insist that they will not confer the students with qualifications – no matter how proficient they become.

The Barefoot College believes that successful rural development is not only based in the villages but also managed and owned by those it serves.  All Barefoot initiatives – social, political or economic, are planned and implemented by a network of rural men and women who are known as ‘Barefoot Professionals’.

Rural men and women irrespective of age, who are barely literate or not at all, and have no hope of getting even the lowest government job, are being trained to work as day and night school teachers, doctors, midwives, dentists, health workers, balsevikas, solar engineers, solar cooker engineers, water drillers, hand pump mechanics, architects, artisans, designers, masons, communicators, water testers, phone operators, blacksmiths, carpenters, computer instructors, accountants and kabaad-se-jugaad professionals.

With little guidance, encouragement and space to grow and exhibit their talent and abilities, people who have been considered ‘very ordinary’ and written off by society, are doing extraordinary things that defy description. (1)

One such graduate of the Barefoot College, is 19 year old, semi-literate Santosh Devi, India’s first Dalit (Untouchable) solar engineer.  As she was growing up, Santosh had to avoid the upper caste people in her village or – failing that – cover her face in their presence. (2)

But everything changed when she trained as a solar engineer at the Barefoot College.

The College began their solar engineering course in 2005 and since then they have trained more than 300 Barefoot engineers.  These engineers – mostly women – have brought power to more than 13,000 homes across India.

A further 6,000 households, in more than 120 villages in 24 countries from Afghanistan to Uganda, have been powered on the same model. The course in solar engineering is made available primarily to women, over 35, who live in remote non-electrified area, anywhere in the world.  The only proviso is that they are backed by their villages.  Women from Tanzania, Uganda, Gambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Bhutan completed their six-month residential training at Tilonia between 2008 and 2009, and have since set up solar power in their villages.

At the Barefoot College, the women learn through listening and memorising, using colour-coded charts that help them to remember the permutation and combination of the wires without needing to read or write.

Since becoming a solar engineer, Santosh Devi’s life has changed out of all recognition. Now everybody wants her services – regardless of caste.  As she describes it,

“From looking down on the ground when higher caste people passed to looking them in the eye, I never imagined this would have been possible.” (4)

This is an interesting talk by one of the founders of the Barefoot College –




(3) ibid

(4) ibid

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Charter for Compassion

Religious symbols from the top nine organised ...

On November 12, 2009, Karen Armstrong, author, commentator and ex-Catholic nun, unveiled her Charter for Compassion.

This is the Charter –

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Join the conversation –


The Unknown

Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known. (1)

We like what we know.  No matter how bad it is, if it is known, it is within our comfort zone.

Everything we don’t know – absolutely everything – is outside our comfort zone.

Often, to progress, as individuals and as societies, we need to step into the unknown.

The unknown is scary.

Our survival instincts are not fond of us venturing out there.

They are often wrong but they are doing their best to keep us safe and the comfort zone is safe.

So.  When we need to change – what can help us to step out into that scary place?


(1) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Sacrifice is defined as:
An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy: e.g. ‘we must all be prepared to make sacrifices.’ (1)

Sacrifice is an old fashioned idea.  We associate it with punitive self-deprivation. It is a concept associated with misery and joylessness. However, the truth is that sacrifice is a natural phenomenon.  We can’t really have anything unless we are willing to sacrifice something else.

If you plant a seed in the ground, a tree will become manifest from that seed. The seed sacrifices itself to the tree that will come from it. The seed is outwardly lost, destroyed; but the same seed which is sacrificed will be absorbed and embodied in the tree, its blossoms, fruit and branches. (2)

There can be no change without sacrifice, therefore, sacrifice is an agent of change.



Photograph – Sunflower – U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-2097.  Photographer: Reaves, Bill, 1934-
Persistent URL:

(1) Online Oxford Dictionary

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – Promulgation of Universal Peace p. 470