All Together Now


Reciprocity is more than just simple give and take – it’s about co-creating environments and conditions that work for all involved.

There are many examples of reciprocity in nature – take the hermit crab and the anemone, for example.

The hermit crab lives in vacated shells of whelks or other mollusc.  One species carries a large pink anemone on its shell so that when octopi or fish – who like to feed on the hermit crab – approach, the anemone shoots out it brilliantly coloured tentacles, and stings the intending predators.

This is a good example of living co-operation as the crab returns the compliment to the anemone, which feeds on the droppings and discarded food of the crab. When the crab needs to move to a larger home, it gently detaches the anemone and takes it along.

In human society, just as in nature, reciprocity creates an actual environment.  Once this environment is created all manner of new and wonderful things can happen and the co-operation we need to learn in order to survive and prosper will get a real chance to take hold.

Apart from the obvious, the difference between us and hermit crabs with their anemone companions is that we have free will.  We get to decide what to do, and in our efforts to do what is best for ourselves we can think that acting only from self-interest will be the most advantageous.  This isn’t true.

Like the anemones and the crabs we share our planet.  Whether we like it or not we are interconnected.  As well as being undeniably cousins according to our genome, we are all now living in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller.  We are very much a hugely extended family, living together in the same place, interconnected even when we don’t get on.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just work out how to get along?


Chaotic Butterflies


Photograph of David Bohm, taken from this page.

David Bohm

In ordinary life chaos means disorder – random, disorganised confusion.  In science it means something entirely different – it means apparent randomness. In other words, things that appear to be random and disorganised but actually obey an order that we either can’t see or don’t understand.

The physicist, David Bohm believed everything was governed by a hidden – or as he termed it – implicate – order.  He demonstrated this using a very simple but graphic experiment copied from a BBC Children’s TV programme.

Take a vessel composed of two glass cylinders, put glycerine (or other viscous fluid) in the space between the cylinders, then put a drop of insoluble ink into the glycerine and turn the outer cylinder.  As the cylinder turns, the ink is drawn out into a thread that eventually becomes so thin it disappears from view as it is enfolded in the solution.

But if the cylinder is then turned in the opposite direction, the thread form reappears and retraces its steps until the original droplet is reconstituted.

Bohm offered this as a visual example of how order exists even when it is hidden and not obvious to us.

But David Bohm is far from the only scientist to suggest that the seeming ‘chaos’ that surrounds us may not be as haphazard as it appears.

In the 1960s, Edward Lorenz, a MIT meteorologist and the originator of the Butterfly Effect theory, tried to explore why it is so hard to make good weather forecasts and as a result chaos theory was born.  Lorenz was the first to recognize what is now called chaotic behaviour in the mathematical modelling of weather systems.

Soon, many other scientists – including social scientists – were attempting to use chaos theory to search for the hidden order in everything.

Nowadays, chaos theory (and it’s offspring, complexity theory) provides us with models we can apply to everything from epilepsy to social problems.

So, organised chaos is not a contradiction after all – who knew?

Butterfly Effects for Change


The kitchen table is piled with dishes.  Laundry flows like lava from baskets.  Bills glare reproachfully at you from their resting place on the fridge. So, what do you do? 

Well, you’d probably like to turn on your heel and begin a glamorous new life somewhere else.  Somewhere tidy, with fresh laundry and no bills, where you could tango until midnight instead of worrying about ‘stuff’.

That’s understandable but it’s also unlikely to be available to you as a real option, and even if it is, before long the dishes and clothes and bills will pile up all over again – unless you take charge.

Everything in the world obeys this principle – if we do nothing, the dysfunction grows and thrives and we become more intimidated and less able to see our way through any problem.

So – is there an answer?

There are a few.

How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time.

Little by little, day by day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas.

They’re called truisms because they’re true I guess.

The thing is, most change happens in increments, slices, tiny, insignificant-looking events.  Which does make it annoyingly slow but it also makes it largely achievable by pretty much anybody.

And not just change in your life or kitchen or house but all change.  Including change that can alleviate some of the suffering in the world.

Most of us are ordinary folk and we don’t do much to create the wars, the unjust economies or the atrocities committed in our names.  However, we can do quite a lot to change these things.

I know it seems unlikely.  I know it seems like you or I couldn’t possibly alter the world in any really significant way.

But, maybe if we did everything we could do – whatever that was – to address injustice or alleviate suffering, our tiny, insignificant-seeming actions would start a ripple of change that could grow and swell until something happened for the better?

To take part in this experiment, all that’s required is that we each do whatever we can do – however small and useless that seems.

A ton of feathers still weighs a ton (I made that one up)

Butterfly Effects for Change, is a collection of real stories – true accounts of ordinary people doing just that – whatever they could – and the change that resulted.

I’m trying to collect these stories and while I already have some, I’d like to invite people to add their own stories – or stories they know – or even send them to me if that seems like a better option.  I’d love to read them.

So here’s story number 1 –

Standing Up for Each Other*

In 1992, thousands of people died in HinduMuslim riots triggered by the destruction of a mosque at Ayodhya by a group of Hindu militants, yet in the state capital of Lucknow, only forty miles away, there wasn’t even one casualty.

This was partly due to the influence of the largest private school in the world, the City Montessori School. Founded in 1959, the school has over twenty thousand students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

During daily reflection time, teams of students use stories and texts from the world’s religions to engage their fellow students in conversations about virtues like love and truthfulness.

Students also visit India’s holy places – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, and Jain – in order to learn understanding and respect for other faiths.

Classroom activities center around collaborative problem-solving and teachers go out of their way to commend and reward students for consideration of others.

The school actively encourages parents and grandparents to be involved in designing the school curriculum and to reinforce the principles of tolerance and cooperation at home.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, during the 1992 conflict, thousands of students and parents responded by marching through Lucknow, singing songs of unity and carrying posters with slogans like, “The name of God is both Hindu and Muslim” and “God is One, Mankind is One, All Religions are One.”

Meanwhile, all the city’s religious leaders met at the school and, addressing members of the community, spoke out for coexistence, surrounded by models of a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, and a Christian church. Such efforts helped Lucknow escape the violence.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Story taken from The Third Side – *http://www.thirdside.org/stories_14.cfm

Related articles