Art for Art’s Sake?

Are children the only people who can really partake in art for art’s sake?  Is it important to do this?  Is it a waste of time?

Many of you will have seen these videos already –  but I hadn’t so just in case I thought I’d post them.  I also thought it might be worth asking ourselves exactly what this boy is doing in the first video?  And why? And if there is a link between his work and the work of the artists in the second video?

Just wondering what you might think…

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Better Together

The human limbic system is composed of a number of areas of the brain – such as the hippocampus and amygdala – which are involved in complex realities such as emotion, behaviour, long term memory and interestingly (to me at least) our sense of smell.

This system is an open-loop system – which simply means it is dependent on factors outside itself for regulation.  There has been extensive research done to confirm what everybody already knows – namely that we are deeply affected by other people when it comes to our emotional well-being and stability.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of books like Emotional Intelligence and The New Leaders, this effect is so profound that it registers physiologically as well as emotionally. He says that even patients in intensive care facilities find the presence of another person so comforting that it perceptibly lowers their blood pressure.

“The open-loop design of the limbic system means that other people can change our very physiology – and so, our emotions.” (1)

Time and again, researchers have found that emotions spread through groups, this ‘spread’ can happen non-verbally as well as verbally, and this appears to be the case simply because of the open-loop design.  It seems that we function together whether we like it or not, even when we don’t consciously choose to do so.  It also seems that we need each other – for better or worse – in order to regulate ourselves, internally, as well as manage the world, externally.

The only way we can live, it seems, is to live together.

So – how might we manage that a bit better?


(1) Daniel Goleman, The New Leaders, p. 4

Don’t Stamp on the Seedling…

Stop Joseph Kony

Stop Joseph Kony (Photo credit: boston7513 Kevin)

The Kony 2012 campaign has caused a huge stir in the world.

Is it good?

Is it bad?

Are we being fooled?

Are the organisers just manipulating us so they can make lots of money?

Is it foolishly idealistic?

I’m a European and I’m a born cynic (ask my family) and here is what I think.

It is important to know – as much as possible – what is going on.  It is important to investigate truth for oneself and not to be duped but here are the questions I have asked myself about this campaign –

If my child was in danger from Joseph Kony would I want help?

Would I feel insulted if people from other countries tried to help me?

Would I care if they were making mistakes or would I be glad someone was trying – even imperfectly – to help me?

There is a lot of criticism about the Invisible Children campaign but I haven’t read – or heard – even one thing that says their accusations against Joseph Kony are false. Everybody says the same thing about him – he is a vicious criminal and nobody has managed to stop him.

So, what is bothering us, exactly? That we’ll be fooled?

OK – that’s not pleasant but I’d prefer to run the risk of looking foolish than to leave people in danger because I was busy protecting my ego – wouldn’t you?

As for the paternalism accusations – helping anybody, anywhere, any time can be seen as paternalistic – it’s all about how it’s done. So here are my questions about that –

Are the people (even the Ugandans) who are objecting to the campaign the ones living in terror?

Do the people who live in this abject terror object to the attempts to help them?

If those in the firing line are happy to receive the help – and I don’t know if they are but it seems that way – is it not really incredibly paternalistic to say they don’t know what is best for themselves?

Saying we don’t want help from outside is a divisive act like saying we will only help our own people.  National boundaries are increasingly illusory and increasingly impossible to uphold in the ways we used to define them in the past.  The earth is clearly more and more obviously just like one country, so unless the assistance is extra-terrestrial surely it isn’t really from outside?

As for accusations against the Ugandan government – I imagine they are mostly true but I wonder would any of our governments stand up to much scrutiny and if not should that deprive us of help from others?

This campaign interests me because it is trying to find ways to use our present day social reality to facilitate some good.

I’m sure it’s flawed. I’m sure they are making mistakes. I’m sure it won’t be entirely successful but here’s the final question I ask myself about this –

If this campaign helps to improve the life of one child will it be worthwhile?

For me the answer is yes.

Visibly Good

The Butterfly Effect is easy to understand – one small change can result in a huge change down the line. A ball rolling down a hill hits a tiny pebble which changes the ball’s trajectory so much it ends up miles and miles away from where it was originally headed. This effect is neither good nor bad in itself, it is simply a fact of nature.

But it is a fact.

Use it to make small differences that can change the world for the better.

Many of you will have seen the Kony 2012 campaign already – if not, watch the trailer and – when you have a half an hour to spare – watch the movie itself.

It’s time the good in people became visible…

Spread a Little Happiness

This is a simple and sweet story of a man who is offering a wonderful expression of love.  I especially love the simplicity and earnestness of this gesture and admire him for uncompromisingly opening his heart in such a wonderful way.

Once again thanks to Bowl of Miso for originally posting this –

Positive Deviance

The classic model of the diffusion of social change is one where the change comes from outside. Experts try to persuade people to adopt new ways and often look for charismatic locals to lead the change.

A newer model, Positive Deviance, tries to approach the idea of change from a different angle.

In the struggle to achieve participation and not simply persuasion, it has been found that local wisdom will usually be better than outside expertise.  This model also proposes that if people can be brought along as participants, even the most intractable problems can be solved.

In 1990, Jerry and Monique Sternin arrived in Hanoi to open a branch of the U.S. NGO, Save the Children.  At that time two-thirds of Vietnamese children under five were suffering from malnutrition. The Sternins hoped to find ways to help with this as supplemental feeding had already failed.

They initially travelled to the Quong Xuong District. There they weighed 2,000 children under the age of three and discovered that 64% of them were malnourished.  The Sternins weren’t the first people to discover this but they were the first to ask a very important question.

Were any of the well-nourished children they had encountered from very poor families?

The answer was ‘yes.’  Some of the children were well nourished even though their families were just as poor as those of the malnourished children.  These families were exhibiting positive deviant behaviour.

So the Sternins studied them.  What were they doing that was so different?

It turned out that the mothers in these families were all doing a number of things –

  • Collecting tiny shrimp and crabs from the paddy fields and adding them to the children’s meals.
  • Adding sweet potato greens to the meals.
  • Feeding the children three or four times a day instead of the customary twice.
  • Actively feeding the children, making sure they ate and that no food was wasted.
  • Washing their children’s hands before and after they ate.

Now they knew the key to the nourishment of the local children but how would they convince the villagers? They struggled to come up with ideas until a village elder reminded them of a local saying – “A thousand hearings isn’t worth one seeing, and a thousand seeing isn’t worth one doing.”

The Sternins designed a pilot project where local mothers agreed to work for two weeks with the ‘positive deviant’ mothers, harvesting the shrimps and greens, encouraging the children to eat, feeding them more often and washing their hands.

They were at all times encouraged to ‘do.’  They weighed their children every day and plotted the data on their own charts.  Within two weeks they could see the changes in their children for themselves.

This pilot project continued for two years after which malnutrition had decreased by 85% where the Positive Deviance approach was implemented.  Over the next several years this approach was used all over Vietnam and helped more than 2.2 million people improve their nutritional status.

The interview below is with Monique Sternin and demonstrates not only the success of this project but also beautifully shows how much the way we interact with others – all others – impacts on the outcome.

Sex in the (small) City

English: Limerick, looking northeast up the Ri...

Limerick - Looking North-East up the River Shannon

Last December, 27 men in Limerick, Ireland, were charged with trying to engage the services of a prostitute. These men were caught as the result of a police initiative – the oddly named, Operation Freewheel – and the ‘prostitutes’ were, of course, all undercover cops (or ‘Guards’ as we call them here in Ireland).

21 of the men pleaded guilty and were fined 470 euro each, to be paid to a local NGO that works with immigrants.  The remaining 6 men contested the charge and their cases are pending.

In the great scheme of things this is a pretty petty crime.  Seedy and unpleasant but petty. Nobody would ordinarily care that much. Except for one thing – the national papers published the names of the men involved.

Bedlam ensued.

Lots of people thought it was outrageous that these names be published.  Local papers didn’t publish the names – they too thought that it was wrong to name the men.

I was amazed at the controversy.  If 27 men were charged with theft or traffic offenses or fraud nobody would object to their names being published.  Nobody would say – ‘What about their families?’  or ‘It’s not fair on their wives and children.’ I imagine that the spouses and children of anybody who commits any crime are embarrassed by the actions of their relative.  So –

Why is this crime different to other crimes?

Who exactly will think badly of their wives and children?

If the answer to that question is – People.  Then that begs another question –

Who are these people?

Surely they are us?

Surely we can choose not to think badly of these families? As they have done absolutely nothing wrong that should be easy.

Surely if we (the people) do this then we can stop that particular consequence for the innocent families?

We speak about the people who make these judgements and do the gossiping as if they are a tribe of strangers who aren’t subject to our influence or control.  As if we’d truly like them to stop this bad, judgmental carry-on but have no power to make them desist. The thing is, this isn’t the case. There aren’t other unnamed, anonymous but extremely powerful people running around out there making these unfair judgements.

We’re the people these families dread.

We’re the people they believe think badly of them – though they have committed no crime.

The buck really does stop with us.

The power is completely ours.

We can clear our heads and discern between right and wrong.  We all know how to do this – it’s a natural capacity.  If we do that, then the innocent may still get hurt but we won’t add to their suffering. If we do that, we will be able to apply our laws in such a way that justice is done all round.

We can do this.  Immediately and without training or qualification.  We can stop this unnecessary suffering and the suffering of all families in similar positions.  It isn’t someone else’s job, it’s a job that belongs to all of us ordinary people.  There is only one thing we need in order to succeed at this –

We have to start thinking for ourselves.

Rwandan Women Build a Future

What most of us know about Rwanda – other than the fact that it is a small country in central Africa – is that in 1994 there was an horrific genocide where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in 100 days.

Few of us know that since then Rwanda has more women in its parliament – 56% – than any other country in world.  Or that Rwanda is a leading force in peacemaking, agriculture, healthcare, education and communications.  Or even that nowadays, Rwanda has a fibre-optic network connecting its cities to its remote areas.

After the genocide, 70% of the population of Rwanda was female and many laws that discriminated against women had to be changed.  Laws were passed to address the discrimination against women and jobs previously the preserve of men became open to women.  Women also began to take a role in the judicial system and this had very profound effects.  Very important changes have been made in laws governing sexual violence, marital rape, labour, property, inheritance and education.

There are still problems in Rwanda.  There are many scars from the “War,” as it is known, many lives altered forever.  Most of the population is rural and life for rural women is not as significantly altered as for their urban sisters – but it is changing even there. Interestingly, Rwanda is not only a better place for women since the society has become more equal, it is a better place for everyone as it is also benefitting from steady economic development.

In the aftermath of the genocide, many women who had been imprisoned in rape camps were not only traumatised they were stigmatised because they had HIV and babies as a result of their rapes.  But they overcame even these obstacles because, as one woman describes it,  “Since all of us had suffered from this, we were able to support each other.  That is what saved us.” . . .(1)

For the most part, men have not had too much to say about the changes in the law but according to Evarist Kalish MP, a member of the Liberal party and the chair of parliament’s human rights committee, many men recognise that women may provide the best leadership.

“More than men, women are the victims of the war. They have different priorities to those of men. They have more concern about issues related to violence in general, and gender-based violence in particular. Women have faced discrimination so they want to put a stop to discrimination. All of this will contribute to preventing another genocide.” (2)


(1) Rwanda: Defying History, by Anne-Christine d’Adesky, June, 14, 2011.

(2) Chris McGreal – The Guardian, 17/12/2008,

Problem Solved. Path Revealed.

Beauty.  Brilliance.  Marvelling at life.  Positivity.  Being oneself. Cherishing small things.  Calmness.  Inner Peace.  Merriment.  Kind smiles.  Loving kindness.  Compassion.  Courage to listen to inner truth.  Cannot be embarrassed.  Intelligent bravery.  Useful service.  Affirming love.  Inspirational creativity.  Unrelenting faithfulness. Mirth. Work.  Thoughtfulness.

This is a list complied from your comments on the qualities you admire.



Photograph – The trail of NASA’s space shuttle Discovery creates a bright arc in the sky over Florida following a successful night launch on August 28, 2009.