Learning to Live Together

Reciprocity – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit – is widely recognised as an important feature of successful co-operation but how does reciprocity between ordinary people actually work?

Mary hits Joan.  Joan is angry so she hits Mary back – repaying her in kind.

An eye for an eye.

Tit for tat.



Positive and negative, it’s a if there is a hidden balance that must constantly be maintained.  Impulses like revenge solve nothing of course but this striving for reciprocity appears to be deeply rooted within us. It’s naturally occurring and is neither good nor bad in itself – only in its application.

If we look at our instincts as tools to help us survive and develop, rather than tie ourselves up in knots either suppressing or exalting these naturally occurring impulses, then maybe it might be easier to use them properly.

Instincts are simultaneously wonderful and problematic – like any tool. Even a humble hammer is all about application – it is enormously useful and – literally – constructive, if you want to hang a picture or build a cabinet or a wall but in other circumstances it can also be used to destroy or kill.

The solution is not to get rid of hammers but make sure we use them properly.  Just like our instincts.

Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Girls

Rape is used to destroy not just individuals but entire communities. Rape is so commonly used as a weapon that Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander said –

“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

In 2008 the UN declared rape, ‘ a weapon of war’.  In the resolution, the UN Security Council noted that,

“…women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.

Rape is a heinous crime, acknowledged as torture by the United Nations and yet apart from the physical, emotional and psychological scars that rape inflicts, there is another source of pain for rape victims – social exclusion.  In many countries the shame experienced by the victims after rape is as traumatic as the incident itself.  Many women kill themselves as it is seen as the only way to restore honour to their families.

How can this be true?

Surely the perpetrators of heinous crimes are the ones who should be ashamed?

And who are the people who exclude or look down on these victims?

Do these excluders and condemners include women?

If so – why?

What is it about rape that makes the victims ashamed and not the perpetrators?

When will men – and women – begin to speak out against this violation?

What sort of social conceptual framework exists to support this victimisation of victims?

If we could find it could we dismantle it?

All thoughts appreciated.


(1) http://www.ohchr.org/en/newsevents/pages/rapeweaponwar.aspx

Educate Girls and Change the World

There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

I can’t say it better than that – or this –


Eradication of Evil

We can never eliminate tragedy – even in a perfect world tragedy will exist.

Evil, on the other hand, as it is created by us, is well within our control to eliminate.

So, how do we eliminate evil?  Are there fundamental actions we can take that will help to eliminate evil from the world?

If evil is not a force in itself but an absence of good (just as darkness is absence of light) then it would stand to reason that there must be things we can do that will increase ‘the light.’

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
Henry David Thoreau

I wonder what we can actually do to strike at the root of evil and let goodness flourish?


One of the problems we face even when we want to improve things is that, as human beings, we aren’t fond of change. We tell ourselves we welcome it but mostly that isn’t actually true. The truth about our attitude to change is – we don’t like it and we don’t trust it.

My grandfather, who was born around 1890, was fond of telling stories about when he was a small boy growing up in rural Ireland. One of these stories described how, as a very small boy, he and his brother were walking with an elderly neighbour.  Suddenly, they heard a strange noise up ahead.

The boys had no idea what it was but the old man picked them up and threw both of them over the hedge into a field, hissing instructions at them to hide.  He jumped in after them and they all hid in the ditch.  A few seconds later a man cycled past on a bicycle.  As soon as he had gone, the elderly neighbour explained to the boys that all the calamities in the world were being caused by diabolical machines like the one they had just seen.

In many ways we are all like that old man.  He was obviously a well intentioned man – after all, frightened as he was he still ‘protected’ the small boys.  But just like him, we often find it hard to see how change will improve our lives.  We want to stick with the things and the ways we already know because – well, because no matter how bad they are we do know them and that makes us feel safer.  Even if it’s not true.

Most of us would like to live in a world where everybody cooperates and tries to get along.  But, as this has never really happened before on any sort of a large scale we are frightened of the change.  Where we would hope for unity, we are frightened of being forced into uniformity.  We can see that others are really like us but then, because we are trained to focus on their ‘otherness’, the strangeness of it all makes us frightened of them and we convince ourselves they are different to us.

In the context of working our human systems as they should be worked as reciprocal systems of oneness – to do this requires a complete change.  Because we have never done it before we have nothing to give us confidence about the future and so, because we don’t yet know how to function as a whole we are inclined to cling to our old ways of fragmentation, dominance and aggression.

Change feels dangerous but sometimes not changing is actually more dangerous.  After all, if we don’t like cooperating we can always go back to fighting, can’t we?