The Fruits of their Labour


I’ve talked about this before (ages ago) but it strikes me as worth talking about again as it is such a good example of how it is always worth doing what you believe to be right, even when everyone is telling you it won’t change anything.

In July, 1984, a 21 year old cashier in an Irish supermarket – Dunnes Stores- refused to handle two Outspan grapefruit at her checkout. She did this because her union had decided to protest against apartheid in South Africa by not handling South African produce.  The cashier’s name was Mary Manning and she was suspended for her actions.  Ten of her colleagues went on strike to protest  against her treatment and so began a strike that lasted almost three years.

Eventually though, the Dunnes Stores workers prevailed and the Irish government agreed to ban the importing of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was dismantled.

Today in Johannesburg, a street is named after Mary Manning and she and her colleagues have been personally commended by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

As Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist said –

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Every single thing that every single one of us does all of the time matters in the overall scheme of things.  There is no such thing as a deed – good or bad –that doesn’t have some effect somewhere.

Scary?  Maybe.

But heartening too when you think about it.


Can You See Now?


A mother and daughter travelled the world to film stories of ordinary people making a difference.  This is their story –

http://openingoureyes.net/our-subjects/

Thanks to Katherine at Bowl of Miso – http://bowlofmiso.com/2012/02/18/opening-our-eyes/ – for pointing me in the direction of this very interesting video.

What if You Are Needed?


This is an interesting campaign.  It is a specific fundraising campaign in the struggle to raise money to help combat famine in the Horn of Africa.  But in the pursuit of it’s stated aim it asks a very interesting question.

Thanks to Make Wealth History where I first learned about this campaign – here is the relevant post – have a look – it raises some other interesting questions –

http://makewealthhistory.org/2012/01/30/can-we-be-heroes-dc-in-the-horn-of-africa/

Desmond Tutu’s Message on Child Marriage


A message to men and boys about child marriage

A few months ago, in Northern Ethiopia, I met a group of young women who had been married around the age of 10 or 12. Many of them had their first children at 13 or 14. It was shocking for me to realise that there are millions of girls around the world who suffer the same fate every year.

I have to confess that I was simply not aware of the scale and impact of child marriage. 10 million girls a year, 25,000 girls a day, are married without any say in the matter, to men who are often much older than they are. These girls almost always drop out of school to attend to household chores, and when they become young mothers themselves face serious dangers of injury and even death in pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage robs girls of their childhood, of their basic rights to education, security and health.

I thought I had a pretty good idea of the human rights landscape on this precious earth we share. What I have realised is that these girls are invisible and voiceless, making them some of the most vulnerable, disempowered people on our planet.

Child marriage occurs because we men allow it

It is not enough for me to simply say that their voices should be heard, that more money needs to go towards girls’ education or health services and be done with it. That alone will not change what happens to child brides.

Child marriage occurs because we men allow it. Fathers, village chiefs, religious leaders, decision-makers – most are male. In order for this harmful practice to end, we need to enlist the support of all the men who know this is wrong, and work together to persuade all those who don’t. I met religious leaders in Ethiopia, both Orthodox and Muslim, who speak out publicly against child marriage and teach their flocks that neither Christianity nor Islam endorses child marriage.

I want to find more faith leaders like them, men who will say that child marriage is wrong and should end. I want to find political leaders – also mostly men – and persuade them to empower girls, invest in them, and see the positive transformation that will occur throughout their societies as a result.

Harmful traditions must be challenged

I want to encourage boys to stand up for their sisters, and say that girls have the same rights to go to school, to develop and be everything they can be.

Child marriage is not a religious practice – it is a tradition. There are many good traditions that bind communities together. But traditions are also not static – they evolve. Traditions that are harmful, that have outlived their purpose, must be challenged.

Foot binding disappeared once social views about it were challenged and it was outlawed. Slavery was also defended as a ‘way of life’ – repugnant as that sounds. I remember those who defended apartheid on ‘cultural’ grounds. All these practices have, thankfully, largely disappeared.

Child marriage is also declining – but far too slowly.

Child marriage is not a ‘women’s issue’

At current rates 100 million more girls will be married in the coming decade.

We men cannot treat child marriage as a ‘women’s issue’ and avoid talking about the more sensitive issues associated with it; the sheer scale of this practice demands attention at the highest levels.

The world is blessed with the largest generation of young people in history. Imagine what would happen if the girls of this generation all go to school and had the chance to become teachers, doctors, businesswomen, politicians, religious leaders.

We men have to be bold, to speak the truth and stand up for the rights of girls and women to equality, dignity and the rights we all share.

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http://www.theelders.org/article/message-men-and-boys-about-child-marriage

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?

An Answer to Evil


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.  To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Bertrand Russell

Dear Anders Behring Breivik,

A lot of the friends I met at Utoya are dead and you are the perpetrator. You are the man who, by coincidence, didn’t kill me. I was lucky.

You might think that you have won. You might think that you have ruined something for the Labour Party and for people around the world who stand for a multicultural society by killing my friends and fellow party members.

Know that you have failed.

You haven’t only made the world stand together, you have set our souls on fire and should know we’ve never stood together as we do now. You talk about yourself as a hero, a knight. You are no hero. But you have created heroes. On Utoya that warm day in July, you created some of the greatest heroes the world has seen, you unified people from all over the world. Black and white, man and woman, red and blue, Christians and Muslims.

You made your victims martyrs, immortals, and you have shown the world that when one person can show as much hatred as you have done, imagine how much love we can show when we stand together? People who I thought hated me have given me hugs on the street, people I haven’t been in contact with for years have written 300 to 400 words about how much it means to them that I survived. What can you say about that? Have you broken anything? You have united us.

You have killed my friends, but you haven’t killed our cause, our opinions, our right to express ourselves. Muslim women got hugs of sympathy from random Norwegian women on the street and your goal was to protect Europe from Islam? Your actions worked against its purpose.

You deserve no thanks; your plan failed. A lot of people are angry, you are the most hated person in Norway. I am not angry. I do not fear you. You can’t touch us, we are greater than you. We do not answer evil with evil, as you wanted it. We fight evil with good. And we win.

Benjamin Ostebo, aged 16.

God couldn’t be everywhere…


Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Madres de Plaza ...

God couldn’t be everywhere, so He created mothers – or so the Jewish proverb goes.

Mothers like, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – the Mothers of the Disappeared – a famous, emblematic group of women in white headscarves.

Butterfly Effects For Change – Part 9:

God’s Assistants

They came in their hundreds, marching around the main square of Buenos Aires, demanding that the military government of the time – 1976-83 –  tell them the fate of their children – Argentina’s estimate 30,000 Desparecidos.

In desperation, these women had searched for information  – knocking on doors, going from government office to government office, begging and pleading with the authorities to tell them where their sons and daughters had been taken. To no avail.

These sad, desperate visits were fruitless insofar as the authorities never helped the women to find their missing sons and daughters. However, they did bear a very different – and powerful  –  fruit. As the women trailed wearily in search of their children, they may have met with silence and opposition from the government but they also met each other.

On April 30th, 1977, fourteen mothers went to the Plaza de Mayo, across from Government House to publicize their predicament.   This demonstration took great courage as many of their children had disappeared for lesser ‘crimes’.  These women went to the Plaza to publicize the issue of the thousands of missing Argentinians. Everybody else – including the media – was afraid to speak up.

And I’m sure these women were afraid – but they spoke up anyway.

They collected in the Plaza around the Pirámide de Mayo – the oldest national monument in Buenos Aires and a symbol of liberty. However, as the military government had forbidden groups of more than three people to stand in one place, the mothers were told they couldn’t stand there, which is why they began their silent – and evocative – processions around the Plaza.

Soon these 14 mothers were joined by others, until every Thursday between 3.30 and 4.00pm, hundreds of people – men as well as women – walked silently around this square in Buenos Aires protesting the disappearance of their children. To identify themselves, the mothers wore white headscarves emblazoned with the names of their missing children and carried placards with their photographs.

This moving and non-violent protest captured imaginations across Argentina – and even outside –  as similar ‘mothers’ groups took to the streets, inspired by the actions of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

Eventually the military regime was replaced, but in Argentina – and indeed throughout the world – the memory of heartbroken mothers with placards bearing the photographs of their disappeared children, endures.

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.  (Aung San Suu Kyi, 1990) 

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http://www.madres.org/navegar/nav.php

Image by willposh via Flickr

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.

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

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Humility and Learning


The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates - 1787 - Jacques Louis David

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. Socrates – in Plato’s Apology.

It is important that we constantly try to gain all the knowledge we can about the world. Ironically, though, we can only do this if we are open to the fact that we will never reach a place where we know everything.

Any knowledge we have – no matter how good – is not all the knowledge that exists – even about the obviously ‘real’ objects.

Less than a hundred years ago we had no concept of the behaviour of physical matter at a quantum (i.e. very, very, very microscopic) level and yet we now know about it and realise that even before we discovered it, there was still a quantum level of reality.

The most useful model of the acquisition of knowledge is to see it as a never ending ladder reaching towards truth of all types.  This model acknowledges that each rung on the ladder is a necessary step as we climb and also, that above us there are further rungs waiting to be reached.

So hand in hand with our excitement at whatever it is that we learn or discover, we must train ourselves in a real humility before all that we don’t yet understand.  If we don’t do this we will comfortably take up residence on a rung of the ladder and stop making progress.  On the other hand, if we do combine humility and learning, we will constantly try to ascend the ladder to reach greater and greater heights.

Reflection


All animals – including humans – can use their brains to think and their thoughts can then be transformed into actions.  However, only human beings appear to have the capacity to reflect on their actions.

Conscience, free will, self-mastery, imagination etc., are all facets of reflection. When we think and act, we are like our fellow animals.  When we think, act and then reflect we begin to develop our uniquely human capacities.  This process gives us access to a vast ability that allows us to be in control of our actions and not simply driven by our physiology.

Seems a shame not to use it more.

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Photograph – Corean Beauty, c. 1904 – Collection: Willard Dickerman Straight and Early U.S.-Korea Diplomatic Relations, Cornell University Library.

Identifier: 1260.74.12.06

Persistent URI:  http://hdl.handle.net/1813.001/5xs8