Agency and the power of co-creation: Agents of Change SA

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This weekend, I went out to Hout Bay harbour with the Agents of Change Project.  Walking out into an area where boats came in, seals played in the water, and children were fishing with hooks and lines, we could smell fish, engine oil and the salt of the sea in the air.  The water, near the shore line was a deep green, and seals tumbled.

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Earlier this year, and the very first time I facilitated the project myself, I thought a lot about what it means to share work, and the contempt people sometimes show for ideas they may not understand, and I thought about the value of kindness and compassion.  At that time, I spoke about the power of sharing and caring, and a willingness to listen and engage with the ideas of other people.  I also thought a great deal, after that first intervention, about the value of simplicity and the importance of letting go of expert language, so that all people could be free to share or have a voice, without feeling intimidated or uncertain.

I went into the project at a time when I truly believed in the importance of dialogue, sharing and co-creating new possibilities.  But I didn’t realize how alive possibility can become when we take time to listen, share and explore ideas together.  The very act of giving each other space to speak, share and explore, respecting and valuing each other, has showed me how rewarding the work can be when we allow space for all voices, without trying to make anybody else uncomfortable or self-doubting.  Each of us helps to create our community, and each of us brings something unique.

Listening and exploring the ways live (and are able to live) in the world has helped to make me re-view what power actually means.  I used to think of power as an ability to control the options available to other people.  Power was something I didn’t really want.  It was something held up by social norms or perceptions.  Exploring alternatives or different voices was important.

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I still think these things.  But I realize how free we are when we question, explore new options and bring them to life.  I realize what it means to listen, and how much we can learn from each other.  And more than anything, I realize the value of compassion and care, which helps us to put new ideas into action.  Tenderness, a quality so undermined in our modern world, means the ability to nurture new insights or shared possibilities, bringing them to life, so that a new world is always possible. 

Perhaps, I’ve begun to think, our power lies in remembering what is really important to us.  Maybe bringing these forgotten thoughts or intuitions to life helps us remember how we’d like to live, or work in the world, what our own lives, communities or the natural world actually means to us, and how we’d like to take these insights into the future.  To do this, we have to nurture them and recognize how important they are.  We have to give them space, and create communities where they are supported and explored. 

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Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone (In Active Hope) explain:

“Shared visions, values and purposes flow through and between people…this type of power can’t be hoarded or held back…it is like a kind of electricity which lights us up inside and inspires those around us.  When a vision moves through us, it becomes expressed in what we do, how we are, and what we say.  the alignment of these three creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts…By recognizing the ways we contribute…to our world, we identify choice points at which we can turn towards its healing…power happens through our choices, through what we do, say and are…”

(Active Hope, p 112-113).

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Malay Indigenous Voices on Environmental Concerns

Originally posted on The Human Lens:

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In Malaysia, there is a surging wave of indigenous protests since the 1990s is underway in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. Here, both indigenous people and on ground environmentalists are deeply concerned about the government’s plan of building the 12-mega-dam series.

The majority of indigenous communities demand that the government should stop the whole dam project as it is going to adversely affect their lives. Moreover, there are huge concerns on the already changing biodiversity of the rivers and the fishing industry.

The local rights’ based association; SALT Movement has been closely following the situation due to the exposure and immersion visits conducted during 2010’s capacity building activity. During the training, youth participants spent days with the locals and grasped the understanding of indigenous people’s lives and cultures. Please check out their latest at http://saltmovement.tumblr.com/post/87520846229/labour-day-no-to-gst

Over these years, SALT Movement has developed a synergy and trust within the local…

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Don’t pass it on

With the release into the public domain of some very private photos, I’ve been wondering why the public thinks it is okay to make comments on something we were never actually meant to see.

We understand context, and we really do know that what we share in relationships with those closest to us, with colleagues or with ourselves, is very different to what we’d like the whole world to see.  That’s why the idea of internet privacy is really so important.  We don’t want our own private information to be tracked, searched or hacked.  So it is hard to understand why it would be okay to get very involved in what somebody else should/shouldn’t have been doing, when the information wasn’t meant to be in the public domain in the first place.  In other words, it is really none of our business.

Instead of focusing on what some poor woman has done wrong, either by storing her data in place she thought was private, or having the content she did, it seems to me more important to question why we would think it okay to violate another person by exploring her private photographs (or any other private information for that matter).  Judging these photos seems astounding to me, and it is not something I can understand.

For a couple of years, I worked as a counsellor in a police station trauma centre, and I witnessed, time after time, what invasion of another person’s privacy through theft or violation could do.  People who have their dignity, privacy or trust taken away from them, or who feel intruded upon sometimes struggle with the betrayal. This woman stored her photos away from public view.  Putting something private into a public space without her permission is a betrayal of the trust she placed in her right to privacy.  When people show judgement instead of sympathy, or blame the very person who feels violated, it adds to the sense of injustice, and shifts responsibility from the person who betrayed her trust, onto her shoulders. 

In looking at this situation from a human rights perspective, I think the focus needs to be on the conversations which surrounds a very unjust situation.  Who benefits from having photos leaked?  Certainly not the person whose privacy was invaded.  The content of the photos doesn’t concern us, because they were not meant to be public.  They are not a threat to the public.  They do not represent information which must be disclosed in  (rights based) public interest.  If people were completely unaware, for the rest of their lives, that these photos ever existed, it would not impact upon their lives at all.  And so there is no reason to discuss another person’s private online data.

But this woman’s private information is now in the public domain, and we all have a responsibility to ensure no further harm.  Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to not participate in further humiliating her.  If we have a public responsibility towards reducing exploitation of women (or anybody for that matter) then there is the option to not get involved in tearing another person apart.  Whenever any injustice occurs, it is possible to be harmful, or act as an activist against exploitation or harmful actions. Be an ally.  Don’t pass it on.

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Spring Time

It’s spring in Cape Town, and on Monday, spring day, the sun shone brightly, despite snow on distant mountains last week.  There are buds on trees on the side of table mountain, and flowers are starting to bloom. 

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This photo was taken from Chapman’s Peak, overlooking Hout Bay, and it shows the arrival of spring.

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Winter in Cape Town means lots of rainbows. 

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This photo was taken on a very wet weekend.

crazy clouds

We have crazy clouds.

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Lots of mist

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And golden sunrises.

table sunrise

 

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moody sea

Now that summer is coming, there won’t be such moody seas.

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Summer is warm

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And it’s time to make the most of the sunshine.

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All the true vows by David Whyte

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All the true vows

are secret vows

the ones we speak out loud

are the ones we break.

 

There is only one life

you can call your own

and a thousand others

you can call by any name you want.

 

Hold to the truth you make

every day with your own body,

don’t turn your face away.

 

Hold to your own truth

at the center of the image

you were born with.

 

Those who do not understand

their destiny will never understand

the friends they have made

nor the work they have chosen

 

nor the one life that waits

beyond all the others.

 

By the lake in the wood

in the shadows

you can

whisper that truth

to the quiet reflection

you see in the water.

 

Whatever you hear from

the water, remember,

 

it wants to carry

the sound of its truth on your lips.

 

Remember,

in this place

no one can hear you

 

and out of the silence

you can make a promise

it will kill you to break,

 

that way you’ll find

what is real and what is not.

 

I know what I am saying.

Time almost forsook me

and I looked again.

 

Seeing my reflection

I broke a promise

and spoke

for the first time

after all these years

 

in my own voice,

 

before it was too late

to turn my face again.

 

~ David Whyte ~

 

 

(House of Belonging)

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Agents of Change at Two Rivers Urban Park

aoc aug3

Today, we held a public intervention with  Agents of Change, at the Two Rivers Urban Park.  To me, agency means an ability to make my own contribution to the world, based on the insights I have around life, nature and an interconnected humanity.  Although I have focused on social justice for a very long time, it is only recently that I have become aware of how this is intertwined with environment, heritage and what it means to be a person living in the world.  David Abram, for example, speaks of the links between song, environment and ancestral heritage, and the way that traditional songs and stories can take people and communities into place.  By separating people from community and stories from their natural context, we are sometimes erasing cultural heritage.

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Ian McCallum argues that all people have a deep connection to the natural world, and states that by getting in touch with this soul aspect of ourselves, we are able to heal the wounds of spirit.  I’m beginning to understand how vital recognition of our connection to earth, and our ecological intelligence is when it comes to evaluating the wounds of society.  Space, place, belonging, identity, meaning and intangible (non-material) heritage are strongly intertwined. 

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Although the social world has been structured and hierarchies have been created between people, nature, mind and body, imagination and possibility enable us to work towards change.  Exploring our own values, meanings and interpretations of the world, and those aspects of ourselves we have forgotten enable us to bring new possibilities to life, creating a culture where human and non-human life is given a deeper sense of value and respect.

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“Let us sit down here…on the open prairie, where we can’t see a highway or a fence.  Let’s have no blankets to sit on, but feel the ground with our bodies, the earth, the yielding shrubs.  Let’s have the grass for a mattress, experiencing its sharpness and its softness.  Let us become like stones, plants and trees.  Let us be animals, think and feel like animals. Listen to the air.  You can hear it, feel it, smell it, taste it…the holy air…which renews all by its breath…spirit, life, breath, renewal…it means all that…we sit together, don’t touch, but something is there, we feel it between us, as a presence.  A good way to start thinking about nature, talk about it.  Rather talk to it, talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the wind as to our relatives.  John Fire Lame Deer quoted by David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous

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Naming ‘race’

A little while back, I read an article which spoke about how ‘ethnic prejudice’ or ‘racism’ within the media is wrong.  The journalist who protested explained that it is perhaps helpful to snub those people who cannot contain their own prejudices as a means of creating a more just (or perhaps a more polite) society. 

Confronting race means going deeper than this though.  Looking at individual ‘racists’ and the prejudices which apparently exist within people is not enough to bring about transformation.  Sometimes it actually means blocking the ability to explore the social, psychological and material impacts of ‘race’. 

Speaking out against racial labeling in the article I read sounded noble.  Except that the person accused of being ‘prejudiced’ was trying to explore the structural racism which had threatened the life of a family member in the past.  He was explaining past injustice.  As a person from a population group historically marginalized, he was asking that we confront ‘racism’ or social categorization, recognize the impacts, and explore the nuances which exist.  He asked that history be recognized in all its nuance so that present day populations of people are given equal human rights.

As David Theo Goldberg explains:

Anti-racism must be conceived as a set of dispositions and commitments and an ongoing process. It is not reducible to a singular event…Anti-racisms require renewed, persistent, historically concretised interventions to sustain and extend the benchmarks of critical socialities, not stricken by racist arrangements, structures or outbursts.

Anti-racialism, by contrast, seeks to end racial reference. It tends to be a politics from dominance, seeking to hang on to its social standing or force, or to extend itself. It commits itself to erasing the evidence of racisms, to silencing the ghosts rather than addressing structures, deeds and effects. Racisms are persistent (even as they morph in kind) and are processes of establishment or revival, persistence and renewal, requiring, in contrast to the merely anti-racial, anti-racist commitments equal to the vigour of racisms and attendant to the specificities of their expression.

(http://mg.co.za/article/2014-07-03-anti-racism-is-a-struggle-from-below)

Naming people who speak out against past injustices as ‘racist’ prevents transformation from occurring.  It blocks a willingness to listen to the insights being shared and it declares that a person has done something wrong by discussing history, even if past imbalances have killed off opportunities (or lives).  And this is very, very unhelpful in working towards social justice. 

When we make ‘racism’ or prejudice an individual quality, and we go hunting for those people who have got it wrong, discuss how angry ‘they’ are, and absolve the social world (and ourselves) or any responsibility, then we block the need to look any deeper, maintaining any imbalances which still exist. 

We live in a world where teenagers have been shot simply because of skin pigment, and the beliefs we have constructed around this.  We come from one of the bloodiest centuries in the history of the world.  Nations have been bombed, people have been killed, genocides have taken place, and racial categorization has determined whether or not people can have a life, go to hospital when sick, cross borders or be given basic human rights. 

Although as individual people we are responsible for our actions, we live in a social world which both shapes, and is shaped by us.  How much opportunity we get to shape society, and how that benefits or excludes us, is considered our privilege (or lack of privilege). 

Instead of exploring who is overly angry, it is perhaps time to start questioning who benefits from the way society is constructed at the moment?  Do marginalized groups benefit from being under threat?  No, of course not.  And so it is time to make changes which increase safety, human rights and basic dignity.

Social transformation is about questioning all that we see to be normal.  What knowledge are we taught at school?  Which perspectives are constantly shown or re-presented as right or good, and which perspectives are wrong, or bad?  What does history show us about time?  What does it mean to say that the past is over, when present day inequalities still exist?  Who gets to speak (or insists on speaking for ‘other’ people)?  How is our social world structured to give to some people and deprive others?  How has our own learning contributed to this? 

Pointing out  inequalities and injustices, and the nuances which surround social rights isn’t racist.  It’s helpful in exploring who gets to have rights and creating new possiblity.  Speaking of historical inequalities helps us to see how history has harmed populations of people in the past, and how to ensure that these acts are not repeated.  Speaking of eliminating classifications, names or divides is only helpful if we blow up context, place the story within a historical framework and properly try to understand what is being said. 

When we look at people as existing within a social, historical and embodied context, where rights and realities have been shaped by social position, a different picture starts to emerge.  We no longer need to speak for (or at) other people. All people have a voice.  Instead, we need to work around opportunities for each person to share.  And we need to take people seriously when they do share. 

Recognizing the multiple stories which exist within the social world, and the nuances within these stories, helps to increase the complexity of the world around us.  It helps to prevent constrained versions of reality, and that in turn helps to prevent marginalization, discrimination, the killing off of opportunity, and the killing off of people. 

We are individuals who are responsible for our actions, and we can make many different contributions to our world.  What those contributions are remains a choice we make each step of the way.  At the same time, we don’t exist in isolation.  We are social, historical and embodied beings who exist within a greater social reality.  The more aware of this we are, the greater impact we are able to make.

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Lost

I found this poem, courtesy of Bill Plotkin, who shares poems on nature in his books, which include Wildmind, Nature and the Human Soul, and Soulcraft.

 

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

-David Wagoner

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How do you see the earth?

Originally posted on A Small Act Of Kindness Can Bring Smile On Million Faces:

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Do the nationality suppresses our humanistic traits? Do these nationalities contribute to make earth a better place?

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