"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.




Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Restorative Justice - The Woolf Within

Am just back from a splendid weekend conference organised by the Scientific and Medical Network on the Science of Empathy, the Spirit of Compassion. I’ve written a piece on my other blog Wisdom of Tolerance already, about the Charter for Compassion that was introduced there by Karen Armstrong, its founder.
We covered so much ground, so much of which is relevant for healing this world. I am preparing a detailed report of the conference for the digital magazine Conscious Connections – for 21st century Cultural Creatives worldwide and will probably come back to this again.

During the weekend a film was shown, The Woolf Within , introduced by Janine Edge, an independent mediator. It made a huge impression on many of us.

I quote: “Peter Woolf was a prolific offender, ensconced in a world of violence and depravity, who, by his own reckoning committed about 20,000 crimes. Then he burgled a house, fought with his victim and ended up in prison yet again. This time though it was different. Peter met with his victim, Will, in a restorative justice session that took place in the prison. The meeting changed both their lives for ever…….”

Do please watch it. Perhaps you now have! What is striking is the compassion that victim and criminal were able to show for each other by the end of the process, despite the obvious difference in their social circumstances. This has to be restorative justice at its best, a lesson for us all in how good can come out of bad in our world.
We are all unique human beings, and all equal, regardless of background, education, color, creed, social circumstances etc. All of us suffer, all of us have the need for compassion from the day we are born to the day we die. Deprive children and youngsters of compassion in their upbringing and they will feel they are unloved, valueless, and marginalized. Through evolution the brain has become highly sensitive to kindness received, Neuroscience tells us that specific brain areas respond to kindness and compassion, Ancient Wisdom tells us that compassion is the road to happiness, and Social and developmental psychology tell us that we are affected by our own history of affiliation – i.e. the relationships we experience in our upbringing. So help people love themselves, then help them to understand the suffering of others, and we can change people and society in profound ways.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Martin Luther King and Non-Violence


"…nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

Martin Luther King in his 1964 acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize

Friday, 26 August 2011

Science, Reason and Spirituality


I used to believe that we must choose between science and reason on the one hand, and spirituality on the other, as foundations for living our lives. Now I consider this a false choice…we can recover the sense of sacredness…not just in science, but in every area of life.
 
Larry Dossey, Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Boston, Massachusetts: Element Books, 2000, p. 12,

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Our Flawed Economies

“Interest-free banking, if applied consistently, would regenerate communities and the benefits would be felt instantly. If Britain (and America for that matter – my insert) would borrow nothing else from Islam but this economic model, she would prosper and put behind her economic troubles in no time.”
I have written of the fundamental flaws in our Western Economy before, and extolled the virtues of interest free banking. But these are the words of Sahib Mustaqim Bleher, a German-born Islamic convert who lives in Britain, in an article I found in the Digital Journal, Op-Ed: The West v Islam? At Far from being a threat to Western civilisation, Islam can be its salvation, he writes, and nowhere more so than through Islamic economics.

As we continue to witness unfolding crises in our economy and on our streets, isn’t it time for the economists and our leaders to at least have a serious look at how other economies operate, and whether we could learn from them? Perhaps they are but how do we know?

So here again is what I have written previously about the flaws of interest in the economy. Is any one out there of influence listening?

Loans for interest are made out of fiat money

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. (from Lord Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1603)


Money can be created out of nothing. (See for example Darryl Schoon,  The United States Fiat Money & The Federal Reserve System, June 23, 2008) This happens when it is created by bank debt against the payment of interest. It is fiat money. This is not widely understood by the general public outside the banking world and usually comes as a surprise. A Canadian journalist has estimated that only one person in a thousand really understands how money is made! (Cited on the Forum for Stable Currencies website ) It is certainly not something that is widely publicized. What is more each bank also has what it calls its Reserve Ratio. This means the proportion of cash invested into its bank deposit accounts that the bank estimates it needs to retain in case the customer wishes to withdraw again against their deposit. If for example £1000 is put on deposit with the bank and they calculate their Reserve Ratio to be 10%, then they reserve £100 and the remaining 90% of the deposit or £900 is available for the bank to lend on. And it does. The bank sets up a loan of £900 to another customer for interest, neatly increasing the supply of money available in the economy by a simple accounting entry in its books. The bank has not only made money out of nothing but it is also making an interest profit on that money that it has created out of nothing. And the bank almost certainly charged a fee for arranging the loan as well. The more times the same money can be recycled and recreated in this way the greater the arrangement fees and the interest profit that the bank can make, all from the creation of illusory money out of nothing. What is more, the amount borrowed by the customer is likely to be placed on deposit again elsewhere and the creation of further debt out of nothing can continue in another bank. The multiplier effect of this exponential increase in debt is astounding and very dangerous. Money has to continue to grow to maintain this system and to avoid financial collapse, even though actual standards of living may remain stagnant. With consumer spending the lifeblood of the economy and a personal consumption now nearing 75% of GDP, which truthful and brave politician will urge us to spend less? It is not hard to see that such a system is unjust and unsustainable. A government can and does make money out of nothing also, but this is only to the extent of new notes and coins it issues. As long ago as 1939 American President Abraham Lincoln was clear in his warnings: ‘The Government should create, issue, and circulate all the currency and credits needed to satisfy the spending power of the Government and the buying power of consumers. By the adoption of these principles, the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest.’( Senate Document 23, 1939)

But fiat money is still issued by banks. I was shocked when I read that 98% of the $2 trillion changing hands
in the foreign exchange markets each day is purely speculative and has nothing to do with wealth creation. 
Only the remaining 2% relates to real goods and services.(Bernard Lietaer, The Future of Money – Creating 
New Wealth, Work and a Wiser World (2001) As Edward Cahn observes: ‘Money has taken on a life of its
own: its function is to produce for the sake of reproducing – regardless of the impact on the health of the
human community… increasingly what we are witnessing in the world’s money markets looks more and more
like cancer.’(Edgar Cahn, No More Throw-Away People: The Co-Production Imperative Washington 
D.C.: Essential Books, 2000, p. 68).
Cancer is dangerous and often fatal, requiring unpleasant treatments along the way.
In such loan systems there is an impersonal relationship between the borrower and the lender with a minimal flow of information needed between them. Such loans are therefore cheaper to administer. In addition the tax system favors such business fund raising by allowing tax relief on the related interest.
Because such loans are not linked to the success or otherwise of the business, there is no reward to the lender if the business is successful and conversely the lender can foreclose on an ailing business that can no longer afford to repay. This makes the problems of the business worse and it may need to curtail its production and make efficiencies of staff by laying-off, with all the inherent human and social consequences that then arise. This is of course harmful to the economic cycle, and means that interest based economies have exaggerated cycles of ‘boom and bust’.
One of the most harmful aspects of this interest on loans is that it is almost invariably charged by compounding year on year. Typically a home ‘owner’ with a mortgage will pay at least 2-3 times the original loan before the mortgage is fully paid off.
Our debts on credit cards have also reached massive amounts and many regularly pay double figure interest rates on their cards each year. A significant number of college students and undergraduates have credit cards and amass debt on these as well as on their other student loans. This encourages an extravagant attitude of spending among students who no longer need to budget expenditure within their means.
When I first wrote of these imperfections in our debt system a few years ago I was saying that alarm bells should ring. I was far from alone. In 2001 Bernard Lietaer predicted a 50:50 chance of a global money meltdown within 5-10 years unless steps were taken to heal what he called the global foreign exchange casino.It feels as I write this in 2009 that we have drifted perilously close to that meltdown.
Unfortunately those in charge of our finances do not appear to consider alternative economic models. They want us to spend and consume our way out of recession. The problems and dangers of debt, at personal, corporate, national and international levels, are the cause of huge social disease. Such debt involves the transfer of wealth from the poor to those who are already wealthy. The system does not reflect the skill or the labor of the participant and encourages short termism.(for further discussion and explanation of the flaws in our money system and ideas for change to support community and sustainability, in an interview with Bernard Lietaer, Summer 1997: Money: Print Your Own! Beyond Greed and Scarcity, )
Interest based economies cause unemployment, social violence and pollution.(The Campaign for Interest Free Money) Sabine McNeill, organizer of the Forum for Stable Currencies, and co-founder with John Courtneidge of the Campaign for Interest-Free Money, observes that ‘compound interest is for the monetary system what carbon dioxide is for the earth’s atmosphere: man-made and unsustainable.’

There is a beautifully sustainable cycle within nature. Dead bodies provide food for living creatures, plants photosynthesize and produce oxygen from carbon dioxide and animals use that oxygen in their respiration of which the by-product is carbon dioxide. At school we learnt all about this and called it the Carbon Cycle. We can learn so much from nature if we will only listen to her!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Some beautiful gardens at West Dean

Tomorrow, an article on healing our economy; The flaw of interest and fiat money.
Today, some beautiful gardens!


Monday, 22 August 2011

Passing the Moral Buck

One thing that has struck me throughout all the debates that have rumbled on about the recent riots on the streets of England is something M Scott Peck wrote of in his book People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, (London: Arrow, 1990, p. 249). Peck warned of the phenomenon whereby there is a fragmentation of conscience across a group of individuals such that it becomes less than the sum of all the individual consciences. He called it ‘passing the moral buck’, and saw therein a great potential for evil.
Clearly there were quite a few of these looters and rioters who when they woke up and reflected in the cold light of day on what they had done, felt rather stupid, even remorseful. At least I hope so!
The holistic education of our kids that I support so wholeheartedly should include group behavior dynamics, alongside conflict resolution and learning to be good decent honest responsible citizens in the community. Academic league tables are far from all that matters in our classrooms.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Treasures of Heaven - and the Education of our Children

What first struck me as I entered the Great Court was the huge crowd of pilgrims, noisy and colourful, jostling into each other, gossiping, carrying bundles of clothes, food, drink; the barest essentials for a long journey on foot. They were on a pilgrim trail, taking in the important Christian pilgrim sites in Rome, Santiago de Compostela, Cologne and Canterbury before making for the final destination of Jerusalem. One was even seen to be uttering that well known children’s travel mantra: “When shall we be there!” Yes, you have guessed, these were not real people, but were paper people, being cut out and coloured by children as one of the many great activities laid on for them in the school holidays by the British Museum, in London.
We had gone to the Museum to see the current exhibition on “Treasures of heaven: Saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe.” And it was wonderful! If you are anywhere near London this side of 9 October do go and see it.
“Relics featured in the exhibition include three thorns thought to be from the Crown of Thorns, fragments of the True Cross, the foot of St Blaise, the breast milk of the Virgin Mary, the hair of St John the Evangelist, and the Mandylion of Edessa (one of the earliest known likenesses of Jesus).” Some of the reliquaries made by skilled craftsmen to house such religious relics were incredibly ornate and beautifully crafted, from the finest materials. And these would often attract vast numbers of pilgrims hoping to be miraculously cured or absolved from sin.
Such pilgrimages were central to medieval life; hence the children’s contributions in the Great Court.

But what saddened me was the realization that all these children, obviously having such fun, were privileged to be there, with their parents and guardians who recognize the value of such experiences for their youngsters, as part of their education for life. As with many of our great museums and art galleries, entrance is free, (although a donation is appreciated) and so in theory these spaces are available to all. But sadly many children are never given the opportunity to enjoy these facilities; are denied access to their heritage, their culture. Even sadder, the number of youngsters in the museum on any one day is far exceeded by those being driven to the many pre-packaged bogus “experiences” up and down the country – you know what I mean - that offer seemingly non-stop “fun” and over inflated prices; for what purpose? Yes children deserve to have fun - but let's be constructive about at least some of that fun!

Because I believe that an understanding of our history, our heritage, our culture, and the influence of faith in our past is all part of the essential education of our children. And it would seem that at the moment schools simply do not provide such valuable experiences, in the time available to them in their curriculum, and shackled as they are by league tables etc.
I was alarmed to read that apparently formal schooling contributes at most 10-20% of what makes a “good professional person” effective.* The best learning is informal, outside the school day, from peers, family, reading, travel etc. And for many children this extracurricular activity is poor, to say the least. It is clearly important that we consider what is going on in our schools. Because the quality of the education offered has a significant impact on how our children and youth will approach and address the global crises in their lives. Will they be able to see the overall picture or be shackled by knowledge fragmentation; will they act out of self-interest or learn to see the wider social dimension of their actions? How do we teach them how to engage responsibly with their communities, to behave as decent citizens? How can we improve the educational experience for ALL our children? This question seems particularly pertinent as I listen to the debates rolling on and on about the causes of the current unrest in our English cities and towns.

*From an essay by Ian Cunningham, at chapter 25 of A New Renaissance: Transforming Science, Spirit and Society

Friday, 19 August 2011

Martin Luther King and the Brotherhood of Man

"Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’ Deeply etched in the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God and that they are souls of infinite metaphysical value, the heirs of a legacy of dignity and worth. If we feel this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them. The wealthy nations must go all out to bridge the gulf between the rich minority and the poor majority...
In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich. We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality."
(Martin Luther King in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Unusual garden seating!




Chair for a giant!

"Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house,
Write loyal cantons of contemn├Ęd love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Hallow your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ’Olivia!’ O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me."

Shakespeare  Twelfth Night

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Kick a Puppy, get a Mean Dog. More on looting and rioting

"Kick a puppy and you get a mean dog," the expression goes. Sure. What we need more than anything else in the aftermath of these latest lootings and riots on the streets of English cities is to ask ourselves why the puppies feel kicked - why they are growing up to be mean dogs.
And, somewhat controversially, David Cameron UK Prime Minister has now asked for advice from Bill Bratton former head of the New York Police Department. In Bratton's first two years at that post, reports of serious crime dropped 27%. And Mr Bratton is no stranger to UK policing, having teamed up with British officers at other times over the past 20 years.
According to Sky News, "In 2009, the Queen awarded him the honorary title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Mr Bratton, who is now a security expert, left the Los Angeles police force in 2009 after significantly lowering the crime rate." So he clearly has wide ranging and valuable experience. Yes our UK police are wonderful, but what is wrong with having the humility to also ask others for advice.

In his ‘Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address to a Sojourners conference in 2006, Barack Obama reminded the audience ‘the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man. Solving these problems will require changes in government policy; it will also require changes in hearts and minds.’

Simone Weil once said: ‘A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves.’ Or as Barack Obama has described this in our twenty first century world, in an address to a Sojourners conference in 2006: ‘When a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we have a problem of morality; there's a hole in that young man's heart; a hole that government programs alone cannot fix.’

So we need to dig deep into all our resources to try to understand this current crisis.

For anyone who wants to explore this further, and wants to make their own contribution to help society heal what is wrong at its roots, I now unashamedly recommend my own book - the result of much research into this and other contemporary world issues. There is a whole chapter on Community, how it is formed and why it becomes broken, how we are failing our youth, the need for education and healing, etc. all brought together with the wisdom of renowned thinkers and leaders past and present and with lots of suggested resources for further action on both sides of The Pond.

‘There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,’ wrote Henry David Thoreau. We all have to start striking at those roots.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

More thoughts on the English city lootings

What is money? It is difficult to define. We have ingrained within our deepest psyche a sense that our monetary wealth reflects our success and affects our happiness.
But we know from studies that once a certain and fairly modest standard of living has been achieved any further increase in wealth does not improve our happiness. It is then influenced more by our status in society, the quality of our personal relationships and our physical health.And status emphatically does not mean celebrity status. It means being valued for our own unique gifts and qualities, whatever those may be.

And that is an important point in considering the reasons for the riots of the last week in English Cities: being valued for our own unique gifts and qualities, whatever those may be.

Because these lootings of shops and businesses were not about need. Many of these youngsters didn’t actually want for very much in material needs – many seemed to have expensive smart phones, and many also drove away from the trouble when they had done their worst in cars that were more than “old bangers.”
Yes the looting was about materialism and greed, and a lack of understanding between what is right and wrong. But what example have these people been set over the last few months by the Members of Parliament expenses scandal, or the News of the World Phone Hacking revelations. It is more than just these youngsters (and some not so young) who need to learn the difference between right and wrong. And what do our youth think when they see the ‘super rich’, to be found most visibly to them among the celebrities of sport, television and movie, but particularly the footballers.

The lavish life-styles led by many such persons breed an envy and greed, particularly it would seem among the young who are being taught by example that material wealth and celebrity status are the measure of ‘success’. Add to that a lack of education, jobs, stable family relationships, a lack of self worth or self esteem, and the recipe for disaffection and looting and violence is put together. All it takes is for the fuse to be lit.

I expand these thoughts and offer many ideas for how we can all do our bit to heal these and many others issues of the world in my own book. There is much more information on my website.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Love a Lout and Hug a Hoodie! Where have we gone wrong?

A young man murdered a teenager in a South London suburb in an unthinking moment of unprovoked aggression. This man has been sentenced to life imprisonment, and two families each lose a son. One was much loved. Nothing will fill the hole in his parents’ hearts. What about the other? In summing up the case on the steps of the Law Courts the police said that these two young people came from different worlds in the same city. One was a decent and loving child. One, he said, was a yob.
That was a few years ago now. Fast-forward to the events of the last few days in English cities and we see that little seems to have changed.
Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from holiday – some would say he should have come sooner - to take charge of what has unravelled as an appalling and frightening situation on our streets. Certain sectors of our society, he said, are quite frankly sick.
So how do we go about healing this sickness?

Five years ago, in 2006, when he was the UK Conservative Party leader, David Cameron expressed his view that kids guilty of anti social behavior needed compassion and kindness from those who worked with them. The press distorted his remarks. Go out and ‘hug a hoodie’ or ‘love a lout’, they proclaimed. His comments were ridiculed.
In fact there is a serious and real truth hidden behind this media scorn!
Cameron was speaking to the Centre for Social Justice on the link between social injustices and crime, particularly among the young. The point he actually made in a thoughtful and balanced speech was that long-term answers to anti-social behavior would be found in a ‘pro-social’ society. We have to get to grips, he said, with the causes of crime. We must understand the social circumstances that so often create the environment for the anti-social behavior in the first place. Of course we need tough sanctions and a sense of justice and boundaries. But if the police stand for sanctions and penalties, then all those who work with the kids must stand for love. Not, Cameron assured us, a soppy love, but a love that is all about relationships and emotional development in an atmosphere of security and trust.
Five years later, what has been achieved? Clearly not enough!
First let me say that neither Cameron nor I are in any way condoning the appalling acts of criminality witnessed over the last dew days. (Although the subsequent clean-ups organized by many decent citizens do reflect the makings of Cameron's Big Society.) But we do all have to ask ourselves what can we do, personally, to help prevent such happenings again. How do we give these perpetrators of violence and looting a sense of worth, a sense of moral values, of right from wrong?
The issues here are several, and complex, and unemployment and poor education, often indeed linked, contribute to a lack of self worth and self- esteem. But this looting is all about materiality, and greed, for consumer goods that are not going to make any of those people happier or more fulfilled in the long run. It will put quite a few into prison, perhaps blighting their lives permanently. And in destroying businesses the yobs are destroying the very hands that could feed them! We have clearly failed many of our own youth.

The Dalai Lama, in Ancient Wisdom Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2000 p.192) stresses that education ‘constitutes one of our most powerful weapons in our quest to bring about a better, more peaceful, world.’ He emphasizes the need to open children’s eyes to the needs and rights of others, so that their actions have a universal dimension, and they develop their ‘natural feelings of empathy so that they come to have a sense of responsibility towards others.’ He reminds us that traditionally it has been assumed that ethical and human values would be taught through a child’s religious upbringing rather than in mainstream state education. With the declining influence of religion and faith in family life this vital part of a child’s education has become neglected. The Dalai Lama proffers three guidelines for the education of our children. First, he says, we need to awaken their consciousness to basic human values by showing them how these are relevant to their future survival, rather than presenting them as solely an ethical or faith issue. Then we must teach them how to discuss and debate, to understand the value of dialogue rather than violence for resolving conflict. That was a skill seen to be sadly lacking over the last few days on our streets. And finally, (although thankfully this did not appear to be in an issue this last week), there is the urgent need to teach children that differences of race, faith, culture, while important to preserve, are nevertheless secondary to the equal rights of us all from whatever background to be happy. (And of course this is best done in the security of a close loving family unit. But that is also another issue for me to take up and write about in another post.)
Regrettably the purpose of education as seen in most of our traditional schools is to train people for jobs, rather than to be the rounded and spiritually grounded citizens of tomorrow, and we are even failing in that purpose for many of our kids. Our education system is shackled by the needs of exams and syllabuses and league tables. And for those of little academic prowess the system does not seem to provide enough suitable alternatives – apprenticeships for learning a useful trade, for example. Wouldn’t it be good if in the future more of our schools come to be judged not only on their position in academic league tables but on how successfully they turn out well rounded, happy, respectful, useful, empathic and spiritual citizens?

And if school does nothing for them, where else can our youth discover a sense of belonging, a sense of value to society, a sense of community? Because it is surely when a community breaks up that we see aimless and marginalized children, where knife, gun and drug cultures flourish, alongside lawlessness, graffiti and a general loss of respect for one and all.

Whilst it seems clear to me that we are failing our children, there are plenty of examples of good work quietly going on beyond the public gaze, where kids are being helped to develop a sense of worth and belonging, a sense of purpose. There are places where families are supported in local networks, where children are made to feel loved and wanted rather than part of a ‘problem’. In the longer term the most effective initiatives will be those that cut across the ‘them and us’ divide, avoid any kind of social exclusion and foster a broad inclusiveness for all.
This is all about building what Robert Putnam calls ‘social capital’, through social networks and mutual assistance. Because this is not a problem unique to England.In the hopeful book, Better Together: Restoring the American Community, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005) Robert Putnam and Lewis Feldstein tell the stories of twelve such initiatives, from neighborhood groups to a Fortune 500 company, from a
church to a website, but all in their unique ways helping to build real community that has lasted and is respected as such.

So let’s all start looking at the ‘communities’ where we live. Consider your church, your kids’ school and your neighborhood. We can all add to that list our own places of work and leisure. How many real community characteristics are evident? How holistic is your child’s education? Are the kids and youth all valued, or are there dangerous pockets of disaffection. Do we have the opportunity, as governor, teacher or parent, to guide towards a more holistic education, and to love a lout or to hug a hoodie?

Postscript: I am delighted to see that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams speaking in the House of Lords earlier today said that education itself needs to be rebuilt, as the building of "character" and "virtue" has faded over the past two decades. He says there are no "quick answers", but it's not just about discipline but about the ethos of educational institutions. Exactly so!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The spirit of community survival - empathy and imagination

When times are hard people pull together. This was seen in Britain in the Second World War. Is it at all possible that the deep global problems of this new Millennium will engender a similar spirit of community survival? I hope so.
History has shown us that even warring factions can forget their differences in some circumstances. There were the famous Christmas truces in the trenches in the First World War when the German and British soldiers exchanged small gifts, sang carols and played football together.
In the Crimean War British, French and Russians at quiet times also gathered around the same fire, smoking and drinking. And in the American Civil War Yankees and Rebels traded tobacco, coffee and newspapers, fished peacefully on opposite sides of the same stream and even collected wild blackberries together. (1)
On 29 July 2007 millions of Iraqis, Shia, Sunni, Kurds and Christians, became united for a brief interlude to rejoice over their football victory against Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup Final. Shots were fired in the air in jubilant celebration rather than for political squabbling and killing. Iraq had been momentarily unified by eleven footballers! But the euphoria was short lived. In no time the city had reverted to its politically fuelled bombings and shootings.

The truce in war has a long tradition and is surely a sign of hope for the world?
If we can all unite for sport and athletics, and in No Man’s Land, why can we not work together peaceably for our own futures?

Sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer in his book Terror in the Mind of God (University of California Press 2000) wrote: “It is difficult to belittle and kill a person whom one knows and for whom one has no personal antipathy.”

Ian McEwan reflected on the Twin Towers collapse on 9/11:

If the hijackers had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of the passengers, they would have been unable to proceed. It is hard to be cruel once you permit yourself to enter the mind of your victim. Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity [my italics]. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality…The hijackers used fanatical certainty, misplaced religious faith, and dehumanizing hatred to purge themselves of the human instinct for empathy. Among their crimes was a failure of the imagination. (2)

That is why I believe that culturing empathy is so important in our world. And any attempts and endeavours to cross boundaries of race or creed, to build networks, to gain knowledge of others’ ways of life, must also surely be of huge benefit for our future, and should be encouraged and nurtured.

1.http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/10/98/world_war_i/197627.stm
Adapted from the book Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton

2. McEwan, Ian, The Guardian 15 September 2001, ‘Only love and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against their murderers.’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/15/september11.politicsphilosophyandsociety2

Monday, 8 August 2011

Do we need religion?


The world is a rich tapestry of many different faiths, religions and spiritual ideas. The rules and customs of ancestral religions still give meaning, purpose and spiritual nourishment to most of the seven billion people on the Earth today. Something like 84% of the world’s population have a faith or religion, often with deeply held convictions, and of the remaining 16% one half claim to be theistic even if not religious. And surely spiritual nourishment is necessary for human flourishing, as recognised by the many who do not feel the need to join any organised religion on a regular basis but still pursue spiritual practices of one sort or another.
But the secular materialism of the West seems to hold the moral high ground, has the cultural initiative. And religion sometimes, indeed often, comes in for disdain. Worse still, there is a huge amount of intolerance or even persecution for religious beliefs in some countries, even in this 21st Century.
But why is this? Why can we not all respect each others' beliefs and ideas? Why can we not live and let live? Why do some atheists so passionately argue for the abolition of religion, as if that were possible? It is certainly not desirable. Yes it is true that religions have not always been forces for good in the world. But I think it was the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who pointed out once that humans have always been able to find excuses for violence and war without religion. And the religions historian Karen Armstrong has also reminded us that wars are mostly about greed, envy, ambition, land ownership, even if they are often cloaked in religious rhetoric to give them “respectability.
Why throw out religion? Religions are a huge force for good in the world. They are behind much of the humanitarian aid made available to those suffering across the globe from disasters however caused, and they have between them some amazing and enviable global networks, both interfaith and intra-faith, all working for the good of humanity.
And religion also provides spiritual nourishment and support at the all important individual and local level. UK Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has been derided in some quarters for his ideas of a Big Society. Some profess to be unable to understand what he means. But we have a Big Society writ large in our own church and community, everyone looking out for each other, extending hands of friendship and support to those in need, enjoying fun together in community events, and generally feeling a strong sense of belonging in what can otherwise seem a confusing and harsh world out there.
There is also so much in common between many of the world’s faiths. For a start they share what is called “The Golden Rule,” expressed in its positive format as “do to others as you would wish others to do to you.” For Jews this is expressed as: “What is hurtful to yourself, do not to your fellow man.” One of the Ten Commandments is after all “Love your neighbour as yourself,” and Jesus reminds his followers that this is the second great commandment (Matthew ch 22. v. 39). In Jainism they say: “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” Hinduism expresses it thus: “Do not to others, which if done to thee, would cause thee pain.” And so on. Just imagine if everyone, religious or not, actually lived out that maxim. Surely at an individual level we do not want others to hate us, to hurt us, be rude to us, kill us, treat us with disdain, etc., etc? A good video to watch on this is Karen Armstrong’s TED talk, Let's Revive the Golden Rule.

But we should also celebrate our differences, and learn from them. We can learn and enjoy so much about other faiths and cultures if we open our minds. And here let’s extend this beyond religious differences, to differences of culture, sexuality, politics. We all need each other, whatever our beliefs, and we should use our multiple resources for good, not for violation and destruction.
Over the next few months I shall be exploring these issues in more detail, and looking at why so many see religion as a “bad thing,” why religion or at least spirituality is in fact so very important for the flourishing of the world, what obstacles prevent our tolerance and understanding of others’ ways of life, the emergence of new wisdoms, and a greater understanding of human consciousness and its interface with religion, and what we can all do to work towards a more peaceful, spiritual and happier world.
Comments welcome.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and holistic healthcare

There has been some debate going on in the last week or so about the real cause of that little understood medical condition that used to be called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, ME, or the post-viral fatigue syndrome, and is now more commonly referred to, in Britain anyway, as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In Opinion, in The Times today, David Aaronovitch gives his own take on this. He shares my own scepticism that science must and eventually will find physical explanations for all manner of disease. “There is no medical utopia, and the search for a biological answer to all our problems is a false trail. We humans are more complicated than that,” he writes. And there is no shame in having a “psychosomatic” disorder – it is as real as any other disorder – it is just that the causes are more nebulous and ill-defined.
Now some of the debate here, continued into the letter pages, is around the funding that is available for research into this very real and debilitating condition. I suffered from this condition myself at University many years ago although no name was then given to my complaint. But I do know it was very real for me at the time, and totally incapacitating. Yes research is certainly needed and I agree that there must be a balance between exploring the different potential physical and mental causes.
But those from both sides of the debate would do well to read a small gem of a book, A Year Lost and Found, written by the late Michael Mayne, busy parish priest who subsequently became Dean of Westminster Abbey within the Anglican Communion. He was well qualified to write about ME or CFS and the patient’s perception of healthcare. In his book A Year Lost and Found he describes his experiences and struggle with a debilitating episode of the condition. Of all the various treatments and advice he received he significantly gives special credit to a certain Dr D, whose particular efficacy in helping him cope with his condition is attributed to

“his grasp of the inter-relatedness of body and spirit…he talked and he tested or massaged parts of my body. Sometimes he just talked. He had the great gift of encouragement. He understood that the question ‘How are you?’ is at root a metaphysical question, which is not sufficiently answered with clinical lists and data …but goes to the deepest part of ourselves as the complex and uniquely precious beings we are.”

Mayne tragically died from cancer in 2006, but not before heroically putting the finishing touches to his final book The Enduring Melody. This started as a meditation of his life, but when the cancer struck it became his daily meditations interwoven into an autobiography of his final year. The book is a brave and very thoughtful journal through those last ten months. It culminates in a reflective essay on illness and healing, and the need for a holistic approach. ‘To treat a disease,’ he said:

“is to inhibit it and hopefully help the body to destroy it or control it: to treat a patient is to observe, foster, nurture and listen to a life...In an ideal [health service] it would be good if every doctor and nurse in training would reflect on the mystery of the human being with both the learning of the scientist and the observation and sympathy of the novelist or the poet.”

He was writing of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service but his thoughts are equally relevant in the United States, which is actually ahead of the UK in recognizing the importance of spirituality in healthcare.
Mayne understood only too well that chasm that is so often evident between what the patient actually receives from a short medical consultation and what he is really looking for.
Of course credit should be given for the advances that are being made in medical science, the technological achievements, the surgical and clinical skills, the development of ever more efficacious drugs and the efforts of the very many health care professionals working competently and tirelessly using best knowledge, experience and facilities for the benefit of the patient.
Perhaps more doctors than we realize do understand and practice the philosophy of holistic health care, with due regard to the full impact of body, mind and spirit in considering the ‘wellness’ of the person. Even so it is unlikely that this can often be realistically achieved within the normal time constraints of a busy practice. Nevertheless there is an opportunity here that should not be ignored; indeed we may not be able to ignore it for much longer. I read today that in Britain there will be 80,000 centenarians by 2033, compared with 11,600 in 2009, and the numbers will continue to increase rapidly. As we all live so much longer the financial drain on our health services will become unsustainable if we continue to insist on drugs to cure all our ills. I believe strongly that we need to work towards a far more holistic healthcare, and one also in which we take far more personal responsibility for our well being. How about more yoga, meditation, tai chi, healthier diets, and yes even psychotherapy or mindfulness cognitive behavioural therapy for a start, to help slow us down, relieve hypertension and reduce our cholesterol, sort out our minds, help us cope better with what life throws at us, rather than continuing our national culture of pill-popping for every ill without question and expecting scientific explanation for everything we experience?

(this is developed in some more detail in my book Healing This Wounded Earth, in two comprehensive chapters on The History of Soul Medicine and The Hope of Soul Medicine)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Love and Compassion and Responsibility in a shrinking world


In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama emphasized that responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually.
The next day in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture he elaborated on the theme:

“The realisation that we are all basically the same human beings, who seek happiness and try to avoid suffering, is very helpful in developing a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood; a warm feeling of love and compassion for others. This, in turn, is essential if we are to survive in this ever shrinking world we live in. For if we each selfishly pursue only what we believe to be in our own interest, without caring about the needs of others, we not only may end up harming others but also ourselves. This fact has become very clear during the course of this century. We know that to wage a nuclear war today, for example, would be a form of suicide; or that by polluting the air or the oceans, in order to achieve some short-term benefit, we are destroying the very basis for our survival. As interdependents, therefore, we have no other choice than to develop what I call a sense of universal responsibility.”

Most importantly, we cannot confine the scope of our responsibilities to our own country. It is a matter of global justice that we have equal concern for the conditions in which our brothers and sisters live in poor parts of the world. In December 2001 a Statement was issued by 110 Nobel Laureates on the one-hundredth anniversary of the launch of the Nobel Prize. It included a plea for us all to reassess our global obligations to one another:

“The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed. Of these poor and disenfranchised the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. Their situation will be desperate, and manifestly unjust. It cannot be expected, therefore, that in all cases they will be content to await the beneficence of the rich. If, then, we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor.”

We may need courage to take a stand, and we have to ensure that we are properly informed before making decisions. But surely it is now time that each and every one of us realized that we must bear our own share of responsibility in the shaping of our world, and then turn that realization into action.
Some debate whether war or climate change poses the greater threat to humanity. As expressed above, the two are in some ways linked. It is an unarguable fact that we have the technology and productive resources to eliminate worldwide misery, poverty and injustice howsoever caused. And we can thus remove some of the threats to peace and stability in many parts of the world.

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