Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk - Book Review

This book is about how non-profit groups work - whether that is an informal group focusing on a cause, a registered charity with formal aims or a collection of groups collaborating for a specific purpose. The book explains the group dynamics in these situations, how to bring about good decision making processes and how to deal with difficult situations which often arise when people are passionate about a cause.

I used to work in the business world and in that arena, there are lots of very good books about management, growth, empowerment etc. But when I moved to the charity sector, there was very little I could find that was useful. At times, I tried using the lessons I had learned in the business world - and through this, I made some mistakes. The culture in the charity world is different and often needs different approaches and skill-sets.

For instance, when I started in the charity world, I felt strongly that everyone should be equal. And whilst this was a laudable ideal, it never felt quite right when trying to put ideas into practice. But I did not have the language or insight to explain this to myself or others.

This is where the Empowerment Manual comes in. Starwhawk has been through many experiences in the non-profit sector and has learned a great deal through both successes and failures. And she explains all of the difficult challenges that she faced. For instance, she talks about 'earned social power' where someone who has spent a great deal of their own time (and sometimes money) to achieve something, that person is, quite rightly, given 'social power' by a group because they have more energy, experience and expertise in an area. Not everyone is equal in this sense.

Starhawk is strong on accountability with responsibility and providing clear ways that people can get involved in a group. Intriguingly, at the end of the book, she talks about an organisation she has been involved in that started out with little structure but the larger it grew, the more structure was needed. The egalitarian idealism of the early days of the organisation (freedom from structure) had to give way to more formal processes so that the organisation could flourish. It seems that there is often this tension between ideals and practice.

You can find out more about the book here:


Friday, 8 May 2015

Election Blog May 2015

Why are things changing and what can be done about it?

I voted Green Party. And I was taken aback by what has happened with the Conservatives and SNP doing so well. Things have changed. I want to understand why this has happened and to see how I can best respond.

There were 2 big things that drove the electorate in this election. Firstly, perhaps the biggest motivator was for jobs. I suggest that a key part (or at least a part) of people’s motivations to vote were:

  •  Conservatives – I want to keep my job
  • Labour – don’t let cuts threaten my job or my income if I have a low wage or am on benefits
  • UKIP – don’t let immigrants get my job
  • Green – if I have a job, I want a living wage
  • Liberal Democrats – I’ll vote for you to keep out the party that’s threatening my job

Secondly, the desire for self-determination – the rise of nationalism:

  • SNP and Plaid Cymru and various Northern Ireland parties – we want the power to determine how we create/manage our jobs 
  •  Conservatives and UKIP – we don’t want unelected people in Brussels deciding what is going on in the UK and affecting our jobs

That’s why the Conservatives and SNP did so well in this election as most people work in the private sector (about 80% of the workforce in 2013), want to keep their jobs and have national self-determination.

I remember a study of human motivation in work. Money turns out to motivate most people only so far as meeting the basics in life. After that, the 3 big motivators are: autonomy, learning new skills and being part of something bigger/some higher purpose.

It seems that there is a good analogy here with the current political trends. 

For ‘autonomy’ read ‘self-determination’ or the rise of nationalism. That’s not all bad. People want to have the power to make their own choices – and sometimes smaller countries give people that freedom. 

For ‘leaning new skills’ read ‘innovation’. Smaller countries tend to innovate much better than larger countries. I saw this in New Zealand which has a great track record in innovation – for instance, it was one of the first to allow woman to vote. I remember asking a Welsh MEP about the innovation of green education in Welsh schools and she agreed that the main reason they were able to do it was because of devolution. Cuba did some wonderful things in terms of food self-sufficiency when the Soviet Union stopped supporting the country. And Bhutan has/is experimenting with a Gross National Happiness Index.

And for ‘being part of something bigger/some higher purpose’ – read ‘wanting the world to be a better place’. People can give much more expression to a higher purpose if they have sufficient autonomy and the ability to learn new skills/innovate. So, it is my hope that countries that are smaller and have self-determination will be better able to respond to the global challenges we face. 3 examples are:

  • Climate change – all countries need to do something about this – no one country can solve this on their own
  • Tax avoidance – this needs collective agreement by all countries to stop tax havens existing
  • Having global economic rules so that unfettered capitalism does not produce the income inequalities that are blighting our (and other) societies

So, I suggest that:

  • Devolution is a good thing as it lets citizens become more autonomous and innovate
  • We need stronger international cooperation on global issues.

That’s Green. (Or at least my version of Green).

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Spindrift: A Wilderness Pilgrimage at Sea by Peter Reason

Book Review 



The spiritual journey is a call to adventure. It is a call of the wild, to break boundaries, to grow beyond our limitations, to reach out, to connect and to become all that we can be.  

And this is why I like Spindrift.

The call to adventure is Peter Reason's pilgrimage at sea. Through sailing on his yacht "Coral" from Plymouth via the Scilly Isles to Ireland, Peter narrates his passage, bringing to life his many experiences and all told with, sometimes, unnerving honesty.

Having done a certain amount of sailing myself, I relate to the journey and the feelings of being aligned with nature though the wind in the sails and the refreshing breeze of the sea.

And the great thing about this book is that the sailing voyage is a wonderful metaphor for the wild journey of our spiritual adventure. Peter is obviously someone who has thought, questioned and challenged ideas in his own journey through life. Going outside and beyond his cultural background to reach out to what is happening in the world today and how he can respond to it.

Personally, I love the references to wildness, the Universe Story and the environmental plight of our time. These all link together so well to provide a coherent view of our collective spiritual journey.

This pilgrim-book is full of life, it asks deep questions for our time and it invites me to see the world full of wild possibility.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Three Useless People I have known

I have met or known three useless people in my life.

The first I met at a family party back in 1993. I was told that this 2nd cousin had come over from Princeton University in the USA. He was an academic and into maths. When people had gathered, I saw this rather shy and retiring man standing quietly on his own. I've done a maths degree so normally I would have gone up to him and asked questions about all things mathematical. But he seemed to me, without having spoken to him, well, just boring. So, I talked to others instead.

I later found out that it was just a day or so later that he, Andrew Wiles, gave a world famous lecture at Cambridge University where he announced his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. You can read all about him in Wikipedia here. What I would now give to speak to him, to ask him about his amazing and gargantuan journey to crack a puzzle that had tested mathematicians for centuries and many said could never be solved.

The second useless person I met was in my year at school. He was a singer in a band, and if I remember the name correctly, its name was 'Chaos'. This title, for me, only begins to describe the ear-bendingly awfulness of the music they played. The singer wore a tutu and I really wondered how this strange boy would cope in the wider world after school.

The singer of this band, Neil Gaiman, is now a world famous writer. You can read about him here.

The third useless person I saw was a comedian on TV. To me, he was foul mouthed, lacked anything interesting to say, and above all was not funny. "What a waste of time it is to listen to this man", I thought.

And then I read and heard his commentaries about life, the universe and everything. Amazing stuff. So compassionate. And written or spoken like a true jester, someone who can see things from a fresh perspective. Click here to see a wonderful interview that Russell Brand gave with Jeremy Paxman.

I do not say all of this because these three people are any better than anyone else. Because I believe that everyone has something to contribute, something to say, and is valuable. I say all of this because they are three lessons for me not to judge anyone. To listen, observe and understand. There is always so much more to a person if I take the time to listen and find out their true worth.

Monday, 12 August 2013

A Spanish Trip

I went to Spain on holiday. To a place called Cortijo Romero which is near Malaga in the south of Spain (Andalucia).

At Cortijo Romero there is a swimming pool. You can see the swimming pool in this photo. It's between the 2 palm trees and to the left of the chairs.

To keep my carbon footprint down, I went there and back by train. London-Paris by Eurostar. Paris-Madrid by overnight (sleeper) train. Madrid-Malaga by a high speed train. Door to door time, about 34 hours. I had dreams of lots of reading time, watching the scenery go by and enjoying the adventure....Well, I think I managed to read about 5 pages of my book.

The words in the above photo 'Proximas Salidas' means 'Approximately Salads'. This was confirmed by the meal I bought at the station for about a billion scooby doos. The trip hit an all time low in Paris where I had to use one of those south mediterraen loos which is like a hole in the ground and you have to squat. This is really difficult for me with dodgy knees. What I had to do was.....OK, I'll spare you the details.

Would I go by train again? Yes. 100 percentissimo....Down with carbon, that's wot I say.

The above pool was at the end of our walk on the Tuesday. The water comes from ice melt and is refreshingly cool. All I can say is that I used to skinny dip. Now I chunky dunk.

On the holiday I read the book 'Driving Over Lemons'. A true story about a chap and his wife who left England to live in Andalucia (near where we were staying). It's very readable and humerous in places. He is also an eco-nut so the book gets a thumbs up from me.

The teacher of the 'sort of drama' course we did was the very talented Kinny Gardner.  It was very entertaining and I learnt a good deal. One session was about sign language. Another was a mask workshop. And yet another about the art of stripping (I kid you not). Although it was a 'keep your clothes on' version. Judging by my performance, I am thinking of starting a new a business where people pay me not to strip. I think there might be mileage in that.

Here we all are at the end of the course with our clowing red noses.

A really good crowd of people. We had a lot of fun.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz


Book Review

A surprisingly good book.

This book is full of case studies by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. He uses each case study to make a point about human behaviour and the way people change (or don't change). Three things strike me on reading this book.

The first is how difficult it is to change. He writes: “...change and loss are deeply connected – there cannot be change without loss – loss haunts this book”. And “We resist change. Committing ourselves to a small change, even one that is unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation”.

The second is how facing up to, and accepting, reality, however difficult, is (in his own words) “almost always better than the alternative”. He gives an example of a kid who kept spitting at him as the analyst. It was only when the tragedy of the kid's life was fully acknowledged without any need to fix or repair it that the kid was able to, in some way, move on. And it was only then that the kid stopped his spitting at the analyst.

The third is that sometimes, theories just don't help as each case is unique. He recounts an unexpected hidden truth being revealed. An unexpected personal process is recorded. An unexpected consequence for other people is experienced once someone has changed.

If you are interested in understanding human behaviour, I recommend this book.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Postcards from Babylon by Christian de Sousa

 Book Review

On my first glance at this book I felt unsure. It was a big book and it seemed to contain various musings with lots of pictures. I felt like saying "but where is the meaning?"

I was wrong.

This book is full of meaning.

As soon as I read on the first page "what the fuck is going on?" I was hooked.

This book is an authentic, heart-felt journey from a dance and drug fuelled adolescence, moving onto photo journalism, through a spiritual awakening and finally finding unity through connection with the planet and all living beings.

One of the themes of the book is that we are living in a modern day Babylon with disparate languages, cultures, ideas, spiritual traditions. And this can bring with it confusion and disconnection. Christian experiences this with all of its highs and lows and then....

In a moment of devastating epiphany I suddenly see the problem with the core narrative of our civilisation, this now global Western hegemony that is rooted in patriarchal monotheism. Unlike the creation stories of the Nimiipuu and most other indigenous traditions, our myth of origin tells us that we are separate from the earth out of which we came.

Christian then goes on a journey to find an Earth based spirituality; for him, Babylon is transformed into planetary unity. And 5 rhythms dancing is something that helps with his transformation.

This book is written with insight and understanding, by someone who has really thought about who he is and his response to the world. A key personal insight was a quote from someone called Adam who said to him: "You are not a journalist, you are looking for the soul".

In our left brained world we sometimes look for simple, clear answers to issues. And I don't believe this always helps when we look at spiritual journeys and meaning. Each of us are a smorgasbord of instincts, feelings, ideas, background, experiences and more, all coming together to produce our own unique meaning. And this is book is Christian's meaning.

Dance on.