Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Welcome!

with 88 comments

Pharaoh – just being a dog!

Dogs live in the present – they just are!  Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value.  Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years.  That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer.  Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming,  thence the long journey to modern man.  But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite.  Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better!  Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Welcome to Learning from Dogs

About these ads

Written by Paul Handover

July 5, 2009 at 02:31

Posted in Core thought

Tagged with ,

The dog machine.

with 2 comments

Yes, I know it’s an advertisement for Beneful!

A number of things conspired yesterday to make the spare hours disappear.  Including time to write a post for this place.

However, during the day Chris Snuggs sent me the following video.

Don’t know about you, but I found the ‘machine’ made me smile!

Hope it does the same for you.

Written by Paul Handover

July 24, 2014 at 00:00

Nature doing what nature does.

with 6 comments

The more that man tries to interfere the more that man screws up.

Jeannie and I subscribe to Time Magazine.  This week’s edition had a pretty eye-catching cover that required a second look.

Illustration by Justin Metz for Time. Photo reference for emerald ash borer courtesy of PDCNR—Forestry Archive, Bugwood.org

Illustration by Justin Metz for Time. Photo reference for emerald ash borer courtesy of PDCNR—Forestry Archive, Bugwood.org

That cover referred to the lead article concerning invasive species, “From giant snails to Asian carp, alien wildlife is on the move.“, written by Bryan Walsh.  The essence of the article is that man’s global activities are responsible, albeit often unwittingly, for the movement of a wide range of species across national borders. My own reaction to the article was that it was typical of the many ‘scare’ stories the media present but that at the end of the day, nothing will change. However the last two paragraphs of the article did resonate with me.

Human beings have become the dominant force on the planet, so much so that many scientists believe we’ve entered an entirely new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.  We have already been shaping the planet unintentionally, through greenhouse-gas emissions and global trade and every other facet of modern existence. The challenge now is to take responsibility for that power over the planet and use it for the right ends – all the while knowing that there is no single correct answer, no lost state of grace we can beat back toward.

How we respond to the thickening invasions that we ourselves loosed will be part of that answer – which is only just. There is one species that can claim to be the most dominant invasive of all time. From its origins in Africa, this species has spread to every corner of the world and every kind of climate.  Everywhere it goes, it displaces natives, leaving extinction in its wake, altering habitat to suit its needs, with little regard for the ecological impact.  Its numbers have grown nearly a millionfold, and its spread shows no sign of stopping. If that invasive species sounds familiar, it should. It’s us.

Thus with that article from Time in mind, it was very pertinent to see the latest essay from George Monbiot.  It reinforces, in spades, the sentiment expressed by Bryan Walsh in those paragraphs above and is republished here on Learning from Dogs with the generous permission of George Monbiot.

ooOOoo

A One Way Street to Oblivion

As soon as an animal becomes extinct, a new bill proposes, it will be classified as “non-native”.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 21st July 2014

Can any more destructive and regressive measures be crammed into one bill?

Already, the Infrastructure Bill, which, as time goes by, has ever less to do with infrastructure, looks like one of those US monstrosities into which a random collection of demands by corporate lobbyists are shoved, in the hope that no one notices.

So far it contains (or is due to contain) the following assaults on civilisation and the natural world:

- It exempts fracking companies from the trespass laws

- Brings in a legal requirement for the government to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum from the UK’s continental shelf. This is directly at odds with another legal requirement: to minimise the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions

- Abandons the government’s commitment to make all new homes zero-carbon by 2016

- Introduces the possibility (through Clauses 21 and 22) of a backdoor route to selling off the public forest estate. When this was attempted before, it was thwarted by massive public protest.

- further deregulates the town and country planning system, making life even harder for those who wish to protect natural beauty and public amenities

- promotes new road building, even though the total volume of road traffic has flatlined since 2002.

Enough vandalism? Not at all. There’s yet another clause aimed at suppressing the natural world, which has, so far, scarcely been discussed outside parliament. If the Infrastructure Bill is passed in its current state, any animal species that “is not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state” will be classified as non-native and subject to potential “eradication or control”. What this is doing in an infrastructure bill is anyone’s guess.

At first wildlife groups believed it was just poor drafting, accidentally creating the impression that attempts to re-establish species which have become extinct here – such as short-haired bumblebees or red kites – would in future be stamped out. But the most recent Lords debate scotched that hope: it became clear that this a deliberate attempt to pre-empt democratic choice, in the face of rising public enthusiasm for the return of our lost and enchanting wildlife.

As Baroness Parminter, who argued unsuccessfully for changes to the bill, pointed out, it currently creates

“a one-way system for biodiversity loss, as once an animal ceases to appear in the wild, it ceases to be native.”

She also made the point that it’s not just extinct species which from now on will be treated as non-native, but, as the bill now stands, any species listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Among those in Schedule 9 are six native species that have already been re-established in Britain (the capercaillie, the common crane, the red kite, the goshawk, the white-tailed eagle and the wild boar); two that are tentatively beginning to return (the night heron and the eagle owl); and four that have been here all along (the barn owl, the corncrake, the chough and the barnacle goose). All these, it seems, are now to be classified as non-native, and potentially subject to eradication or control.

After the usual orotund time-wasting by aristocratic layabouts (“my ancestor Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, who was known as the great Sir Ewen … killed the last wolf in Scotland” etc), the minister promoting the bill, Baroness Kramer, made it clear that the drafting was no accident. All extinct species, it appears, are to be treated as non-native and potentially invasive. At no point did she mention any of the benefits their re-establishment might bring, such as restoring ecological function and bringing wonder and delight and enchantment back to this depleted land.

Here is a list, taken from Feral, of a few of the animals which have become extinct recently (in ecological terms) and which probably meet the bill’s new definition of non-native: “not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state”. Some would be widely welcomed; others not at all, but it’s clear that a debate about which species we might welcome back is one that many people in this country want to have, but that the government wants to terminate. There’s a longer list, with fuller explanations and a consideration of their suitability for re-establishment, in the book.

European Beaver: became extinct in Britain in the mid-18th Century, at the latest. Officially re-established in the Knapdale Forest, Argyll. Unofficially in the catchment of the River Tay and on the River Otter, in Devon.

Wolf: The last clear record is 1621 (not 1743 as commonly supposed). It was killed in Sutherland. As far as I can determine, neither Sir Ewen Cameron nor any of the other blood-soaked lairds and congenital twits from whom Lord Cameron of Dillington is descended were involved.

Lynx: The last known fossil remains date from the 6th Century AD, but possible cultural records extend into the 9th Century.

Wild Boar: The last truly wild boar on record were killed on the orders of Henry III in the Forest of Dean, in 1260. Four small populations in southern England, established after escapes and releases from farms and collections.

Elk or Moose (Alces alces): The youngest bones found in Britain are 3,900 years old. Temporarily released in 2008 into a 450-acre enclosure on the Alladale Estate, Sutherland.

Reindeer: The most recent fossil evidence is 8,300 years old. A free-ranging herd grazes on and around Cairn Gorm in the Scottish Highlands.

Wild horse: The most recent clearly-established fossil is 9,300 years old. Animals belonging to the last surviving subspecies of wild horse, Przewalski’s (Equus ferus przewalskii), graze Eelmoor Marsh in Hampshire.

Forest bison, or wisent: Likely to have become extinct here soon before the peak of glaciation, between 15,000 and 25,000 years ago. A herd was temporarily established at Alladale in 2011.

Brown bear: probably exterminated around 2000 years ago.

Wolverine: survived here until roughly 8,000 years ago.

Lion: the last record of a lion in the region is a bone from an animal that lived in the Netherlands – then still connected to Britain – 10,700 years ago.

Spotted hyaena: around 11,000 years ago.

Hippopotamus: it was driven out of Britain by the last glaciation, around 115,000 years ago, and hunted to extinction elsewhere in Europe about 30,000 years ago.

Grey whale: the most recent palaentological remains, from Devon, belonged to a whale that died around 1610 AD.

Walrus: late Bronze Age, in the Shetland Islands.

European Sturgeon: possibly as recently as the 19th Century.

Blue stag beetle: probably 19th Century.

Eagle owl: the last certain record is from the Mesolithic, 9,000-10,000 years old . But a possible Iron Age bone has been found at Meare in Somerset. Now breeding in some places, after escaping from collections.

Goshawk: wiped out in the 19th Century. Unofficially re-established in the 20th Century, through a combination of deliberate releases and escapes from falconers.

Common crane: last evidence of breeding in Britain was in 1542. Cranes re-established themselves through migration in the Norfolk Broads in 1979, and have bred there since then. Now breeding in two other places in eastern England. Re-introduced in 2010 to the Somerset Levels.

White Stork: last recorded nesting in Edinburgh in 1416. In 2004 a pair tried to breed on an electricity pole in Yorkshire. In 2012 a lone bird built a nest on top of a restaurant in Nottinghamshire.

Spoonbill: the last breeding records are 1602 in Pembrokeshire and 1650 in East Anglia. In 2010 a breeding colony established itself at Holkham in Norfolk.

Night Heron: last bred here in either the 16th or 17th Century, at Greenwich. Today it is a scarce visitor.

Dalmatian Pelican: remains have been found from the Bronze Age in the Cambridgeshire Fens and from the Iron Age in the Somerset levels, close to Glastonbury. A single mediaeval bone has been found in the same place.

These and many others are now to be classified as officially non-native, unless this nonsense can be stopped.

Incidentally, determining what is and isn’t a native species, let alone what “should” or “should not” be living here, is a much more complicated business than you might imagine, as Ken Thompson’s interesting book, Where Do Camels Belong?, makes clear. He also points out that some species which are initially greeted with horror and considered an ecological menace soon settle down as local wildlife learns to prey on them or to avoid them. Sometimes they perform a useful ecological role by filling the gaps created by extinction. He overstates his case, and glosses over some real horror stories, but his book is an important counterweight to attempts to create a rigid distinction between native and non-native wildlife.

Many species introduced to this country by human beings are now cherished as honorary members of our native wildlife. Here are just a few I’ve come across. How many of you knew that they were all brought here by people?:

Brown hare

Little owl

Field poppy

Corncockle

Crack willow

Greater burdock

Pheasant’s eye

Cornflower

Wormwood

Mayweed

White campion

Isn’t this an interesting subject? Unfortunately government ministers seem to know to know nothing about it and to care even less. They are crashing through the middle of delicate interactions between people and the natural world like bulldozers in a rainforest.

www.monbiot.com

ooOOoo

I will close today’s post with another, very recent, story in The Guardian, that opens, thus:

Wild beaver kits born in Devon

Thursday 17 July 2014

One of the first wild beavers to be seen in England in centuries and due to be taken into captivity has given birth to three young.

Local retired environmentalist Tom Buckley captured the three young beavers climbing all over their mother. Photograph: Tom Buckley/Apex

Local retired environmentalist Tom Buckley captured the three young beavers climbing all over their mother. Photograph: Tom Buckley/Apex

A wild beaver due to be taken into captivity has given birth to at least three young.

The young, known as kits, were born to the family of two adult and one juvenile European beavers (Castor fiber) that were spotted living on the river Otter in Devon earlier this year, in what was believed to be the first sighting of the species in the wild in England in 500 years.

Do go and read the full article here.

All that is left for me to do is to quote a little from a recent letter from John Hurlburt.

 Our future depends on the air we breathe. Our lives depend upon rivers of living water. Our health requires the blessings of organic agriculture. Our energy streams through us from the cosmos.

We are warrior animals. Peace must come from within. Non-violence is our best choice.  We have the magnificent opportunity to wake up as an animal that is grateful and sings in harmony with the Earth.

The present is surrounded by the past and the future. We float on the wings of compassion and wisdom with a sacred responsibility for the Nature of all Creation.

Amen to that!

The clouds above us.

with 3 comments

A remarkable endeavour by the BBC.

A team of scientists take to the skies in one of the world's largest airships, for a unique exploration of Earth's most precious and mysterious environment - the atmosphere.

A team of scientists take to the skies in one of the world’s largest airships, for a unique exploration of Earth’s most precious and mysterious environment – the atmosphere.

In an example of what might be called a massive change of topic from yesterday’s post on Integrity and democracy, today’s offering to you, dear reader, is about the magnificent atmosphere upon which we all depend.

Here’s a clue.

Sunrise to our North-East at a little after 7am on Sunday, 13th July, 2014.

Sunrise to our North-East at a little after 7am on Sunday, 13th July, 2014.

Yes, the BBC have embarked on what they are calling Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets of the Skies. Over on that website, one can read this:

Every Breath We Take: Understanding Our Atmosphere

The air around us is not just empty space; it is an integral part of the chemistry of life. Plants are made from carbon dioxide, nitrogen nourishes the soil and oxygen gives us the energy we need to keep our hearts pumping and our brains alive. But how did we come to understand what air is made of? How did we come to know that this invisible stuff around us contains anything at all?

Gabrielle Walker tells the remarkable story of the quest to understand the air. It’s a tale of heroes and underdogs, chance encounters and sheer blind luck that spans the entire history of science. It began as a simple desire to further our knowledge of the natural world, but it ended up uncovering raw materials that have shaped our modern world, unravelling the secrets of our own physiology and revealing why we are here at all.

There is much more to explore on the website, including this trailer to the programme.

Oh, here’s another ‘clue’ from Oregon.

Same morning, same sunrise.

Same morning, same sunrise.

The presenter of the BBC series is Felicity Aston who writes on her BBC Blog:

I joined Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets Of The Skies as the expedition leader and also as a meteorologist.

The plan was to fly from Florida to California, looking at the science of the skies.

But as well as scientists, there were plenty of other people on the team including three pilots, a ground crew of 14 that followed the airship by road and a full production team including two camera crews. Not everyone could be on board at once – the airship would never have got off the ground!

But I was really fortunate to spend a lot of time on board and flew most of the way across the continent.

Exploring in three dimensions rather than being limited to making observations from the ground was a revelation to me.

The clouds in the tropics around the Gulf of Mexico are huge, and being in the sky with them really brought home the vast scale of the forces at work.

Towering cumulus cloud in Florida.

Towering cumulus cloud in Florida.

We were able to travel over, under and through these monsters, revealing that clouds are about as far from the popular image of light and fluffy floating puffs of cotton wool as you can get! They are dense and heavy and full of destructive energy.

I remember looking down at the cloud layer from a plane as a child, and daydreaming about exploring this new world of unknown places, so I was very excited the first time we flew straight through a cloud.

I leaned out of the airship as far as I dared into the heart of a cloud and found that it was a dark, damp mass of floating fog (of course!) – no mysterious worlds – my childhood fantasies were crushed!

There’s more to read on her blog as well as some stupendous photographs of clouds.

So if this gives you a thrill then don’t delay in watching the full-length Episode One on YouTube before it gets taken down. (Warning: if you watch the opening first few minutes you will be hooked for the full hour!)

Now to close with, yes you guessed it, my final ‘clue’ from Oregon.

Beautiful Oregon dawn.

Beautiful Oregon dawn.

We live on the most beautiful planet!

Integrity and democracy.

with 12 comments

“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”

Thus said Aristotle.

Here’s another quote from more recent times.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

So said President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

oooo

Today’s post started as an ill-defined idea in my head following me reading a recent essay over on Patrice Ayme’s blog.  It was his (her?) post of the 17th July in which was written, “Representative democracy has to be destroyed as an ideal.” and later,

Meanwhile the French People would be well advised to search for a new form of government more appropriate to the modern world, and the increasing democracy we all dearly need.

One does not have to look very far for inspiration: the Confoederatio Helvetica next door, an independent, and central part of the Franks’ Francia, is enjoying a much more direct form of democracy.

that caused me to leave a comment,

I read a deeper malaise in your essay, Patrice, and that is the failure of ‘representative’ democracy in country after country around the world. In fact, it’s inspiring me to write a post over on LfD about the possibilities for truly democratic government.

that, in turn, was replied to by Patrice:

Please go ahead, Paul, and keep me informed! ;-)! And you are completely right. Representative democracy is actually oligarchic representation. Athenians had 80,000 citizens, and 80,000 legislators. France has about 1,000 times more citizens, and one half of a thousandth (1/2,000) fewer legislators. That makes the French democratic index half of a million times less than the Athenians!

Let me step back for a moment.

Over the life of this blog, I have touched on the vulnerability of human life on this planet more than once.  It’s not being at all smart to say that mankind is crapping on its own doorstep and our future is in severe doubt.  The reason I say it’s not smart is simply because millions of people almost certainly think that or something pretty damn close.

Maybe the huge divide between what ‘the man in the street’ knows makes common sense and the terrible lack of common sense shown by so many of our governments is at the root of the problem.  In other words, our representative democratic system isn’t working.

Here’s a letter from the pages of the Tampa Bay Times from just last Tuesday.

Tuesday’s letters: Our democratic system is at risk

There are thoughtful, informed people who are worried that our democratic system of government is not working and the whole enterprise is at risk. I think there is only one solution to the problem: to elect people who have demonstrated the ability to work cooperatively with others and solve problems.

It is foolish to think that the personalities of members of Congress change when they arrive in Washington. A worrisome number were fools, buffoons and rigidly ideological before they were elected, and there is no realistic possibility that anyone or anything can change their personalities after they are elected and while they are in office.

It is a crisis long in the making. Most students finish high school with little or no understanding of American history or the way their government works. There is no understanding of the idea of citizenship and the heavy responsibility imposed on citizens who live in a democratic republic. There has never been so much information so easily available that could allow people to make wise use of their votes. But without the perspective of education and a deep understanding that voting is everything in our system of government, it all may slip away.

Roger C. Benson, St. Petersburg

to elect people who have demonstrated the ability to work cooperatively with others and solve problems.

I wouldn’t argue at all with the wisdom in those words.  But I would add to it.

It’s my sense that many citizens in many countries feel that the whole business of government has got to large, too complicated, too remote and, frankly, has less to do with working “cooperatively with others and solve problems” than with feeding its own mouth.  Take voter turnout.

Graph of voter turnout percentage from 1824 to 2008.

Voter turnout in the USA; 1824 – 2008

Why such high levels of absenteeism; for want of a better description?

Let’s go back to the Athenians as Patrice mentioned.  Plenty on the web to read but this article caught my eye.

Athenian Democracy: a brief overview

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of February 28, 2003

· Summary ·

This article was originally written for the online discussion series “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context,” organized by Adriaan Lanni and sponsored by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies. Its purpose is to introduce, very briefly, the institutions of the Athenian democracy during the late 5th century BCE through the end of the radical democracy in the late 4th century. This is a companion-piece to “The Development of Athenian Democracy,” also written for the CHS’s discussion series.

· Introduction ·

The city of Athens lived under a radically democratic government from 508 until 322 BCE. Before the earlier date there was democracy to be found here and there in the government of Athens, and democratic institutions survived long after the latter date, but for those 186 years the city of Athens was self-consciously and decidedly democratic, autonomous, aggressive, and prosperous. Democracy in Athens was not limited to giving citizens the right to vote. Athens was not a republic, nor were the People governed by a representative body of legislators. In a very real sense, the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains (for the latter, see Aeschin. 3.157).1 The Athenian democracy was not, of course, a free-for-all of mob rule. The Athenians understood the value of checks and balances and of enforcing time for reflection before acting. They understood that professionalism is necessary in certain jobs, that accountability was necessary of most jobs, and that some jobs required absolute job-security. The system evolved over time, suffered two complete breakdowns in the 5th century, and is certainly open to criticism at many points during its history. Nevertheless, it was coherent enough during those two centuries that we can describe it, in general terms, without being too far wrong on any point. And despite its moments of imprudence, injustice, and indecision, it was an experiment remarkable enough to deserve our attention.

The early history of Athenian Democracy and its development is the subject of another article in this series. This general description of how the Athenians governed themselves will focus on the 4th century BCE, both because the democracy was most fully developed during that time and because the majority of our evidence either comes from that period, or describes the the Athenian government during that period.

Now there’s much more to read here for those so interested but I want to highlight a section from the above.  This section:

In a very real sense, the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains. The Athenian democracy was not, of course, a free-for-all of mob rule. The Athenians understood the value of checks and balances and of enforcing time for reflection before acting. They understood that professionalism is necessary in certain jobs, that accountability was necessary of most jobs, and that some jobs required absolute job-security.

So from 322 BCE to 2014 AD!

A few days ago, Jeannie needed to change some details regarding her US Social Security payment.  We saw that it could be done online.  As one would expect, setting up online access for Jean meant jumping through a number of security hoops.  All more or less sorted in 20 minutes.

It was clear that it would be incredibly difficult for someone to fraudulently break into her online SSA account. Think of the millions who perfectly happily manage their bank accounts online.

Ergo, there are no technical issues why every single eligible voter in the USA (and many other countries) couldn’t move towards governing themselves in a direct manner just like the Athenians. Indeed, voting in the USA at times of Presidential elections is permitted. But all that is doing is participating in a system that isn’t delivering real democracy.

We need to govern ourselves: “debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains.” Because humanity is facing some issues that are very great indeed!

Or have I missed something bloody obvious?

oooo

I opened today’s post with two quotations.  I shall close by offering another two.

“If we don’t hang together, we most assuredly will hang separately.”

Benjamin Franklin advising the original continental congress of what became the United States of America.

“A key political question today is: Do you support the well-being of the Earth and the life that the Earth supports?

From a good friend and supporter of this blog who chooses to remain anonymous.  Who then added: “This question has spiritual, natural and rational implications which frame the debate in terms of human values greater than money.”

Picture parade fifty-three

with 4 comments

More of Lew Levenson’s gorgeous pictures.

As I said in last week’s picture parade, “A friend from Payson, Arizona, Lew Levenson, recently sent across a set of 38 astounding photographs, all on the theme of perfectly timed shots.” Despite the fact that they had previously appeared in this place, your responses were do delightful that I have no problem in staying with these pictures over the next few Sundays.

oooo

LL9

oooo

LL10

oooo

LL11

oooo

LL12

ooooLL13

oooo

LL14

oooo

LL15

oooo

Each picture gives one such a warm and cuddly feeling!

You all take care out there.

Written by Paul Handover

July 20, 2014 at 00:00

Embracing happiness

with 8 comments

We receive what we put out!

There are so many aspects of the dog world that we have to learn.  Top of the list of what we must learn from dogs is unconditional love.

You all know how if you approach a strange dog with love in your heart, how that dog senses your love immediately and responds in the same loving fashion.

AS22

So approach every conscious being in your life with love in your heart. It will truly change the world!

So with that in mind, it seemed very appropriate to follow up yesterday’s post that included the essay by Chris Johnstone on celebration with this short film from Rick Hanson.  Especially just now.

Published on Nov 7, 2013
Hardwiring Happiness : The Hidden Power of Everyday Experiences on the Modern Brain. How to overcome the Brain’s Negativity Bias.

Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist and the author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, best selling author of Buddha’s Brain, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and an Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide.

Hurl9

(Thank you, John.)

How to stop drowning in a sea of gloom!

leave a comment »

A fascinating essay courtesy of Transition Network in the UK

I have very little doubt that I share with the majority of ‘common folk’ out there a feeling of these being dark and desperate times. I’m not even going to list the things that, on an almost daily basis, come along under the category of ‘doom and gloom’.

Yet it is also pretty widely known that change is embraced much more easily through reward.  In other words, we commit to change, in a thousand different ways, from the expectation of reward: reward in many varied and numerous ways, many of them non-financial, of course.

The challenge for us all is that the negative has great pulling power. If we read news websites, watch television, read newspapers, and more, we are exposed essentially to wall-to-wall bad news.

So how on earth do we keep our spirits up?  How on earth do we maintain hope in there being a positive way forward? Whatever ‘way forward’ translates to in terms of the individual?

Over in the UK there is the website of the Transition Network.  From that home page one can link across to a number of blogs.  Anyway, recently on Rob Hopkins’ blog there was a very interesting essay by Chris Johnstone about the power of celebration. Read it and reward yourself for so doing! ;-)

ooOOoo

Without celebration, we wither away

An interview of Chris Johnstone by Rob Hopkins

Chris Johnstone

Chris Johnstone

Chris Johnstone works in the area of the psychology of resilience, sustainable happiness and is co-author, with Joanna Macy, of Active Hope: how to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. [1.] Chris appeared at both the Unleashing of Transition Town’s Totnes and Lewes, and has interacted with different Transition groups ever since. He’s also an accomplished musician (you can hear him playing briefly at the end of the podcast of our interview). I started by asking him why celebration matters:

“I’m just thinking about how important food is. Without food, we wither away. Food is nourishment. We also have needs for psychological nourishment or psycho-spiritual nourishment, emotional nourishment. I see celebration as one of those things that nourishes us psychologically, emotionally, spiritually. I was thinking about this also in terms of how important celebration is in keeping us going.

One of the thought blocks that people bump into sometimes is the voice that says “well what’s the point of doing this?” What celebration does is it gives us an answer to that. I think of it as helping shifting us from a going nowhere story where we feel we’re making no progress and have no direction to what I think of as a going somewhere story, where we feel that we’re on the way somewhere because we’re celebrating and marking important steps along the way.

What are the risks of not pausing to celebrate, do you think?

If you don’t pause to first of all notice that you’ve made any progress, it’s very easy to feel that you’re not making any progress. If you’re not making any progress, one of the risks for burnout is that loss of meaning where you lose the sense that there’s a point to what you do. Basically you run dry.

I see one of the parallels here as sustainable agriculture. One of the keys of sustainable agriculture is to nourish the soil. If you look after the soil, you get good crops. In terms of personal productivity, I think it would be to have sustainable activism. The parallel to topsoil is, I guess, our enthusiasm. We need to look after our enthusiasm for something. If we don’t, our enthusiasm gets thin like thin topsoil and you can get to a point where there’s no enthusiasm left and you just have that sense of, well what’s the point. You lose the oomph, you lose the energy, and you lose the plot.

What does good celebration look like? What for you would be the ingredients of a good celebration?

You can do it alone. It’s good to have ways where we notice the steps that we’re taking by ourselves and find some way of marking those and reinforcing those, but I’d say that celebration generally is much better in company. It’s also socially bonding and there’s very interesting research here about what really makes a difference in relationships.

There’s a psychologist called Shelley Gable who worked at the University of California, Los Angeles, and she was trying to work out what are the vital things that really make a difference and she recorded lots and lots of relationships. One area of communication that seemed to make a key difference in relationships was the response to good news.

If one person had good news and shared it with the other and the other person responded to the good news by being ‘joy in the joy of another’, by celebrating the good news, that deepened trust, that deepened the sense of satisfaction in the relationship. But if somebody shared good news and it passed by without notice or even worse, the person tried to persuade them that really it was bad news, that led to a drop in the level of satisfaction in the relationship that was so strong that Shelley Gable found that she could work who was at higher risk of breaking up over the next 12 months just by looking at their response to good news, whether somebody celebrated the good news when it was shared, or whether somebody passed it by or poured cold water on it.

There was a thing that I wrote for this month’s framing editorial that was my attempt at what some of the ingredients of good group celebrations might look like. What does celebration on a more day to day basis in a group like a Transition group – how can we design it into our meetings, our everyday rather than having something we just do once a year?

I’d say there’s something here about celebration needing to be meaningful. It’s asking yourself “what exactly is it that we are celebrating?” What we’re doing with celebration is celebrating the things we appreciate, the things that we value. By having a shared celebration, what you’re doing is reinforcing the system of values, the shared system of values within that group. In terms of what keeps us going, it’s really important to celebrate success. So what comes up there is we need to look at how do we notice success, how do we notice progress and how do we define that?

It’s particularly important when working for social change, for social and ecological justice, that we can often have a lot of disappointment and frustration along the way. If we only celebrate the really big things, the really big victories, we can have long gaps between the celebrations which makes us feel that we’re losing, that we’re not making progress. And so therefore I think what’s really important is to look at the mini victories along the way, and to both celebrate the positive outcomes that happen, but also to celebrate the effort put in, and one way of doing that is just to find some way of appreciating what has been done, so for example research on our mood shows that one of the things that improves mood is both the experience and also the expression of gratitude.

One of the ways that you can build celebration into everyday meetings and things is just finding some way to appreciate each other, appreciate the steps that we’ve been taking. If you’ve noticed that someone’s worked really hard on something, to have some gap in a meeting, some agenda item in the meeting where you just notice the things that have been done and the effort put in, and find some way of valuing them, marking them, noting them.

It might be first of all there’s a slot for anyone who’s got any good news to share and then to celebrate that, but also has anyone got any appreciations of gratitude to express. To actually build that into part of a group culture that we take time to notice and celebrate the steps we notice each other taking, and also if somebody has noticed a step that we’ve taken, for it to be completely more than fine, I’d say brilliant, for us to step forward and say – one thing I’m pleased about, you may not have seen this but one thing I’ve done is… where we take time to notice and to celebrate the steps we’ve taken ourselves.

It’s great when other people can notice it, but we don’t want to end up feeling resentful because no one cheered for this hard piece of work I did. We actually get better at stepping out there and saying – yes, I’m really pleased that I did this, I’m really pleased that I did that, because when we mark the steps that we’re taking, we reinforce that in a way that helps us keep taking those steps.

The environmental movement, in as much as I’ve been around it for the last 25 years or so, feels to be fairly spectacularly bad at stopping and celebrating. The culture is like a marathon, “got to keep going, got to keep going”, so there’s lots of burnout. Why do you think the environmental movement has been so poor at that?

Partly it’s the scale of the tasks that we face. We can’t have a party to celebrate climate change being sorted out, because that’s probably not going to happen in our lifetime. There’s already problems in the post, as it were, from the carbon that’s already been released into the atmosphere. The task is so huge that we could be working, well, there’s 168 hours in the week and we could be working all of those for a whole year and still feel that there’s more and more to do. There’s two things here.

There’s the to-date thinking which is where we look at what we’ve done so far, but there’s also to-go thinking where we look at what we’ve still got to go, the distance we’ve still got to cover. When we look at the distance we’ve still got to cover, it’s further than we can get in our lifetime, so that’s the trouble as I see it. We can just be working, working, working, and feel that there’s always more to go.

But also if we only focus on the work that’s still to be done, the danger is we just get exhausted. We become like what we’re doing to the fields of wheat around the world – we harvest them unsustainably and end up depleting the soil. I’d say that activist enthusiasm is a vital renewable resource, and we need to get much more skilful about how we treasure it. How we look after it in a way that can help it grow.

My last question is, can you think of one celebratory event that you were particularly moved by or inspired by which could be a story that might be useful for Transition groups to hear?

I’ve shared a number with you that I really delight in. One that comes to mind is when the two of us spoke together at the launch of Transition Town Totnes. It was the official unleashing of Transition Town Totnes and that was years ago now. But I think that was in 2006, so eight years ago now. What we do is celebrate launches of things in a way that we’re marking them and saying – hey, this is the beginning of something. We don’t know what will happen, but we’re marking our very clear intention.

There’s a form of energy, I call it ACACI which means A Clear and Committed Intention. It’s like a form of psychological energy. When you have strong, clear and committed intention, it drives you on. One of the ways of building that up is to have a launching celebration. I really enjoyed that event with you. We spoke together at the unleashing of Transition Town Lewes as well and we’ve both been back there since then. You wrote recently in your July 1st blog about being at their 7 year celebration and I was there at their 5 year celebration.

If you have a party to begin something, then you can also revisit that point some years on. So they become markers in time. We can say yes, we were here when this began, we celebrated the launch of this. And now here we are meeting again, this number of years later and we also celebrate the effort put in and the steps taken and the distance covered in that between time.

What you do there is build in the journey approach to change. This sense that we’re on a cultural migration. That’s why I love the term Transition. Transition is about moving from one place to another and we mark the steps along the way. So we celebrate when we begin this journey with the unleashing, the launch, but we keep coming back to that at periodic intervals and say – hey, we’re still on this journey. It’s still important to us.

While there might be some steps forward and some steps back and frustrations and disappointments along the way, there will always be things that we can look at and say yeah, that’s what we did and I feel really good about that.

When you mark the things that you feel good about, you get something which I call afterglow. This is the warm feeling of satisfaction after you’ve done something or noticed something that you feel good about. That’s what keeps us going, it’s fuel for the journey. So back to that original idea that celebration is a form of psychological nourishment and it’s absolutely vital to keep ourselves going.

You’re a very gifted musician and you managed to weave music and getting everybody moving and joining in as well. What’s the role of music in that, do you think?

It’s so interesting, because they’ve found bits of bone that have been turned into flutes that are 20,000 years old. I see music as a form of social glue. It draws people together. There’s something very remarkable that can happen when people move rhythmically together. It’s where we shift out of just seeing ourselves as separate individuals to where we sing and dance together it reinforces our connectivity, our sense of being part of something larger.

That’s great – actually ‘great’ is an understatement. I talked about psychological nourishment, also how do we reinforce and grow social capital? Social capital is the wealth that comes out of relationships. Shared music and dance is one of the ways that happens.

Here is the podcast of our interview with Chris.

Published on July 15, 2014, by Rob Hopkins

ooOOoo

I wanted to know more about Chris and very quickly came to this place, from where I read:

Chris Johnstone

Chris Johnstone

Chris Johnstone is a medical doctor, author, and coach who worked for nearly twenty years as an addictions specialist in the UK National Health Service. A former Senior Teaching Fellow at Bristol University Medical School, he trains health professionals in behavioral medicine and gives courses exploring the psychological dimensions of planetary crisis. Chris is known for his work pioneering the role of resilience training in promoting positive mental health, developing self-help resources and setting up the Bristol Happiness Lectures. He is author of Find Your Power: A Toolkit for Resilience and Positive Change (2nd Ed, 2010) and co-presenter of The Happiness Training Plan CD (2010).

Chris has been a trainer in the Work That Reconnects for more than two decades, working with Joanna on many occasions and running facilitator trainings in the United Kingdom. In 2004 he set up the free email newsletter [2.]  The Great Turning Times, which is now read by thousands of people throughout the world. He has been active in the Transition movement since its very beginnings and contributed to a chapter on the psychology of change in The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins.

After many years living in Bristol, Chris recently moved to the North of Scotland, where he lives with his wife, Kirsty, their dogs and chickens, pursuing his love of growing fruit in their evolving forest garden. He continues his coaching and training work, as well as his writing and music. His website is at www.chrisjohnstone.info
He runs workshops and a facilitator training in the Work That Reconnects in the UK. Details at: www.facilitationforlifeonearth.org.
He also offers online courses in Active Hope, Resilience, Sustainable Happiness and Change-Making Skills at www.resiliencehappinesschange.com.

[1.] The following video is from the Active Hope theme.

[2.] If you wish to subscribe to the newsletter, then the link may be found on this page. (I have just done so.)

 

Written by Paul Handover

July 18, 2014 at 00:00

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,050 other followers

%d bloggers like this: