Learning from Dogs

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

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The book! Part Five: Forgiveness.

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Dogs offer a multitude of examples of forgiveness that many of us probably don’t see. Well, do not see that quality of forgiveness of dogs in such a clear, specific way. Yet think of dogs that are treated cruelly, often over months or years, and then find a new, loving home. Think of dogs that have spent weeks and months in confinement at the local humane centre. Or more terrible to comprehend are those dogs that have simply been abandoned; just thrown away by a so-called human.

We take it totally for granted, when dogs find that new loving home, that they will adjust quickly and easily. For example, one of the dogs that we have here at home is Casey. He was found in the local dog rescue unit down in Payson, Arizona, when we were living in that part of America. Casey had been confined in the dog rescue unit for coming up to a year, and probably hadn’t found a new home because he was a Pit Bull mix, and looked it. Two weeks before he was due to be ‘put down’, classified as being unadoptable, Jean brought him home.

The speed at which he settled in to his new home including, not too much later, a house move from Payson to Southern Oregon, was just wonderful. Casey never for a moment displayed any cautiousness or nervousness towards Jean and me, or, even more importantly, didn’t reveal any anti-social inclinations towards visitors who came to the house. Casey has a wonderful temperament and is a happy, lively, affectionate dog. Clearly, Casey harbours no grudges from past experiences. His forgiveness of the way his life had been dominated by the actions of humans is flawless.

With Payson in mind, there’s another example of how a dog so quickly puts past experiences behind them and embraces their new life.

For in Payson we knew the author, Trish Iles, who has the blog Contemplating Happiness[1]. Here is a lovely story from Trish, in her own words:

What the dog knew!

I was pondering the eternal question: why does two weeks of relaxing vacation seem like so much more time than two weeks of working like my pants are on fire, here at my desk? My sweet husband and I talked about it a little bit, but came to no definitive answer. I chatted with friends about it. No insights. Google had no opinion, either.

Chloe came to us from a rescue organization. I think sometimes about what her experiences have been in her young life. She started out as an abandoned puppy on a reservation in New Mexico and was soon in the pound where she was on the euthanasia list. A kind woman rescued her and took care of her until she found us: just when Chloe was becoming at home with the rescue lady, she was uprooted again and sent home with two new people. What must she have been thinking?

Chloe didn’t close her heart to us, though. She watched for a few days. When she decided we weren’t going to make dinner out of her and that she was really staying with us, she threw her whole being into becoming one of the family. She let herself trust us.

I’m not sure I would have had the courage to trust a new set of people again. I’m doubly not sure that I give a rat’s patootie what those new people thought of or wanted from me. Chloe was willing not only to trust us, but to love us. She forgave us immediately for ripping her from the home she knew, and she adopted us right back.

Chloe was born knowing. She knows about joy. She knows about living a life in balance. She knows about forgiveness, trust, exuberance, a passion for learning and the power of a good nap. I think that when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Chloe knows about forgiveness.

Moving on. Much too late to make me realise the inadequacies of my own parenting skills, I learnt an important lesson when training Pharaoh, a German Shepherd, who came into my life as a puppy back in 2003; the first dog I had ever had. What I learnt was that putting more emphasis into praise and reward for getting it right ‘trains’ the dog much more quickly than telling it off. The classic example being scolding a dog for running off when instead there should be lots of hugs and praise for the dog returning home. The scolding simply teaches the dog that returning home isn’t pleasant whereas praise reinforces the belief in the dog that home is the place to be. Summed up by a phrase that I read somewhere: “Catch them in the act of doing right!

Like so many things in life, so very obvious once understood! There is no doubt in my mind that this approach, this philosophy, works with youngsters in just the same positive way.

Let’s focus now on the nature of forgiveness in people; in us humans.

There are, essentially, two options that we can choose to act out when we are hurt by someone. We can hang on to those feelings of anger and resentment, and possibly have thoughts of revenge, or respond with forgiveness. The first leads to wounds of anger, bitterness and resentment. The second leads to healing, to the rewards of peace, hope, gratitude and joy.

H’mm – deciding upon the best option could be tough decision! Apologies, I couldn’t avoid that flippancy!

The powerfully positive outcome from acting with forgiveness is that the act that caused the hurt loses, or is denied, any real emotional force upon one. You quickly put it behind you and focus on other, more positive parts of your life. That’s not to say that a significant act of hurt is forgotten, possibly not so for some time, it’s just that it lessens its grip on us, often significantly so. Indeed, quite often, forgiveness can give birth to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt us.

Moreover, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are blind to, or deny, the other person’s responsibility for causing you to be hurt, nor does it minimise, let alone justify, the wrongness of the act. The person can be forgiven, without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you and I get on with our lives.

Actually, the benefits of forgiveness are even more tangible than the subjective meaning of peace.

There is real evidence to show that the letting go of grudges and bitterness, of offering forgiveness can lead to:

◦ Healthier relationships
◦ Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
◦ Less anxiety, stress and hostility
◦ Lower blood pressure
◦ Fewer symptoms of depression
◦ Stronger immune system
◦ Improved heart health
◦ Higher self-esteem

Beats a few bottles of pills in spades!

Now, as I read back over those last few sentences it struck me as having the slight tone of a Sunday sermon. That what needs to be added to those stirring ideas is how does one learn to forgive, learn to forgive in a practical manner.

Psychotherapists, and others from similar backgrounds, say that forgiveness is the result of change; or more accurately put, a commitment to a process of change.

To put some flesh on the bones of that last idea, that forgiveness is the commitment to a process of change, what now follows are five recommendations. Resist the temptation to read on without pause, indeed just say to yourself that after you have read each of the five recommendations coming up, you will reflect for sufficient time for your head to embrace the meaning of each recommendation, and still remaining paused, give your heart time to engage with your head. I hope that’s clear.

Bring up in your mind an episode where someone else caused you hurt. It can be a recent episode or one from long ago that still has the potential to hurt you. Dwell on it for a while.

So to the first recommendation: Consider the values of forgiveness to you, not at a theoretical level, but to you in terms of where you are at this point in your life, and by implication, how important those values of forgiveness are to you at this given time.

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

So to number two: Reflect on the situation, the real facts of what happened, how it came about, how you reacted, and to what degree the situation has affected your life, health and well-being; or has the potential to so do.

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

Here is the third recommendation: Actively choose to forgive the person who hurt you. Possibly by re-reading this chapter down to this point. Actively chose to forgive that person now!

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

Number four, the penultimate recommendation: Stop seeing yourself as a victim of the hurtful event. Understand that by continuing to feel victimised, you are unable to release the control and power that the offending person, and/or the situation, has over you.

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

The final recommendation; number five: As you let go of the pain, of the hurt, of your grudges, your life is now no longer defined by how you have been hurt. Better than that, the letting go opens your heart to finding compassion and understanding for the other person.

Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

There is no question that forgiveness can be challenging at times, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong or doesn’t ever speak of his or her sorrow. But never allow yourself to become stuck. Reflect on the times when you have hurt others and when those others have forgiven you. Share your burden of finding forgiveness, such as writing in a journal, or through pray or guided meditation; even better open up to someone you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend. Nearly forgot: share your burden with your dog! They are such great listeners!

Never forget that finding forgiveness is a process and even small hurts may need to be forgiven over and over again.

In the vast majority of cases, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. Especially so when the hurtful event involved someone whose relationship you really value; for example someone emotionally close to you. However, there is one case where reconciliation is impossible. That is the case where the person who hurt you has died. However, even if reconciliation isn’t possible, forgiveness always is.

A quick afterthought tells me that there is a second case where reconciliation is impossible: when the person who hurt you refuses to communicate with you. As they say, it takes two to tango, and you always have the choice to walk away, to move on, to reflect that someone who hurts you and then stands in the way of reconciliation may possibly be better off disconnected from you; temporarily or permanently.

Never forget to respect yourself, to keep an open heart and mind and do what seems best for you in the specific situation.

The final thought for this chapter on forgiveness is not to think that it is about the other person needing to change; that isn’t the point of forgiveness. Forgiveness is about us, how it can change our lives through bringing peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. It also helps, enormously so, in allowing us to recognise our own faults, our own mistakes, and the times when we have hurt others, so that we can offer our apologies in an open and honest manner.

Forgiveness is one of the many precious qualities that we can learn from dogs.

2,036 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://contemplatinghappiness.blogspot.com/p/my-books.html

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Written by Paul Handover

December 15, 2014 at 00:30

The smell of the North

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The things science unearths!

Having nine dogs here at home and quite a few acres of land, you can easily imagine that one needs to keep a good lookout for the numerous ‘land mines’.

But as much as they are a common and familiar sight, especially around the house, never in a thousand years would I have noticed a magnetic alignment!

All brought to my awareness by a wonderful article over on the ZME Science website.

Are you a dog lover? Did you know this?


Dogs can sense Earth’s magnetic field… while pooping

Jenny Ricken / Univ. of Duisberg-Essen via AFP – Getty Images

Jenny Ricken / Univ. of Duisberg-Essen via AFP – Getty Images

Every dog owner can attest that canines are remarkable navigators, like some sort of living, breathing compasses. For some time, researchers have suspected that they can sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it in turn for navigation. A recent study confirmed this as a fact, however the findings came after studying the dogs in one of their most intimate poses – while pooping. Apparently, in stable conditions, dogs always relieve themselves while facing either north or south.

Led by zoologist Hynek Burda of Germany’s University of Duisburg-Essen, the researchers closely followed 70 dogs of 37 breeds for two years. Initially, the dogs didn’t seem to follow any particular pattern while going on with their business. After taking in account, however, things like the time of the day, the position of the sun, wind direction and, of course, the slight daily variation in the Earth’s magnetic field a whole new level of appreciation was revealed.

“The emerging picture of the analysis of the categorized data is as clear as [it is] astounding: Dogs prefer alignment along the magnetic north-south axis, but only in periods of calm magnetic field conditions,” said Burda.

Alignment of a sampling of dogs while defecating during stable geomagnetic conditions. Photo: Hart et al. / Frontiers in Zoology

Alignment of a sampling of dogs while defecating during stable geomagnetic conditions. Photo: Hart et al. / Frontiers in Zoology

Poop compass

So, dogs will always poop or pee facing north or south during stable conditions. The study not only proves that dogs can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, but also exhibit specific behavior in response to natural magnetic field variations. To our current knowledge, they’re the only mammals that do this. Previously it was shown that cattle, deer, foxes and other types of mammals sometimes line up preferentially along Earth’s magnetic field lines.

To some, dogs’ “sixth sense” might not come as a surprise, while others may view the present study as a complete waste of grant money. While it’s still unclear how dogs use this skill, it may be too early to dismiss the practical applications of the findings. If anything, however, this research proves yet again that dogs are extraordinary animals.

“To many dog owners who know about the good navigation abilities of their protégés, the findings might not come as a surprise, but rather as an explanation for the ‘supernatural’ abilities—although it is not clear to the researchers what the dogs might use their magnetic sense for,” Burda said.

Next, the researchers plan on studying how dogs use this ability and how magnetic storms affect their ability to orient themselves. Findings were reported in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.


To say that I’m just a tiny bit sceptical wouldn’t be a lie.  But, trust me, I shall be outside tomorrow morning with my compass and camera and will report the results!

Written by Paul Handover

December 15, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Five: Honesty.

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In one very real sense, a chapter about the quality of honesty in dogs is bizarre. Surely, honesty, and dishonesty, are terms that exclusively describe human tendencies. When the term “dishonest” is used to describe a person, most often we are describing an effort by that person to deceive another. It is a description of someone who intentionally is trying to mislead or misinform us.

But in terms of honesty, or dishonesty, what I am about to say probably applies to all animals; I don’t know. Namely, that if there was one animal on Planet Earth that is incapable of guile or deceit, it has to be the dog. There is no doubt in my mind that dogs remain one of the most beautiful gifts nature has bestowed upon us humans.

Now that last bold statement is not to imply that dogs don’t try to manipulate us humans; far from it. Their attempts at manipulation would impress any three-year-old child! But there’s nothing dishonest about a dog trying to manipulate its owner into giving the dog whatever it wants; they are far too obvious in their motives and methods. As I read somewhere, dogs are: “Just scavengers looking for a way to get something with minimal effort.

Thus I think we can take it as a given that dogs are honest; fundamentally so.

OK, dear reader, you have no way of knowing that after writing that last sentence, I sat staring at the screen for a good ten minutes. I didn’t know how to continue the theme. I couldn’t think of anything to add to what every “good person and true” knows, and has known since time immemorial: honesty is a fundamental aspect of being a good person; the enviable of all titles, as George Washington is reputed to have said.

What was exercising my brain was to come at the subject of honesty in a way that offered a compelling reason for being honest; over and above the natural assumption about honesty, that it is so blindingly obvious not to require being spelt out; in a manner of speaking. It struck me that honesty is very different to the majority of the other qualities that we need to learn from dogs.
Different in the sense that the other qualities are open to being embraced as something that may be learnt, with clear rewards from so doing, whereas honesty seems a fundamental, core way of relating to the world around one. Mind you, there was a tiny voice in my head that was nagging away at me that said that honesty may not be so ‘black and white’. For example, the question of ‘white lies’. But, at heart, I was still lost as to how to proceed.

So, I spent another thirty minutes exploring the web looking for clarity; looking for some inspiration. Yet those web searches just ended up confusing me more. About the least confusing item I came across, more or less at random, was a section from an article read[1] on the website The New Atlantis. The full article was entitled: The truth about human nature.

The section that I read, and is reproduced below, seemed to confirm in my mind that honesty; something that, by rights, should be so fundamentally understood, was anything but simple.

Since Nietzsche, the choice of which version of ourselves we identify with has been widely understood as a choice between lying and truth-telling — to ourselves as much as to others. The moral ideal has become authenticity — a particular kind of honesty. Of course, just about any philosophical ideal is grounded in some sort of honesty: the search for Truth requires truth. Yet Aristotle describes honesty as a virtue only of self-presentation — the balance between self-deprecation and boastfulness. And Plato never lists honesty as a virtue at all, and even distinguishes between “true lies” and useful or noble lies. From the modern to the post-modern era, honesty and authenticity shifted to become much of the telos[2] of life, where before they had been but means in our progress toward that end.

Here was me looking for clarity only to find anything but that!

So what to make of all this?

I am going to fall back on the ideas expressed in the chapter on community. Rather on the closing words of that chapter, “… the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

There’s a sense of hope in me that we are heading for an era of new localism that will, in and of itself, reinforce a culture of honesty in one’s life. Why such hope? Because there are signs. Such as this one: the growing concern about factory farming, surfacing as increasingly more vibrant local food movements, demonstrating that people are really scrutinising where their food comes from. More than that! There are increasing concerns as to where our medicines are made and the possible side-effects, and a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). Possibly all under a global umbrella of awareness that big government is no longer working as it should be; evidenced by falling voter turnout numbers at key elections in the USA and many other countries.

My hope is that this growing ‘honesty’ about the reality of our present world and where it appears to be heading is at the heart, in my opinion, of an expanding local consciousness permeating the hearts and minds of many people, leading them to want to become more “local.”

Should this come about, and I hope that it does in my lifetime, then an honesty of thought and deed will be, nay, has to be, a core attribute of life in a well-functioning local community.

982 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-truth-about-human-nature
[2] As in an end or purpose of life

Written by Paul Handover

December 12, 2014 at 00:30

Happiness is a state of BEING..

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A wonderful post from Sue Dreamwalker.

A couple of weeks ago, back on the 26th November, Sue published a post over on her blog, Dreamwalker’s Sanctuary, that ‘spoke’ to me in ways beyond words.  For when we turn inside of ourselves, when we try to listen to our own deepest experiences, the word ‘soul’ might not be out of place here, we frequently struggle to translate those feelings, those inner voices, into words.  Words seem far too crude! It’s how a beautiful vision of nature can never be perfectly transferred into a photographic image.

So I won’t blather on! Just let your eyes feast on the following:


Resurrecting a state of BEing.

I am the Sky

I am the Sea

I am in all you see

I am the Wind

Within your breath

I am with you even in Death

I am the space between your thoughts

And nothing of me should scare you naught

I am in everything you do

And all I do is Love You.



I wrote that poem sometime ago now.. and I often find myself still searching for that BEing within.. Below is what I posted about BEing in 2011…

What is this “Being” inside of me? inside of ALL of us.. What is it that drives us, makes us tick.. I often talk to that ‘Being’ don’t you? as I search inside and question and listen for the answers.

We call ourselves Human BE-ings.. but what does that mean? Many I think have forgotten that “Being” within themselves as we search externally to IammeBE that something else.. We get bombarded with being told who we should aspire to ‘Be’ like, who to follow, how to pray, etc etc.. we are told what we should wear, what to eat, what products to buy.. and our BE-ing has got lost, swamped by all the exterior material diversions of being told how to live our lives….

We get disillusioned and search outside of ourselves for the Guru or saviour to come and make our lives more meaningful as we endeavour to find that missing part that makes us whole.. .. We are never satisfied with our lot, some even change their own appearances as they strive to BE this image of a person that to them is not the one who looks back at them through the mirror.

Do we really Look into that Mirror and Do we really SEE?

SD2We are divided in schools, Higher education , Top/Bottom of the class,Class distinction, Grades- Culture and Creeds.. We judge each other,we condemn those who have differing views… We look down on those who appear of lesser means — We Label people and we put limits upon ourselves telling ourselves we are not worthy, for society has made us think in terms of possessions and wealth as status symbols..

We become jealous of those whose lives seemed enriched and full, but as we look closer are they enriched? Are they content with that ‘Being’ within? It seems not, for many too are still searching outside of themselves to find that which makes them Happy.. and all that money and wealth shows that Happiness still cannot be bought…

We think ourselves as separate beings, alone, and yet we are all of us part of the Human Race… We are ALL of us HUMAN BEINGS… Something I think many forget as we race to gather yet more and more material ‘Things’ around our selves thinking they will BE the Key to happiness…

Happiness is a state of BEING..

Happiness is not found in any-‘Thing’ other than Within Ourselves…

When we look at the I AM when we really Seek that Inner BEING when we truly Love ourselves the inner core-self.. when we come to LOVE ourselves and stop trying to BE something that we are seeking to BE… only then will we find our True BEING..

We are all connected within that Family of Light

We are ALL BEINGS OF LIGHT ENERGY within this Human Form.


..all of us seeking the same thing and all of us forgetting how to connect to that most basic thing..


TO BE- One’s SELF!

We need look no further to make ourselves feel whole and complete, than to


For instead of seeking to ‘BE’ this or that, Instead of trying to ‘BE’ Wealthy, Wise, … ,searching to ‘BE’ what ever else you think you need to make you Happy

ALL we have to BE is —LOVE

And to ‘BE’- Happy..

‘BE’ Wise,…

To ‘BE’ ALL of these things.

Remember that there is nothing you need do except

‘BE’ in the ‘Moment’ of ‘NOW!’..

and ‘BE’ the Best you know how to BE.. Right now!..

And start BEING who YOU choose to BE..

Love and Blessings


And one more thought to add to BE-responsible for your thoughts and Actions.. And BE -aware that your thoughts contribute to the creation of either positive or negative outcomes in the world..

So BE-prepared for the outcomes..




Do yourself a favour; a big favour – go and read it all through again!

Sue, many, many thanks for letting me republish this!

Written by Paul Handover

December 12, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Five: Play

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So what can we learn from dogs from the way that they play?

It’s a fair question yet one where it might be perfectly reasonable to wonder if we humans have anything to learn from the playing of dogs. The answers may surprise.

But first, let’s examine what is known about the playing of dogs.

Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is referred to extensively in The Washington Post; May 19th, 2014, in an article written by David Grimm, author of a new book: Citizen Canine.

David Grimm writes about the research undertaken by Marc Bekoff, who studies dog play and that, “studying dog play reveals more than the animals’ emotional lives. It could ultimately shed light on the evolution of human emotions and how we came to build a civilisation based on laws and co-operation, empathy and altruism.

Now that is a fascinating idea; that understanding why dogs play might help our understanding of how our emotions evolved. Up until this point, it had never occurred to me that our emotions evolved in just the same way that the rest of who we are today evolved. Sort of common-sense, I guess!

David Grimm goes on to write in that Washington Post article: “All of this suggests that dogs have a kind of moral code — one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it.

As I read the article it started to dawn on me that possibly the reason that we humans devote so much time, energy, and frequently money, in playing, may have much deeper roots, as with our dogs.

Few people had studied animal play, but Bekoff was intrigued. “Play is a major expenditure of energy, and it can be dangerous,” he says. “You can twist a shoulder or break a leg, and it can increase your chances of being preyed upon. So why do they do it? It has to feel good.

Suddenly, Bekoff wasn’t interested just in behaviour; he was interested also in emotions and, fundamentally, what was going on inside these animals’ heads.

As the article reveals, Professor Bekoff, “wasn’t the first scientist to become intrigued by the canine mind”, reminding us that Charles Darwin was sure that dogs could engage in abstract thought, owned a sense of morality and used language. In Darwin’s lifetime he had thirteen dogs so had plenty of opportunity to become aware of what most of today’s dog owners know: that we humans and dogs can communicate with each other.

But back to emotions.

Back to David Grimm’s article:

Even morality hints at something deeper, however. To enforce moral conduct, dogs must be able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from joy to indignation, guilt to jealousy. They must also be able to read these emotions in others, distinguishing accident from intent, honesty from deceit. And indeed, recent studies by other scientists have shown evidence of these abilities (confirming what many dog owners already feel about their pets).

Scientists have found, for example, that dogs trained to shake hands with humans will stop shaking if they notice that they aren’t being rewarded for the trick although a nearby dog is — a sign, the researchers suggested, that dogs can sense inequity.

Thus from the playing of dogs (and wolves) comes great insight into the emotions and social conduct of humans. I will return to that idea at the end of the chapter.

Like millions of other dog lovers, I know from strong personal experience that dogs have a great sensitivity to how I am behaving and feeling. Even almost taking it for granted that when I yawn, the chances are that one of our dogs will yawn. Or believing, without any doubt, that dogs show empathy for us humans; I can easily recall my Pharaoh licking tears from my face. What I didn’t realise until reading the Washington Post article is that empathy is a rarely documented trait in the animal kingdom.

We know what our dogs are feeling from their behaviour and their vocal sounds. Know instinctively that when a dog nudges me awake in the early hours of the morning, it is because it needs to go outside for a ‘call of nature’ and can’t wait until the normal waking hour.

Our dogs know what we are feeling from our behaviours, our body ‘language’ and our vocal sounds.

We all, all of us dog owners that is, know this and take it for granted. Perhaps not quite in the clarity of Professor Bekoff’s recent work that “suggests another remarkable canine skill: the ability to know what another animal is thinking — a so-called “theory of mind.””

Back to play. Science is suggesting that play, as initially researched with dogs, is very important, incredibly so, to our species. That without play, us humans would have had an impossible task of learning or interacting with the world around us. That our insight into our human emotions and the way we conduct ourselves, in a social context, flows down from learning from dogs.

Leaving one inescapable conclusion, one that so perfectly links to community: never stop playing. Never stop playing with others; humans and dogs alike.

872 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

December 10, 2014 at 00:30

Towards a new world.

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A republication of a fascinating essay.

When I posted yesterday about a ‘growing’ awareness, I had no idea that earlier this morning, Oregon time, I would read an essay over on Rob Hopkin’s Transition Network blog that just had to be shared with you. But such is the wonder of our wired-up world.  The essay is called From dismal science to language of beauty – Towards a new story of economics and is authored by Inex Aponte and is republished in full. (The emboldening is mine.)


Inez Aponte: From dismal science to language of beauty – Towards a new story of economics

Humans are storytelling beings. In fact one could argue that it is impossible to make sense of the world without story. Storytelling is how we piece together kite1-620x260facts, beliefs, feelings and history to form something of a coherent whole connecting us to our individual and collective past, present and future. The stories that help make meaning of our lives inform how we shape and re-shape our environment. This re-created world, through its felt presence in structures and systems as well as its cultural expressions, in turn tells us its story.

We live in a time of powerful globalised narratives. We no longer (or rarely) sit and listen to tales that were born of places we know intimately and told by people deeply connected to these places. Ours is a world saturated with information from every corner of the planet, voiced by ‘storytellers’ on television, radio, the internet, mobile phones, newspapers, billboards, books and magazines. It would appear that we now have access to a multitude of perspectives and, with that, more understanding of the different options open to human beings to live fulfilling lives. In reality however, the majority of us have to conform to a narrow set of rules not of our own making: the rules of economics.

The way in which our lives have become dominated by the pursuit of financial gain is full of contradictions. We may not be driven by the ‘love of money’ but we still have to ‘make a living’. The fluctuations in the economy have a profound effect on our everyday lives, but very few of us understand how it works, let alone feel we have the power to influence it. This lack of agency fills most of us with a degree of ‘background anxiety’ that drives many of our decisions, consciously or unconsciously. The economic story is possibly the most powerful story being told at this very moment.

So how is this story being told (and sold) to us? How is it being framed?

1- The work/life balance

This term has become so ubiquitous that it is often used in its English form even in non-English speaking countries. It seems to be a concept that needs no translation; it can easily be swallowed whole. But hidden inside this seemingly innocuous phrase are some powerful assumptions.

On one side of the scales we place work, not just any work, but paid labour. On the other side we place life. By life we don’t mean the actual fact of being alive, but our aliveness, our joy, our pleasures. Placing work and life on opposite sides of the balance we are tacitly agreeing that paid work is worth sacrificing our aliveness for, that it is ok to be a little bit ‘dead’ in your job. If you are lucky enough to have a job you love the concept may seem irrelevant, but for people whose work is tedious, soul-destroying or even dangerous this is the perfect frame to diffuse any discontent: ‘We agree that having a degree of aliveness is important, but you cannot have all of it. You have to sacrifice some of your aliveness just to stay alive.’ The framing of paid work as a necessity for ‘earning’ one’s existence remains unquestioned.

2- The economy must grow

Having determined the necessity of jobs it’s no surprise to hear world leaders repeating the growth mantra over and over. The story goes like this: we need growth so we can create jobs so we can pay people money to buy stuff that creates more jobs. Nobody questions whether the jobs that are created are worth giving up their aliveness for or even whether what is being produced or provided adds any further joy or satisfaction to society. The frame of ‘employment for all’ is so sacred that anyone pointing out how many of the businesses providing these jobs destroy the planet we depend upon for our survival is presented with another false dichotomy: people against nature.

When George Bush sr, at the time of the Kyoto protocol, told Americans “I am the one that is burdened with finding the balance between sound environmental practice on the one hand and jobs for American families on the other.” he was setting up a frame that continues to be echoed by world leaders today. Even if in our heart of hearts we know we need the earth more than we need the artificial constructs of jobs and money, by now we have become so dependent on money to stay alive that this kind of language stifles our capacity to imagine a different solution. Fearing for the survival and safety of our loved ones we accept the war declared on nature in our name.

3- Humans are selfish

This experience of fearing for our survival dovetails neatly with our third and perhaps most powerful economic frame: the rational, utility maximising individual – Homo Economicus. This story tells us that given the choice humans will seek to get the most for themselves with the least amount of effort. It’s simply a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

Funnily enough it looks like the people who most fit the stereotype of the selfish utility maximiser are economists themselves. Various studies have repeatedly shown that non-economists are not as selfish or rational as economic theory would have us believe and that economists, or students of economics, consistently score higher on selfishness than ‘ordinary’ people. Despite these insights, the story that humans are by nature selfish and competitive persists.

But are any of these frames telling us the truth about ourselves and the world? Do we have to accept work as a necessary burden? Do we have no choice but to destroy the planet in order to survive? Are we really as selfish as economic textbooks suggest?

Perhaps the first thing we need to ask is: Is any of this about true economics in the first place?

To answer this question we need to travel back to ancient Greece where Aristotle was musing on two distinct practices: Oikonomia and Khrematistika. Oikonomia is where we get the word economics from and is described as ‘the management of the household so as to increase its use value to all members over the long term’. Khrematistika on the other hand (from khrema, meaning money) refers to ‘the branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange value to the owner’.

In their book ‘For the Common Good’ economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb, Jr distinguish between the two as follows:

Oikonomia differs from chrematistics in three ways. First, it takes the long-run rather than the short-run view. Second, it considers costs and benefits to the whole community, not just to the parties to the transaction. Third, it focuses on concrete use value and the limited accumulation thereof, rather than on an abstract exchange value and its impetus towards unlimited accumulation…. For oikonomia, there is such a thing as enough. For chrematistics, more is always better…

By now you might recognise our current economic system in this description of chrematistics. No wonder we are confused. We believe we are practising economics when we are in fact practising chrematistics. This has far reaching consequences for both the practice of economics and its perception. By allowing chrematistics to masquerade as economics the owning classes have perpetuated the illusion that increasing their financial wealth will be good for all of us and we, in our own misunderstanding of the proper function of an economy, have accepted chrematistics as the dominant form of resource management.

But what if there was another way of thinking and speaking about the economy, one that was in line with the true meaning of the word: the ability to manage the home for all, the art of living? What if we were able to redeem the language of economics so that it might liberate our imaginations and creativity and tell a beautiful story that expresses what we truly value?

Human Scale Development

In the 1970s, after many years of researching poverty in Latin America, Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef came to the conclusion that conventional economics, in practising chrematistics, did not have the tools to adequately address the experience of poverty and could not serve to alleviate it. What was needed was a language that allowed poverty and wealth to be understood in much broader terms. Together with his colleagues he developed what is now commonly known as Human Scale Development (HSD) or ‘barefoot economics’.

HSD proposes that there are nine fundamental human needs which are universal across time and place (as opposed to wants which are subject to cultural and historical trends). These fundamental needs are: Subsistence, Protection, Identity, Understanding, Participation, Creation, Freedom, Affection and Idleness.

Needs are not the same as the strategies or satisfiers we use to meet those needs. Needs are finite; satisfiers are culturally determined and infinite. In HSD each satisfier is valuated according to its impact on the rest of our own needs, the needs of others and, most importantly, on the conditions for life itself: a living thriving planet.

In this model of economics, you are wealthy when your needs are satisfied and if one or more of your needs are not met you are poor. Whereas our current model has conventionally defined wealth as how much money you possess and poverty as a lack of money – expressed as a poverty of subsistence – in HSD you may suffer from any number of poverties if one or more of your needs are not adequately satisfied. So you may have a full belly and suffer from poverties of affection, understanding or identity. Or you may feel safe and protected by having a secure well-paid job, but work so much you suffer from poverties of creation, participation and idleness. When enough members of a community suffer a particular poverty for prolonged periods it develops into a pathology. It becomes a sickness that is often hard to recognise because it has been normalised. We may ask whether our tendencies towards addictive behaviours, whether they be addictions to work, alcohol, gaming or sex, are expressions of such pathologies.

In HSD the key to living well, and therefore the purpose of a true economy, is to adequately satisfy our fundamental human needs within the Earth’s natural limits. Our role within such an economy is not only to seek to get our needs met, but to use our gifts to meet the needs of others.

This is good news, because here the time you spend playing with your child and meeting their need for creation, affection and participation creates a positive balance in the economy. As does the meal you made for your elderly neighbour, (meeting the needs of subsistence, affection, understanding, and protection) as does joining a community garden, learning a new skill, lying in the grass watching the clouds go by. Framing economics in this manner tells us that we are economic participants regardless of whether we are making financial gains. Other skills, gifts or abilities become our ‘currency’. In fact most things that the conventional (chrematistic) economy ignores create wealth in a Human Scale Economy.

The reverse is also true. Actions that are now considered beneficial for the chrematistic economy – for example, cutting down forests to build roads – soon appear uneconomical through an HSD lens. The destruction of the natural world also destroys opportunities to meet many of our fundamental needs: for idleness (going for walks in nature) identity (these places hold meaning that stretches back over centuries) participation and creation (it is where the community gathers, connects, plays) and understanding (the opportunity to connect with and learn from the more-than-human world).

Economies are created by the people

Economies, large or small, local or global, are created by the people. They depend on our collective efforts, labour and entrepreneurship as well as our songs, our dances, our poetry, our joy, our curiosity, our dreams. The macro economy must be reformed from the inside out, it must start with an understanding of who we are, what is dear to our hearts and from that place radiate our values outwards in order to truly meet our needs. A ‘barefoot’ economy is an economy where people – liberated from wage slavery, and with access to the means by which they can satisfy their fundamental needs – are able to choose adequate satisfiers suitable to their region and culture. It is one where we acknowledge and respect our dependence on a thriving earth. It is a place where we have once again understood the meaning of ‘enough’.

If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, (…) then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” (Wendell Berry)

I look forward to a time when students of economics are required to study the work of artists, poets and makers. When economic text books, as well as addressing how we manage the earth to provide food, homes, clothing and jobs, also speak of the need for beauty, intimacy, community and love.

The Art of Economics (and may it one day become an art) needs a new story and a new language that doesn’t require us to choose between self and others, work and aliveness, our own lives and the lives of fellow humans or the health of the planet. A language that has the potential to re-frame the story, re-educate our thinking and get us back on the side of community, on the side of the earth and on the side of life.

Inez Aponte is a facilitator, storyteller and activist, and co-founder of the Well & Good Project. You can contact her about talks and workshops on HSD and the Fundamental Human Needs framework at inez_aponte@hotmail.com.



This article was written based on a talk given in Bonn within a series of REconomy-Events organised by the Bonn Transition-Town Initiative “Bonn-im-Wandel” and supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was originally published on the website of the recent Degrowth conference in Leipzig.


 Don’t know about you but I found this both fascinating and very informative.

The book! Part Five: Community

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Dogs offer many beautiful examples of the benefits of community. For the powerful reason that their genes, from the days of wild dogs, still guide their behaviours. When dogs lived in the wild, their natural pack size was around fifty animals. As was explained in more detail in the chapter Understanding the dog’s world, only three dogs held positions of status. The leader of the pack, the female alpha dog, the ‘second-in-command’, the male beta or teaching dog, and the ‘omega’ dog, a dog of either gender whose role was to be the clown dog, keeping the pack happy and playful. It should be added that all three dogs of status were born into their respective roles. Their position in the pack was instinctive.

All the other dogs in that natural grouping would be equal participants with no ambitions to be anything else. There was no such thing as competition for a role, as how a dog fitted into his or her pack was a product of birth.

When we see how dogs are as the domesticated animals we humans know and love, we still come across, from time to time, a dog that is an alpha, beta or omega role dog. At the time of writing this, we have nine dogs in the house. Of those nine, two have an instinctive status. Lilly, a very old female dog, was born an alpha dog, and Pharaoh, was born a beta dog.

Let me explain more about Pharaoh and him being a beta or teaching dog.

In my early days of having Pharaoh in my life, I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of occasions when walking him in a public area, with other dogs around, and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.

I was put in contact with an Angela Stockdale who for years had helped owners with aggressive dogs. Helped them by retraining their dogs. This is what she arranged. I took Pharaoh up to her place at Wheddon Cross, near Minehead in Somerset. When we arrived, Angela was standing just by a gate that led into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner of the paddock were two dogs.

Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that the intention was to let Pharaoh into the paddock. I cautioned that Pharaoh could be quite a handful with other dogs and, perhaps, it would be better that I walked him into the area still on his lead. Angela replied that it wouldn’t be necessary. So, as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I unclipped the lead from his neck chain and backed away, as requested.

Pharaoh had hardly taken two or three paces into the grassy paddock when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!

I was astounded and stammered, “Er, er, how can you tell so quickly?

Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came Angela’s immediate reply.

As we both watched the interaction taking place, Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog, Leda, and her male Beta dog, whose name now escapes me. In other words, these two dogs were number one and two in terms of status, so far as dogs see other dogs.

In fact, Pharaoh was utterly subservient to these dogs, in a way that I had never witnessed before. Later on, as Pharaoh relaxed and started playing, Angela said that she thought that Pharaoh was a Beta dog and later was able to confirm that.

Anyone who has the privilege of owning a group of dogs will know without doubt that they develop a community strength that is an incredible model for us humans.

So now to turn to how we can learn from this aspect of dogs.

Many people think more and more that nations, governments, call it what you will, are less and less effective at understanding the needs of their people. I’m not even going to go down the road of the corruption of our leaders, both big ‘C’ and little ‘c’, in terms of power and money. No, I’m thinking of the top echelons in many societies being very disconnected from the needs and aspirations of their people. The widespread sense that representative democracy, as a process, is broken. As a quick aside, I must add an amusing comment that came from a neighbour: If one can bank online, we can certainly vote online! Does make one think about new ways of governing ourselves in this online world of ours.

Yet it would be very wrong to imagine that mankind has no experience of community living. Erik D. Kennedy wrote an essay: On the Social Lives of Cavemen[1]. Under the sub-heading of The Tribe, he offers:

Human beings are no strangers to group living. Call it a family trait. Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off their friends’ backs. While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree. In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being. And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle — things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends. Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone — TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy. It’s no surprise that humans are social animals — but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year — or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

Thus, a sharing, community life is not just some cosy idea, it could be core to the sort of healthy society we need to return to. Erik’s essay continues to expand this idea by quoting the particular case of Roseto in Pennsylvania[2]:

In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of [ii[3]]). Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The circumstances behind the remarkable and uncharacteristic happiness and health for the residents of Roseto came down to one fact: “The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.

That, essentially, Roseto became “an Italian village in the American countryside.

One doesn’t need to reflect for very long before the obvious question arises: If fifty dogs is the optimum number for a pack of dogs, is there a limit to the number of people we can have in the human equivalent of our pack?

Well, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, that number is about 150 persons. Robin Dunbar achieved fame by drawing a graph that plotted primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes. He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and up came the number 150. Beyond that number is past the upper bounds for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Palaeolithic farming villages. More than that, it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for the number of close social ties.

Back to Erik Kennedy:

Regardless of the specific implementation, the point is this: we stand to gain a lot from living in larger, closer groups. That’s how we were kicking it in the monkey days; that’s how we should be kicking it now. I say that not because of a romantic attachment to our Palaeolithic forbearers, but because of the fact that a good deal of health and happiness is ripe for our picking.

Erik Kennedy offers advice as to how to translate that into practical actions. Such as watch less television, live in a bigger group, for example, dine with the same people more often, and always resolve any disputes that you have with close friends. Also, have your children spend more time with trusted adults and, in turn, spend time with the kids of adults who trust you. Not forgetting to mix up age groups and stay close to your parents and grand-parents.

In essence, adopting such a lifestyle is not without precedent; paleo-social lives are common all over the world. In fact, paleo-social lives may not only be common but an age-old wisdom in many other parts of the globe. However, in many parts of the ‘Western’ world chances are good that we have seen very few people living in anything vaguely resembling a tribe; to use the more common vernacular for the term paleo-social.

For one thing is clear: isolation and loneliness is taxing on our mental health. Humans are not designed to be alone.

Just another important way of living to learn from our dogs: the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

1,642 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.erikdkennedy.com/essays/social-lives-cavemen.php
[2] Referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.
[3] I believe one of the surest signs that your lifestyle is aligned with your physiology in some way is that the benefits come in clumps.  Just as the paleo diet helps people with weight, energy levels, digestion, complexion, resistance to illness, and other areas of health, it’s no surprise that a proper paleo social life would be a holistic boon to health.

Written by Paul Handover

December 9, 2014 at 00:30


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