I've taken the opportunity of a holiday space to rethink and refurbish
this Action Research enquiry into facilitating the power of love and
confronting the love of power.
To more clearly underline the aims and intentions of the enquiry, I've
changed the title from g.o.r.i.l.l.a. to livingfromlove
This may also help me manage the incoming tide of powerfreakery that
here, as in the rest of life, tends to swamp the living from love.
To make the unfolding of the enquiry more easily accessible I've
created a separate CONTENTS
the material as it emerged... from earliest to latest.
In honour of the antecedents of this phase of the enquiry, I'll quote a
few paragraphs from its opening statement
began ten year ago as a focus for resisting the abuse of power in the
work I do, psychotherapy. That is still a necessary task but it has
been overshadowed by the need to confront the abuse of power on the
wider political stage. OK, perhaps this is nothing new but events of
the last 10 years have sharpened my perspective.
What do I see? Two key trends:
1. A more nurturing approach to
parenting—coupled with a greater tolerance and capacity for
emotionality. These seem to have led to an increasing awareness of the
extent to which sexual and child abuse, domestic violence and bullying
are a damaging facet of 'normality' in child-care.
2. The collapse of the USSR project and its client states, brought into
sharper focus the abuses of power by the US and its client states that
had previously been masked by the Cold War.
The first of these is close to home, part of the work I do. The second
has seemed out of reach, out of my range and competence but no longer.
The open assertion that 'full spectrum dominance' should shape US
foreign policy has made politics everybody's business. The notion that
links all these trends is Dominance—the belief that 'might is
right', that bullying is natural, that the use of force and coercion
are inevitable and essential ingredients of human life—and that
its shadow, subordination and victimization, is also natural and
g.o.r.i.l.l.a. is devoted to unravelling and confronting these beliefs.
They have seemed to be a 'given', a part of human existence. Might they
not be self-serving social constructions that promote and support
exploitation and generate damage? Might they not be obsolete? An old
paradigm of relating that promises to end all relating?
Some hints and pointers:
People who inherit, gravitate to, are elected to, or seize, dominant
roles, tell stories about reality that justify their tyrannies.
People who have been disinherited, side-lined, abused or exploited also
tell stories that often justify or rationalize their victimhood.
The extent to which the media mirrors through which we know ourselves
socially are in the hands of dominant corporate tyrants tends to mean
that victimhood is seen as due to failure and weakness.
Since tyrannies tend to have the power to enforce compliance, and
side-line or censor contradictions, their stories can seem to be
A key element of how dominance plays out is dissociation. Tyrannies
hide from themselves the damage that arises out of dominance, or if it
cannot be hidden, it is held to be due to the weakness and failure on
the part of subordinates.
We can learn to recognize the cultures of domination that we inhabit
and resist, interrupt, and contradict them in ourselves and
And where does love feature in all this? So far as love is defined as
the active mutual pursuit of flourishing with Others— it requires the
absence of coercion and force. In other words Dominance is
the antithesis of Love. Learning to love, learning to live from love,
thus requires that we also confront our inner tyrants, that we move to
eliminate our use of force and coercion and work to build the skills
and emotional competence that negotiation and cooperation require.
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posted at: 11:31 | permanent link to this entry
Giving children the education they deserve.
As the scale and depth to which domination and the love of power is
entrenched in our daily lives become visible, a question that arises
real fast is, how do we move from the love of power to the power of
So far as we become aware of this distortion of human potential in
ourselves, we do what we can to rectify it. And then comes another
question: how do we help ensure that our children or grandchildren
don't become affected (I was going to say infected) by the cultures of
dominance that we inhabit?
Conventional education, at least in the UK, too often seems to amount
to 'schooling', regimes of deference of one or another kind in which,
in classes of 30 or more, the child is required to drink from the
fountain of a 'one fits all' state-defined curriculum. Many,
perhaps most, seeing the 'jobs', 'career', 'qualifications',
writing-on-the-wall shut down creativity, imagination and
self-direction, and get on with the hoop-jumping that is demanded. Not
surprisingly, a substantial vein of children decline this opportunity,
embrace some form of 'Oppositional Defiant Disorder' and find
better things to do with their minds and energies, with corresponding
benefits and drawbacks
So if this is indeed the prospect for your child, what do you do? One
option - a tough option - is to found a school which - and how curious
that it even needs to be said - educates in a child-centred rather than
adult-centred way, as state and private education too often is.
In response to these kinds of concerns, a colleague, Richard House, was
instrumental in the founding of a Steiner (Waldorf) school in Norwich,
Norfolk, UK. I asked him to tell me how he did it. He replied:
Well, that's a big question, with many facets.
I have had seven or so years' experience of the Steiner schools
movement now, since undertaking my first, Steiner Class Teacher
training in the late 1990s. As well as being involved in the founding
of a new Steiner school here in Norwich over the same time period, I am
a trustee of a major and long-established Steiner teacher training
course and a regularly published writer on educational issues.
The decision to found a school in Norwich was very much a
collective decision taken by a diverse group of people (of which I was
a part) who both had major reservations about the nature of mainstream
education and schooling systems, and also greatly admired the holistic
educational experience that Steiner (Waldorf) education offers. I could
say a great deal about each of these motivations, as I personally
identify strongly with both of them.
There is currently very little if any choice for parents and families
who are dissatisfied with 'mainstream education' (in which category I
include both state schools and independent schools which broadly follow
the national curriculum, and which mimic the testing and assessment
regime of the state sector). Of course, families can opt for home
education - and indeed record numbers are doing so; but for those
parents who are either not inclined to home-educate, or for whom it
would be quite impractical, Steiner schools, Montessori schools (which
only commonly go up to about 8 years of age) and schools in the 'human
scale education' (HSE) movement are just about all that is on offer in
Geographically, seven years ago there were just two other Steiner
schools in the whole of East Anglia - a small one in rural Norfolk and
a larger one in Cambridge. I know a number of families who have
actually changed careers and life-styles in order to relocate their
family so that they live near a Steiner school - there must be
literally hundreds of families who have done this over the years.
Norwich is a very independently minded part of the country, with lots
of radical thinking people - the kind of medium-sized city that is a
potentially ideal location for a Steiner school. (Note, however, that
across the globe there are numerous examples of Steiner schools which
are thriving in what are environmentally very unfavourable
circumstances - not least, in sparsely populated rural areas. And
despite a great amount of research having been conducted into what
makes for a successful school, there still remains something of a
mystery as to why some schools thrive in inhospitable circumstances
while others struggle in what appears to be an ideal milieu. Perhaps
the deep spiritual impulse that underpins these very special schools
has something to do with this phenomenon.)
The original founding group of the Norwich school consisted of three
parents of young children who wanted a Steiner Kindergarten and school
for their children, and an elderly anthroposophist who has been a
student of Rudolf Steiner's manifold cultural contributions for many
years. ('Anthroposophy' refers to the spiritual stream founded by
Rudolf Steiner after the First World War, a movement which draws upon
Steiner's many 'spiritual scientific' insights into humanity, life and
As I understand it, this is fairly typical of the way in which Steiner
schools first begin. And although there is a lot of support available
for new initiatives from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (based
in Forest Row, East Sussex), new schools necessarily emerge from
the independent initiative of local groups who see a vision for a new
school in their area and/or for their children, and set about bringing
it about. But needless to say - founding a new school which is
independent of the state system, and which has to be entirely
self-financing through the efforts of people who are commonly not
materialistically oriented people with lots of spare wealth and
resources at their disposal, is far far more easily said than done! But
I guess your next question will perhaps take us more into the actual
process of founding our school - though of course (and as Steiner
himself always emphasised), schools are always and necessarily unique.
It will be useful to say something about Rudolf Steiner and his
wide-ranging work and influence, against the cultural backdrop of a
Western education system which is in abject crisis. But before this, I
will set out ten summary 'recipe-points' for all those considering
starting their own school:
friends and like-minded people in your local area who share a
common desire for a different, holistically-informed educational
approach for your children, and start to meet regularly (there will
almost certainly be fitting places in your local community where you
can advertise such a founding group; see also # 8, below).
(2) Starting up a study group
is very worthwhile - and a great place to start is to study Rudolf
Steiner's excellent and accessible lecture series THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD. It is
also useful from the outset to read together some of the
anthroposophical literature on community building, as you will
inevitably encounter ordinary human difficulties and challenges in the
course of building your initiative. In this sense, participating in
building a school is very much a personal-developmental path for
everyone involved. You could try starting with Frieddrich Glasl (1994) The Enterprise of the Future;
Robert Rehm (1999) People in Charge; or Christopher Schaefer and
Tyno Voors (1999) Vision in Action:
Working with Soul & Spirit in Small Organizations (all
published by Hawthorn Press, Stroud, UK). And most recently, there is
Margaret van den Brink's excellent new book, Transforming Organisations (2004).
(3) Inform yourselves about
Steiner education through reading some of the vast literature that is
available, and above all by visiting
real schools, for it is only though direct experience, and by
observing the qualities of Steiner-educated children, that one can
really fully appreciate the wonders of this education. Many Steiner
schools or Steiner teachers training centres also regularly offer
lectures, conferences, workshops and short courses about Steiner's
various cultural innovations, including education.
(4) Register with the Steiner
Waldorf Schools Fellowship (in the UK; or the appropriate/equivalent
national organisation in your own country) to enlist their support for
your nascent educational initiative. In particular, inquire about and
seek help with the structure and consensual working process of a
Steiner school. These are very important questions to begin considering
from the outset, lest you construct organisational structures which
unhelpfully work against the founding of a successful school and then
prove to be very hard to 'restructure' once they have become
entrenched. Part of this process will be to set up a charitable company
or organisation, and your national Steiner education umbrella body will
be able to help with this.
(5) Related to the last point, actively and awarely cultivate a willingness to share power,
empower each other, and to challenge unhealthy concentrations of power
and responsibility in your nascent organisation. Any new organisation
is open and vulnerable to becoming the ground upon which people can
'act out' their desire for power, control etc. Very subtle balances
need to be struck here - not least, that of how to create an
organisation which everyone involved will experience as empowering, yet
without stifling the healthy initiative of those who have more energy,
time and, even, ability to contribute to the organisation than others.
In order to bring this about successfully, clear accountability
structures and a deep understanding of the consensual decision-making
process are pretty much indispensable prerequisites. Very clear
descriptions of the various committees and their respective
responsibilities will help all persons wanting to be actively involved
in the school to perceive where their personal and specific strengths
could best serve the growing school.
(6) Start a Parent & Child group
in as beautiful and peaceful a setting as you can find. The beauty of
these groups, certainly in the UK, is that they are still unregulated
by the state, so you needn't worry about being instructed to impose an
absurd 'curriculum' encompassing early literacy and numeracy on the
young children! Dot Male's soon-to-be-published PARENT AND CHILD HANDBOOK (Hawthorn
Press, 2006) is a veritable goldmine for anyone wishing to start a
Parent & Child group along Steiner-informed principles. Start as
you mean to go on in terms of financing, making sure that you charge a
fee that at least covers your expenses, plus a bit extra to start
building up a working surplus for the initiative.
(7) Make enquiries locally about whether there are any Steiner-trained teachers in the local area
or region who might support your initiative, or even become
directly involved. If you are very lucky, you may find a teacher
locally who can be instrumental in helping you set up a Kindergarten or
even the first class of a school. In addition, find one or more locals
who wish to train as Steiner teachers, starting with Kindergarten or
Parent & Child trainings, and start the training! (there are both
full- and part-time trainings available in the UK, for instance).
Within a few years, you will then have trained and qualified Steiner
teachers locally who can take the school-founding process forwards.
More generally, trained and experienced Steiner teachers are regarded
as the authorities on Steiner education, and their input into a newly
developing initiative is crucial if not indispensable in order that the
new initiative is properly founded in Steiner's educational approach.
(8) Publicity: early on in
your initiative, it is important to research local publicity
possibilities, and use them as much as possible to 'spread the word'
about what you are offering and planning for the future. You will be
amazed at the number of like-minded people out there just waiting to
find out about you! Above all, you can be very creative with publicity
- a small publicity group of people with imagination and the capacity
to 'think outside of the box' is a great asset. Be aware that very
large numbers of parents want 'something else' for their children,
based on their intuition alone, and they just need to find the school
that meets their concerns and aspirations - your school. This is indeed
commonly the way in which families come to Steiner education. Publicity
is always a combination of genuine enthusiasm and clear information.
Many recent studies in the fields of psychology, education and
neuroscience are corroborating what Steiner said more than 75 years
ago, and it works very effectively to utilize such 'modern knowledge'
to market the school and Waldorf education.
(9) Fund-raising: before too
long, if you follow the route of creating an autonomous school, the
issue of fund-raising will come up, as it is unrealistic the think that
parents alone can support all the costs related to the functioning of
the school. In Norwich, and in common with the experience of other
Steiner schools, we have found that trying to raise funds from
charitable bodies is very difficult, as we don't routinely cater for
disadvantaged or deprived children. However, you may well find a
wealthy local benefactor or notary who really believes in the education
and is prepared to support you financially in the early stages. Other
established Steiner schools have both traditional and more novel,
idiosyncratic ways of raising funds, and it will be important both to
inform yourselves of what has worked in other schools, as well as
coming up with your own ideas that are unique to your particular
(10) Finally, and above all, the virtue of perseverance is essential. There has
never been any school (or human organisation, come to that!), including
all Steiner schools, which do not from time to time experience
challenges and set-backs, and even crises. The issue here is not
somehow to expect your school to be a perfectly utopian conflict-free
school, but rather, that you are open to facing and meeting the
challenges that will inevitably arise with maturity, and see them as
opportunities for individual and collective development. The book The Enterprise of the Future (see #
2, above) could be very useful in helping you to understand the
'normal' evolution of an organization, in turn helping you
pre-emptively to avoid such 'developmental crises'.
If you succeed in achieving some or most of these 'founding
principles', it is very likely that before too long, you will have set
up an organisation and a community of parents that will generate its
own self-sustaining momentum - not least, because there is so
much general disquiet with mainstream education that you will draw to
yourselves a great deal of interest, once the quality of what you are
offering is recognised in the local area.
More, now, about Rudolf Steiner himself and the educational system he
spawned, as a kind of mystique often surrounds the man, which it is
best to demystify at the outset. Not least, it's a mystery to many just
how one of humanity's most original and wide-ranging thinkers and seers
is so comparatively little recognised in the range of fields on which
he has had, and continues to have, such a profound influence. The
author of over 30 books and the deliverer of over 6,000 lectures in his
lifetime, his full collected works (in German) come to a
staggering 350 volumes; and his lasting legacy includes uniquely
innovative 'impulses' in fields as wide-ranging as curative education
and social therapy (the world-renowned Camphill Communities movement);
biodynamic agriculture (a precursor of organic agriculture, and to
which Prince Charles is the latest high-profile convert!); holistic
(anthroposophical) medicine; architecture and design; the arts
(Eurythmy, painting, speech and drama); organisational consultancy;
ethical banking and finance (the Triodos Bank) - and, of course,
Steiner held passionately to a consistently holistic,
non-mechanistic approach to human experience; and it is only now, when
so-called 'new paradigm' cosmologies are beginning to undermine the Zeitgeist
of a one-sidedly
materialistic 'modernity', that Steiner's remarkable insights are
beginning to attract the widespread attention across the world that
they richly deserve. Not least, this is because modern scientific
research is consistently yielding results which amply corroborate the
indications laid down by Steiner in a whole range of fields nearly a
Some 80 years after the first 'Waldorf' school was founded with
Steiner's blessing in Stuttgart (in 1919), Steiner Waldorf is now the
world's largest and most rapidly growing independent schooling
movement, with approaching 1,000 schools and 1,500 Kindergartens
worldwide. So flexible and adaptable has the Waldorf educational
approach proved to be in different cultural conditions that it is
represented in countries and continents the world over. Steiner's
educational philosophy is developmentally informed, with the teacher's
task being to provide the appropriate learning environment consistent
with the needs of the unfolding child. This in turn requires, on the
teacher's part, a profound understanding of the subtleties of the
developing child; and much of Steiner's educational and other writings
are taken up with a detailed articulation of such an understanding.
There is a lack of competitive testing and examinations in Steiner
(Waldorf) education, with co-operation and 'community' being far more
valued than the individualistic competitiveness that inevitably creates
winners and losers. The recently articulated notions of 'emotional
intelligence' (Dan Goleman), 'spiritual intelligence' (Dinah Zohar) and
multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner) were quite explicitly
prefigured by Steiner in his educational philosophy, critical as he was
of the one-sided intellectualism which he saw as giving a severely
limited understanding of the world.
Steiner also saw education as very much a living creative art rather
than as a programmatic science, with human relationship being an
absolutely central aspect of any educational experience. In Steiner
education, what we might call the being-qualities of the teacher are
seen as being far more important than the amount of purely factual
information that the teacher knows; and it follows that the teacher's
own personal (not narrowly 'professional') development is seen as being
a quite crucial aspect of being a successful Waldorf teacher. For
Steiner, education at its best is also seen as being an intrinsically
healing force for the child - and sometimes for the teacher too.
Organisationally, the Steiner (Waldorf) school has a 'flat',
'post-hierarchical' (or 'holonic') structure, with no
headmaster/mistress, and with a College of Teachers which works
consensually to decide matters of school policy, administration etc. In
Steiner's time this was a quite unheard-of social innovation; and it is
only in recent years that the emergence of similar, non-hierarchical
forms is beginning to make itself felt within 'new paradigm'
organisational arrangements. Freedom is, therefore, a central aspect of
the education - not least, freedom from the quasi-authoritarian
ideology and unquestioned 'regimes of truth' that, almost unnoticed,
dominate so much conventional schooling. Finally, Steiner was a fierce
defender of the right to a childhood unburdened by imposed and
misguided adult-centric agendas.
The extraordinary neglect of Steiner's vast corpus probably has at
least something to do with Steiner's thorough-goingly holistic,
non-mechanistic approach to human experience, which, early in the last
century, was quite literally decades ahead of its time. It is only now,
when so-called 'new paradigm', 'transmodern' epistemologies and
cosmologies are thankfully beginning to undermine the Zeitgeist
of modernity, that
Steiner's remarkable insights, which both incorporate yet also
transcend modernity, are beginning to attract the rich attention they
deserve. To give just one example, over a century ago Steiner was
the leading international scholar of Goethe's much-neglected scientific
works - and yet it is only in recent years (cf. Henri Bortoft's The Wholeness of Nature,
Books, 1996) that Goethe's scientific worldview is beginning to gain
widespread recognition within the emerging paradigm of 'New Science',
the burgeoning growth of the global Scientific and Medical Network, and
For Steiner, between birth and seven, the child learns predominantly
through imitation, repetition, rhythmical activity and free, unhindered
play; and her main task is the (unconscious) development of the will in
a milieu of reverence and beauty, with the developing senses being
protected as far as possible from unnecessary technological intrusion
and over-stimulation. In this schema, formal, intellectual learning is
carefully avoided until the change of teeth (between six and seven),
and Steiner stressed how the introduction of formal, abstract learning
(e.g. reading and writing) before this age was positively harmful to
the child - a finding which is at last beginning to be confirmed by
recent child-developmental and even neurological research. (This is
indeed a common experience - that modern scientific research announces
allegedly newly discovered knowledge about human development, yet which
on closer examination, Steiner had himself systematically articulated
in the early decades of the last century.)
The 'death of childhood' (cf. Professors Neil Postman, David Elkind et
al.) is a theme that is increasingly echoing throughout modern culture,
and Steiner was a fierce defender of the right to a childhood
unburdened by imposed and misguided adult-centric agendas. Overall,
Steiner's educational philosophy and Waldorf praxis together provide an
impressively coherent and comprehensive 'new paradigm' antidote to the
worst excesses of a materialistic worldview that has brought our world
to the foothills of ecological disaster and unsustainability; and
in this sense it is supremely relevant as we struggle through the death
throes of modernity and towards a new post-materialistic worldview.
Here are just a few quotations from Steiner on education which give a
flavour of his philosophy:
If... mechanical thinking is carried into education,... there is no
longer any natural gift for approaching the child himself. We
experiment with the child because we can no longer approach his heart
· If... the
teacher continues to overload [the child's] mind, he will induce
certain symptoms of anxiety. And if... he still continues to cram the
child with knowledge in the usual way, disturbances in the child's
growing forces will manifest themselves. For this reason the teacher
should have no hard and fast didactic system.
· For real life,
love is the greatest power of knowledge. And without this love it is
utterly impossible to attain to a knowledge of man which could form the
basis of a true art of education.
· You cannot
teach a child to be good merely by explanation... What you actually
are... is the most essential thing of all for the child.
· Illnesses that
appear in later life are often only the result of educational errors
made in the very earliest years of childhood. This is why...
education... must study the human being as a whole from birth until
· In a state
school, everything is strictly defined... everything is planned with
exactitude. With us everything depends on the free individuality of
each single teacher... Classes are entrusted entirely to the
individuality of the class teacher;... what we seek to achieve must be
achieved in the most varied ways. It is never a question of external
· The important
thing is that we do not rob teachers of their strengths of personality
by forcing them to work within the confines of government regulations.
· It is
inappropriate to work towards standardising human souls through future
educational methods or school organisation.
education... only lives when it is carried out. It cannot truly be
described, it must be experienced.
· Receive the
children with reverence; educate them with love; relinquish them in
It will be pretty clear from the above discussion just what kind of
motivations underpin our disillusionment with modern mainstream
schooling systems and our desire to create something better for our
children. But where to start?!...
The devastation that has recently been wrought in Britain's Early
Childhood sector is symptomatic of the pernicious cultural forces that
currently hold such uncritical sway in modern culture. Thus, modernist
culture's 'managerial' ethos of over-active, prematurely intellectual
intrusion into the very being of young children is part of a
formal-schooling ideology which, since the mid-1990s, has been
colonizing England's early years policy-making and practice - with the
relentless bureaucratization of early learning environments stemming
from, for example, mechanistic developmental assessments, centrally
dictated 'Early Learning Goals', and the imposition of a 'curriculum'
on to children as young as 3. These trends are, moreover, widely
observable in the educational systems of Western world. In England, for
example, we read in the Times
of 17th January 2003 that reception
teachers are now having to work their way through no less than 3,510
boxes to tick, as they are forced to assess every child against a
staggering 117 criteria. This story broke again last summer, when in
the Daily Telegraph
21st June 2004, we read of teachers having 'to write reports the size
of novels' alongside test scores for five-year-olds. David Hart, the
general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, was
quoted as saying that 'I cannot think of another Government
intervention which has caused so much anger among teachers of the early
With OFSTED (the UK's Office for Standards in Education) taking over
responsibility for early-childhood settings, we are witnessing a
'surveillance culture' ideology cascading down the education system,
right to the earliest of ages. Not without reason did the prominent
sociologist, Professor Nikolas Rose, write some years ago that
'Childhood is the most intensively governed sector of personal
existence'. A whole range of factors continues to reinforce the
one-sidedly cognitive 'hot-housing' atmosphere pervading modern
There is little if any empirical research being carried out on the
medium- and long-term effects on children's overall social and
emotional development of the soullessly mechanistic educational
'regimes' and one-sidedly materialistic values and practices to which
young children are being unremittingly subjected. This is nothing short
of a national scandal, at which future, more enlightened generations
will surely look back aghast at our wilful neglect of what really
matters in living a healthy life. Yet in the face of the mounting
malaise and anomie experienced by young people in modern culture,
the mechanistic, 'modernizing' juggernaut simply ploughs on, apparently
quite impervious to the insight that its own policies and practices are
substantially contributing to this cultural chaos, and are storing up
an anti-social disaster whose dimensions and ubiquity can scarcely be
One common effect of these disturbing trends is what can be called the
dismembering of childhood (cf. Neil Postman's seminal 1990s text The Death of Childhood
there is a growing 'counter-cultural' public mood which is clamouring
for a humane and demonstrably effective alternative to the deeply
unsatisfactory fare currently on offer in 'mainstream society' - and
Steiner education is just one of the many humane cultural initiatives
which are increasingly challenging the one-sided materialism of the
modern age. Certainly, there are new Steiner education initiatives
springing up all over the UK at the moment, so what we are doing here
in Norwich, while of course unique, is just a part of a far wider
Finally, I would be happy to receive communications about, or questions
arising from, this posting - to richardahouse[at]hotmail[dot]com. And a
big "thank you" to Denis Postle for extending this welcome opportunity
to 'spread the word' about this wonderful educational approach more
widely through his excellent website.
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posted at: 06:20 | permanent link to this entry
As I completed a previous day's blog entry, God
Invades White House
(a title that, having now finished reading Esther
Kaplan's book With God On Their Side
seems to me very apposite) I was left with a sense
that those of us who might wear a 'liberal', 'nurturant',
'progressive' label, whether we chose it or not, have a special
in contradicting or interrupting the very cohesive 'big ideas' of
conservative politics. A special difficulty due in part to our
preference for plurality, diversity and above all reflexivity.
troubling outcome to this line of inquiry.
Because they are often structured round a few
unifying, faith-based Big Ideas—
groups seem more able than liberals
to agree on campaign strategies that favour a
narrow range of issues with which large populations can identify. Media
coverage that repeats such notions ad
interviews, photo-opportunities and commercials, amounts
to trance induction, and such spellbinding promises of 'security'
in the face of the inflated threats of a
'war on terror', can come to dominate political
discourse, as they did in the 2004 Presidential election.
contrast, you favor a paradigm of human
relations that values diversity, plurality, nurturance, equality and
empathy, these generate multiple messages, multiple meanings, multiple
aims, that can seem incoherent en masse (though not necessarily
Politically this seems to me very problematic. How do liberal ideas
hold their place in the world without compromising their
So a key ongoing element of this inquiry into domination is how
dilemma. How can we create institutions, descriptions, naming,
metaphors, and symbols, that hold true to notions
plurality, authenticity, nurturance, empathy, caring and love? So that
they hold their value in contests where a handful of big ideas shaped
by covert notions of absolute truth are used to sustain and regenerate
control and dominance.'
of an answer emerged
as I got this item ready for posting, when I
discovered George Lakoff's book(let) Don't Think of an Elephant,
for liberal activists in the US to use in the 2004 Presidential
election. Lakoff recycles his notions about 'Strict Father' politics
and 'Nurturant Parent' politics detailed in his previous longer book Moral Politics
—coming up with
recommendations about strategies for promoting 'liberal',
'progressive', 'nurturant' political notions. It's
short, cheap, direct and to the point, and worth every penny.
you want a taste of what George Lakoff has to say in Don't Think of an Elephant
here are links to the online originals of several of the chapters.
A Man of His Words
George Lakoff talks
about how transforming the language of politics can help win the good
The Progressive Morality
If progressives communicate their
values clearly, most people will
recognize them as their own, and more deeply American than those
currently put forth by conservatives.
What's in a Word
The gay marriage issue is not just
about same-sex couples. It is about which values will dominate in our
Reflections on 9/11
Metaphor and war Again
As in his father's
Iraq war, President Bush has
floated two powerful storylines to effectively, and dangerously, frame
America as both victim and hero.
Betrayal of Trust
Whether or not the
Bush administration lied is the wrong question to ask. The real issue
is betrayal of trust.
Other relevant articles by George Lakoff.
Power of Images
September 11 2001
Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf
I'll come back to all this. I include it in Satygraha because, much as
some of us would prefer it, it is not enough to devise ingenious
alternatives that contradict the top down givens of naturalized
domination, we have to be equally ingenious in finding ways of bringing
these institutions and propositions to the attention of the rest of the
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posted at: 07:39 | permanent link to this entry
Action research - learning from experience
If you have read some of the earlier entries you see that I regard this blog as a form of research, albeit haphazard, unfunded and outside of academe. And yet it's style has a history and a location in the story of research in general. So... when the The Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice at the University of Bath
sent me a flyer for a conference on Action Research, 'Emerging Approaches to Inquiry 10', I signed up.
Having led and participated in Cooperative Inquiry style Action Research for around 20 years, I wasn't looking for some seal of approval. I wanted to check out how this weblog sat in relation to the current perspectives and learning about the Cooperative Inquiry tradition. This four day conference provided a welcome return home in which I was well able to do this.
I explicitly see my psychotherapy work with clients as inquiries and I hadn't been in doubt that what I'm doing with the g.o.r.i.l.l.a.weblog was a valid inquiry too. As I listened to the chat about Action Research and the varieties of experience it entailed, I was surprised and pleased to realize that the life of the Independent Practititioners Network [IPN] group to which I belong has the form of an inquiry. I saw that in an equally informal, haphard way, both it and the broader IPN Network are forms of Action Research. In each, the action and reflection process is intrinscally cooperative and the research outcome is holding accountability to clients. These interleaved processes of inquiry and reflection inform what you are presently reading, and affirmation of them warmed me up considerably.
Discussing this weblog and its intentions with conference participants led me to wonder whether I needed to pay some attention to accountability. To cut to the chase, I realized that, if I don't find, or connect with, a community of other co-inquirers, then some kind of supervision is appropriate, and I'm looking into organising that.
Action Research in its several varieties, ranging from strong to informal, is a core example of what I mean by satyagraha - positive programme, 'making the thing we want'. If you are in a situation where you are seeking to live, work, or organise a piece of life in ways that step aside from hierarchical, patriarchal structures of domination, into 'living from love', I believe you'd find some form of Action Research a promising option. Even, I'd go so far as to say, if you manage to make the move to living from love, the result is likely to resemble Action Research. Because for me living from love is not a passive state of grace in which, once it has descended (or we have ascended) we have got 'it'. Living from love implies inquiry, a process of action and reflection, even struggle, to find meaning and validity, preferably while held in a community of other inquirers.
If this sounds very fancy, idealized, out of reach - that would be a pity because in my experience Action Research, at least in the variety I know well, Cooperative Inquiry, is something anyone can learn and practice. For example here is an account of an Inquiry into 'How to Move From Survival and Recovery into Flourishing', that Annie Spencer and I led a while back, and here, as a download excerpt from Letting the Heart Sing - The Mind Gymnasium, is a recipe for setting up a Cooperative Inquiry used in that and other inquiries, and which I have found works very well.
I found 'Emerging Approaches to Inquiry 10' warm, welcoming and very well focused and I'd recommend it's bi-annaual successors to anyone with an active need to develop cooperative or peer assessment structures. If there was a downside, it would be that, on the basis of my experience of this conference community, Action Research seems paradoxically dominated by academic 'discourse', and a puzzlingly symbiotic relation to the process of writing a PhD. As though action research could only be led, or usually is led, by someone with, or researching a PhD. Perhaps as a primarily visual, aural, intuitive person I was blindsided to the value of such determinedly taxonomic conversation as I very often heard in these four days.
And perhaps this is part of the price that has to be paid for establishing this new paradigm of inquiry in the face of a dominant research culture that still believes in doing research 'on' people rather than 'with' people. Holding and nurturing the Action Research tradition as Peter Reason and Judi Marshall at the University of Bath, and John Heron and others have done, is a tremendous achievement. I salute them.
If Action Research as a form of Satygraha still remains a mystery to you, albeit I hope an appetizing one, here are some links through which you can follow it up:
The opening chapter of this Handbook by Peter reason and Hilary Bradbury, and this Introductory article by Peter Reason and John Heron provide concise overviews of Action Research. The Introduction to Geoff Mead's PhD thesis outlines many of the key elements of Action Research, especially the 'first person' inquiry style that this blog follows. Elsewhere, the South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry holds and reports on inquiries, and publishes introductory material on Action Research.
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posted at: 13:20 | permanent link to this entry
Living from love
The Enlightenment project - Descartes, Locke, Kant - that began to free us from the headlock of the heritage religions also set in motion the engines of industrialization and modernity. But modernity for all its virtues has a serious limitation. It carries forward the deep seated belief that dominance is intrinsic. That 'freedom' i.e. freedom to use and abuse others, is for those who deserve it, which in practice means those who are already free.
Modernity is still with us and post-modern approaches to daily life seem fragile shoots, constantly in danger of falling victim to the anxieties of people who feel threatened by them.
And yet, once we wake up to the intolerable burden of domination, we are faced with the task of moving out of the alienation,fragmentation and damage of modernity and into a life lived from love i.e. free of coercion and domination.
I learned a lot about how to do this from John Heron and the shifting population of the Institute for the Development of Human Potential [IDHP], the Human Potential Research Group at the University of Surrey [HPRG] and the UK co-counselling community, including notably, Anne Dixon, who also introduced assertiveness training to the UK.
Stirred into this engaging and profoundly transforming mix was Cooperative Inquiry, a way of doing research with people rather than on people. More recently, establishing the Independent Practitioners Network [IPN] has shown how an ethically sound post-modern form of accountability for psychopractitioners can be organised.
If you would like to follow up some of this satyagraha - positive programme - here are some more links:
John Heron maintains the South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry
John Heron: Transpersonal Cooperative Inquiry
This paper gives a short account of some issues involved in using co-operative inquiry as a method of transpersonal research, outlines a relevant cartography, and presents a prospectus for future inquiries.
John Heron: A Little Book of Co-creating '...A rewrite of the theory and method of co-counselling from a transpersonal perspective..... it derives from an inquiry with twenty Co-counselling International teachers this summer...'
John Heron: The Life Divine and a Self-generating Culture:
'I give here a short account of the kind of religious innovation with which we want to engage. The 'we' here refers to all those whose vision is in tune with the content of this document...'
John Heron: Space and consciousness
'...Each person can be construed as a multispatial imaginal, that is, a conscious being that is involved in creating a set of different, yet interrelated, imaged spatial worlds. The word 'involved' is important here since a person participates in the creativity, refracts it, manifests it, relays it, gives idiosyncratic form to it. It is a life-given power of the mind, like breathing is life-given power of the body; and as with breathing, we can influence and modify it, but we do not produce it...'
My recent CDROM
Letting the Heart Sing - The Mind Gymnasium provides an extensive and detailed account of what is involved in trying to live from love