Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Wed, 10 Aug 2005

Goodbye g.o.r.i.l.l.a...

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 listing 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

g.o.r.i.l.l.a. 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 inescapable.

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 'true'.

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 others.

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.

Sat, 30 Jul 2005

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 love?

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 the UK.

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 the cosmos.)

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:

(1) Find 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 circumstances.

(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, education.

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 century ago.

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, Floris 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 the like.

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 and soul.

·         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 death.

·         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 regulations.

·         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.

·         Our 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 freedom.

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 Educational Supplement 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 of the 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 years'.

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 mainstream education.

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 dreamt of.

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). Certainly, 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 cultural impulse.

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.

Thu, 02 Dec 2004

Metaphor power

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 difficulty 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.

I ended:

'...I am left with a troubling outcome to this line of inquiry.

Because they are often structured round a few unifying, faith-based Big Ideas—
patriarchy, or male dominance—christian conservative 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 infinitum through 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.

If, by 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 locally). Politically this seems to me very problematic. How do liberal ideas hold their place in the world without compromising their diversity?

So a key ongoing element of this inquiry into domination is how to resolve this dilemma. How can we  create institutions, descriptions, naming, metaphors, and symbols, that hold true to notions of 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.'

Part 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, written 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.

If 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 fight.
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 society.
Metaphors of terror
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.
The Power of Images 
September 11 2001
Metaphor and War:
The 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 world.

Fri, 24 Sep 2004

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.

Making Satygraha
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.

Thu, 26 Aug 2004

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

Tue, 10 Aug 2004

Finding a voice

I'm getting to like satygraha even though it still seems strange and unprounceable. It's good because it reminds us of the importance of moving from 'bystanding' to action. And in a pointer I want to make today, it reminds us of the vital importance of being able to find a  'voice' that matches the life tasks we meet.

Such a voice, one that is up to the task of confronting the love of power and speaking to the value of love can be hard to find both in the world and in ourselves, so examples matter. Here is one of them.
Following the 9/11 events in New York, my friend Vincent, who I have already mentioned in connection with his tapeworm story, sent me, along with other friends, this message.

It speaks from love and it confronts the love of power. Take a look at it.

Sun, 27 Jun 2004


I got going with this blog because I felt overwhelmed by the sheer weight of evidence of domination coming at me. Being sensitized, some might say over-sensitized, to this comes from paying a lot of attention to the power of love and trying to live from love, and today I want to start a new section that makes a place on the blog for this. I'm going to call it Satyagraha. Gandhi argued that an essential accompaniment to the non-violent direct action which accelerated the exit of the British from India was the development of 'positive programms'. He called these Satyagraha and I've adopted it here for organisations, groupings, actions events that demonstrate living from love.

If you want to have more detail on the origins of Satygraha Jonathan Schell in his highly recommendable book 'The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People' gives a lot of space to it and Gandhi.

That a positive programme is an essential ingredient of resistance and critique isn't a new idea for me. Left-wing analysis of social ills often seems to me very one-sided in the direction of too much intellect and not enough positive programme. Too much god (Marx/Freud) and not enough love.

Also, paying as much attention to creating what we want to have as to the critiques that come so easily to our dissociated lips really matters. Why? Because sustained critique can have the unintended effect of unconsciously replicating in us the style or dynamic of the oppression or injustice we are busy resisting or contradicting.

Resist and confront domination yes, but also create, devise, test, build, institutions that not only avoid reproducing domination, but are shaped by love and living from liking. As and when I find them, the Satyagraha section here will point to examples of this. Here's one.

Birth Matters
I want to celebrate a film about the pyschology of birth which comprehensively provides pointers to what is adrift in our medicalized approaches to child-bearing and child-care, and what to do about it. 'The Psychology of Birth: Invitation to Intimacy', a 53 minute documentary currently released on DVD and VHS, outlines an approach that emphasizes 'welcoming' the coming child into a community of carers and 'sharers'(as one of the contributors, Sobonfu Somé elsewhere argues, one parent is not enough, one parent can't handle all those demands); the film invites us to accept the scientific evidence for intelligence and sentience in the foetus and newborn child and to have this re-shape the birth process; parents-to-be are invited to diligently attend to any unfinished business they might be carrying around with them that might prove to be an unwelcome gift for their child.

My oldest son Elmer, wrote, directed, produced and edited 'Invitation to Intimacy'. It's an eloquent, richly touching recipe for recuperating how we do pregnancy, birth and child-care. It will set a standard for some time on how to speak about why birth matters.

Another day
Other items to come in Satyagraha include: how to start a Steiner school, and a piece about the Independent Practitioner's Network [IPN], ten years old this November. IPN has developed an entirely new form of accountability for psychopractioners based on peer assessment and non hierarchical organization.