Archive | November, 2012

Need a remedy for ‘compassion fatigue’?

29 Nov

My good friend Robert (thanks mate!) sent me a link to the video of the new charity single Africa for Norway (here). Just in time for Christmas the Norwegian group Radi-Aid is asking Africans to send over radiators to Norway to combat frostbite and cold. The spoof campaign draws very serious attention to outdated and hopefully soon defunct ‘poverty porn’ communication of social plights, i.e. the Bleeding Heart Communication strategies we mentioned here. Have a look at what they want here.

The current top youtube comment is a neat extension of the stereotyping issues underlying the campaign: “the radiators will just be stolen and fuel their viking tribal warfare. They’ll have a population explosion and then they’ll just need more radiators. By interfering, you’re just going to increase the misery. Let them freeze, that’s their way of life.” (fellaciousderp)

And for more of the same there’s a good article by Nathaniel Whittemore at co.exist with a few more vids too. There’s a lovely one called Call Me Hope (on Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al)  by mamahope.org. Its one out of a series in their campaign Stop The Pity. Support The Potential., see more here.

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Only in Africa

27 Nov

During the retreat in Worcester we had a visitor: Letaba. Letaba lives at neighbouring Fairy Glen, a Big-5 private game reserve. Big-5 in the Southern African game parks context refers to buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhinoceros.

Letaba either likes the trees near the men’s quarters or he came to meditate. The Fairy Glen people finally managed to herd him back to the reserve.

At night you could hear the lions roar but we saw no other Big-5, though we did see a large tortoise wandering through the facilities, much like the one in the picture that follows.

And a chappie like this one, a Red Grasshopper, buzzed around a lot – what stunning colours!

Of course, everyone who comes to Southern African game reserves wants to see the Big 5, but to give some of the other animals some of the ra-ra, some clever peeps came up with the Little 5: buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion and rhinoceros beetle. And as further proof of incongruous South African humour, there’s a company offering DiveThe5, though their love of sharks prohibits them actually limiting it to 5: Whale sharks, Great Whites, Sand Tigers (affectionately known as Raggies), Zambezi’s, Hammerheads and a couple more. And even DriveTheBig5 – by which I thought they meant Minibus Taxis, Gameview vehicles, Landrovers, Bakkies (pickups) and maybe a Vespa?

To be fair, our elephant experience might be feasible at some of the Meditation Centres in India; perchance to meet an Indian elephant? But back to our Only-in-Africa note: Our friends Maryatta and Kai, having emigrated from Dortmund, Germany, to live in Zeekoevlei, Cape Town, were recently enthralled by a leaflet in their post box extolling appropriate behaviour for encountering hippos. Living on a vlei (a low-lying, marshy area, a wetland) and next door to nature reserves such as Rondevlei (see a good aerial shot here) does make for sharing the habitat with hippopotamuses and necessitates educating the public on good neighbourliness with them.

Ok, do we go or does this, too, pass?

26 Nov

Just spent a 10-day silent retreat (Vipassana) at Dhamma Pataka, 10 kms (6 miles) West of Worcester, a town on the main highway between Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Meditation Centre accommodated us in chalets, below you see the view from our balcony.

Dhamma Pataka lies at the ankle (well, if it was the foot we’d hardly be elevated enough to see the lovely view now, would we) of the Brandwacht Mountains so its a bit above the valley in which Worcester and the wine farms lie. The view continues on the way to the dining hall, as you can see in the next picture.

Just now the Bougainvillea was magnificent in its full bloom. There are a few more photos of Dhamma Pataka on Bobbie Nystrom’s travelblog entries from 2007 here.

One of the central tenets of the course is that everything changes, that this too shall pass. Its illustrated in a little story about two rings that you can read here, for example. The story is universal, though; its been attributed to Zen, Sufi, Hebrew and Christian origins.  What tickles me (you complete the colour it tickles me, yeah, go on) and delights me is that the Chicago indie rock band Ok Go and their quirky-beserky Rube Goldberg video rendition that went viral is of their song with the title This too shall pass. Click on the picture below for the link to the video, its grand.

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How to communicate sustainability

14 Nov

IMHO one of the sustainability areas we are struggling with is that of communication. Sure, there are some neat green ads out there, and maybe some smart campaigns and initiatives, and arresting visuals, as we mentioned here. But how much is really changing at the ground level? How much transformation are we effecting?

A lot of the messages going out about any aspect of sustainable development, and there are a whole host of attention vieers (just look at our lorem sustaina ipsum for a few), are based on one dimension, on one premise.

They are positioned mostly in the intellect, in knowledge and facts, such as when you are confronted with CO2e or virtual water data for consumer goods, with rise in global temperatures and sea levels data, or with numbers of species or forest units lost per second. The message senders hope in vain for a mental light to be switched on in the darkness of unsustainable habits and activities and an immediate conversion from Unsustainable Saul to Sustainable Paul.

NGOs and CSOs and some individual Sustainability Missionaries tend to position their messages in the emotions, making sure they are personal and designing them to touch you. Suffering animals, people and planet are a recurring motif. But a Bleeding Heart has largely moved people to donate time or money on a guilt-filled once-off excursion.

There are to date very, very few communication initiatives that position themselves solely in a do-message, in an active principle, in action. Maybe the various challenges, like the 100-things challenge would qualify for this dimension.

I think Messages for Sustainability, to be successful, need to Speak to the Head, the Heart and the Hand in concert. If you are not explaining to someone’s mind, while reaching for their empathy and giving them a leg-up to get doing, your message is not going to work sustainably.

Three simple steps to sustainable development

13 Nov

1. seeing

2. owning

3. doing

Getting on a path to sustainable development is like getting on a path to enlightenment. At the beginning most of the work is about becoming aware, seeing things that you didn’t see before, expanding your consciousness, your awareness of the state of things, of how things work, in what ways they are connected and of the consequences of things, its reframing what you see in ever bigger frames.

The second step is accepting what you now see, the more that you now see, and taking the responsibility for it, its owning your part in it, its owning your ability to be responsive to what you now see, accepting is an act of embracing, of surrender, of drawing something towards you.

The third step is acting on the ability you have to respond, its doing something, anything, its translating impulses into energy, its manifesting transformation. If accepting is drawing something to you so that it touches you, doing is stepping right into it, engaging, effecting.

All the steps are active steps. All the steps are empowering steps. All the steps can be repeated and repeated and repeated.

With no apologies to Milton Friedman

12 Nov

or whoever it was that said it.

The business of business is not business.

The business of business is service.