Monday, October 31, 2011

Election and Cultural Well-being

In a sense, culture is everything; it is who we are; how we see each other.  It is not just an add-on to life, but the way our lives express themselves
Judge Albie Sachs, Constitutional Court of South Africa

In New Zealand we have an election at the end of November.   The parties are putting up policies and presenting their manifestos.  They are a pick and mix of ideas, most designed to collect enough votes to win the treasury benches.  None of the parties are looking at cultural well-being and none are showing a concern for our New Zealand identity and our place in the world.

Like most countries in the world economic well-being is the main discussion point.  How do we balance the books and at the same time build infrastructure and provide social, environmental and cultural well-being?  
Do we sell the family silver and pay off the mortgage or do we keep the silver and borrow more, or design new tax systems, or do we create jobs, become greener?  Or do we try to hold the balance of power by influencing whichever party gets the majority of the votes?

There is also an interesting different development this year.   One party is determined to have an election that is based on a President – one leader - and leaves us to forget the others in the team who may or may not be popular.  The other party is ignoring this philosophy and placing a range of people in the team in front of the electorate.   The media loves the President – he smiles and sets up photo opportunity after photo opportunity and this sells - well (they think) the newspapers.   

The challenge for all political parties, in New Zealand and internationally, is that the landscape is just so different, and the culture has changed. 
Media communication is dispersed. Internet and SKY makes it so easy to turn off the TV.   One Friday night we had the opening TV presentations.   The first was National and John Key talked and talked and staged a few questions.  Labour followed and we had the history of the Labour Party and the key policies.  Then Green profiled their policies and wandered around the country showing us that the rivers are dirty and the children are hungry.  The next day I conducted an informal poll.   What did you think of the opening presentations for the election?  Everyone I talked to had switched on the TV to listen to the presentations.  BUT everyone I talk to had listened to the first few minutes of John Key’s talk fest and switched to another channel. Several joked about John Key’s clothing, but no-one waited to hear the other presentations.  That was sad because the Labour and Green presentations were not only interesting, but beautifully presented.

These three presentations showed a significant contract in all the things that make our culture here in New Zealand.   The past represented by the National Party talk fest, Labour Party history selected history as interesting and showed the values we have now and would appeal to the middle group of voters. Green was about the future. 

How these presentations will fit with the wider political presentation will be shown in the voting at the end of November.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Spiritual Well-being and the Arts

Throughout my working life I have worked with people in prisons, in hospitals, people with disabilities, refugees and disadvantage migrants and the sick elderly.  

What I have been doing is introducing them to the arts, visual and performing arts, craft and literary arts, particularly songwriting and short story writing.

I have been conscious that many of the groups and individuals I work with have little or no contact with any formal religion.  

What I understood was that most of the artists involved in the programmes set up saw there work as being part of their spirituality.

They saw their art as being part of themselves, some acknowledge that it was their religion.  Many saw the sense of achievement as something spiritual.

Many also saw music as a expression of their own spirituality, but also where they went to get peace and become whole.   

For many, now a days, there is little in the way of connection between their feeling of peace and tranquility and any organised religious ideology.   

I was told by some people in prisons that when they could return to their cell (usually terrible places) they can find peace by taking themselves into "their fantasy world"  their spiritual world.  They would say going into this fantasy world was the only way to survive.    

Maybe there are some lessons for young people who are disconnected with society and are contemplating suicide.   Maybe a spiritual world is an essential part of well-being?  Maybe they can only get in touch with this through the arts?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Well-being and sustainable development

We have just been watching the East of United States being buffered by a storm and watched the discussions associated with the unexpected recent earthquakes in the East of the States.

We have ourselves been experiencing this year more storms with unexpected tornadoes and once in a lifetime snow and extremely strong wind (even stronger than our usual windy city).  This has been a dramatic winter.  Also earthquakes have been experienced both here in New Zealand and were grieve with the people of Christchurch and Japan.   

Extreme events – these are either just the natural processes of nature or there is something different that has been created because of our obsession with using carbon and growth.  

It could be climate change and in this scientists appear to agree, but that doesn’t explain the earthquakes.  There seems to be a pattern developing that suggests a need for us to wake up to this pattern of natural disasters and demands that we think about sustainable development. 

We should see that sustainable development cannot have its focus on growth at any cost, it can’t involve the growth of wealth by a few and it needs to be about development focused on well-being and not only well-being in our own countries, but internationally.  

The new creative thinking must involve a new way of looking at our world and is really about sustainable development that recognises well-being and the pillars of well-being first and foremost. 

So what is well-being and how do we achieve it?

Firstly, well-being Good health, happiness, and prosperity: the state of being healthy, happy and prosperous (New Zealand Oxford Dictionary 2002)  

Now many of us use the word comfort instead of prosperity and our different objective is peace of mind.

The Maori view of health and well-being is different again, but provides us with more depth, and is helpful in our understanding of well-being linked with culture:
        [The Maori view] incorporates all aspects of a person’s internal and external worlds.  It assumes health in the spheres of physical, psychological, spiritual and family well-being and a balance among the individual, their environment and those around them. (St George, I ed: (2004) Cole’s Medical Practice in New Zealand: Publisher: Medical Council of New Zealand.)

What I find interesting about this concept of well-being is that it recognises the relationship we have with the internal and external worlds, and goes on to include all aspects of life as in the definitions I use in the four pillars of sustainable well-being. That is: social, economic, environment and cultural

The challenge is that we have to start thinking about well-being as the outcome we want for society.  This is so different from desire for growth.
The launch today of our government’s energy policy with its emphasis on more drilling, digging and exploiting any oil, coal and a token movement towards more sustainable electricity as wind farms become cheaper and more popular with energy companies, serves the purposes of growth and the promotion of commerce to favour the corporate interest.

 Those in positions of influence have seemingly forgotten they share their organic roots with the rest of us and the rest of the natural world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reconciling Cultures such as Libya and Afghanistan

The global community are aware of the challenges that face us as a result of military engagements in both Libya and Afghanistan.

In the case of both countries there are a mix of tribal groups, different religions, and with different ideologies, values, rituals and certainly diverse cultures.

The challenges presented are exacerbated by the need to rebuild infrastructures damaged and destroyed by warfare, while at the same time reconciling extremely ideas of what sort of government should replace the existing dictatorship or military regime. .

We all know what is needed.  What is needed is that the diverse groups come together and agree on common goals and an agreement on the way to achieve those goals.  The overriding need is to have an outcome of peace and maybe democracy.   This is underpinned also by the West who want economic well-being and in both cases Oil.

So what are the factors for consideration? 

First that the different groups listen to each other, then there has to be respect and understanding based on an acknowledgement that cultural diversity is a reality.

So first - what is culture, and is there room for compromise?

“Culture is defined by histories, ideologies, values and the way we behave because of them.  These ideologies, beliefs and behaviours are the structures that hold society together.  Respect for histories, ideologies and values of other cultures, is the key to peace and social stability” 

See  free download Cultural Well-being and Cultural Capital, Chapter 4

When cultures come together behaviours and rituals of different cultures need to be shared and compromise might be necessary.  This is only possible if there is an understanding and acceptance of cultural diversity.

This understanding is easier if cultures recognise what is negotiable and what is not negotiable.  

It is easy to share and discuss the histories, many of these are shared. Values can also be shared and again many are shared.  What is harder to negotiate are the rituals and beliefs that go with the ideologies, particularly when these rituals and ideologies are linked to religions. 

As I have said in other blogs, religion and spirituality are different and in the case of religious tradition the belief systems are often inflexible. 

This mean we need to start the diolague with discussion about spirituality, ideology and then religion.  This would be a good start, but an enormous challenge.

In Afghanistan the Taliban have strict rules about the role of women, the behaviours of its members and the role of its leaders. 

These are not about the religion itself, certainly not about spirituality. They are rules set to define or control the religion and behaviours.   In Libya the same challenge may well appear as the more militant religious leaders seek power and control. 

So is there a way through the clash of cultures?    I would suggest there is, but it is anything but easy.  It has to involve the groups coming together and really understanding and educate each other about their spirituality, their ideologies, and their religions – in that order.  Compare, contract, educate and try to understand each other.

Sharing histories is the start, then sharing values, or at least understanding, and then setting up some common rituals or behaviours that will enable the leaders to understand, share and compromise.

Whether this is possible will be difficult, but much easier if the guns stop and the groups get together and start the discussions with the things that they share, not the things that divide them.

The West must only play a role as referee. The power must be shared by the diverse cultural groups.    Can this happen?  Yes, but only if the differences are respected and acknowledged.

Ideologies that are threatened or disrespected resort to conflict and sadly the casualties will be the people of Libya and Afghanistan.

A similar discussion can be taken to combating racism within European countries and United States.   It is also important for us in New Zealand and Australia when we see a fear for refugees, Pacific Island peoples and anyone who has a religion and culture that is different from our own.

Respect, Understanding, Communication and Education are the keys.

Understanding the cultures and sharing differences in ideologies will enhance peace and provide values and history that are accepted and enjoyed for the common good of all countries.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Third Place and disadvantaged or unemployed young people

Ray Oldenburg a sociologist in his 1989 book coined a phrase ‘The Third Place.’ 

He argued that the first place is work, the second place is home and the third place is where we gather to share ideas, friendships and find our place in society.

The third place has a vital social role in our cultures.  Third Places should be encouraged, developed and celebrated. They make up social and cultural capital.  

His book called “The Great Good Place” has been reprinted several times is still available, published by Marlow and Co and certainly a good read.

This book has influenced my thinking and writing quite a lot mainly because the concept makes so much sense. 

Oldenburg argues that we all need a third place, a place to go that is away from home and work.   A place where we feel accepted and comfortable.   Sometimes the third place is a cafĂ©, a pub, a sports group, a book shop or it can be a club, a choir or a local park. 

I am particularly interested in this concept as I have spent a significant part of my life setting up places that are Third places - except I called them  “Creative Spaces.”  These Creative Spaces are for people with intellectual and psychiatric disability throughout New Zealand.

There are probably about 80 or 90 Creative Spaces in New Zealand. The first ones we set up were associated with the large psychiatric Institutions that were closing down in 1980s and 1990s.  The space were set up with funding saved from big institutional budgets and were seen as being part of the community.

When the institutions which provided for people with intellectual disability were also closed ten years later we were not quite as successful in setting up Creative Spaces, but some groups followed the examples of the Creative Spaces for people with psychiatric disability. Most are still receiving health funding today, although cut backs are hurting this sector as well as others.  It has always been  harder to get funding for Creative Spaces for people with intellectual disabilities, but many Charitable Trusts came up with funding and many still of these Creative Spaces still exist today, with artists selling ‘outside’ art works, both nationally and intellectually.

To get funding for these Spaces we argued that these creative places (like the third places - which were participatory arts centres) could provide creative employment of time and meaningful relationships for people who had been institutionalised most of their lives. 

Employment of time and meaningful relationships with adequate shelter were considered three things necessary for positive integration into society.  

The success of the Creative Spaces made me interested in The Third Place concept.  

These Creative Spaces provide people with third places and hence one of the ideal ways to provide employment or time and meaningful relationships.   They did a lot more.  They enabled people who attended the Creative Spaces to achieve and feel accepted–the artists with disabilities could produce art works and they could express themselves in visual, performing and literary arts. 

Creative Spaces should now be set up for young people, particularly those who are unemployed and those who are underemployed.

The need for positive social inclusion and a positive place to hang out is essential if we are to avoid the kind of crisis facing young people these days.    

In my books about young people I argued that resilience was created when a young person has a place to go, something in which they succeed, and someone who will mentor them.   All these would happen in a Third Place – particularly if it is a Creative Space.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cultural Capital and young people, including London Rioters

It is about time I did another blog about Cultural Capital.

This is the topic I have written about in the past and it is about I am forever trying to get policy makers to recognise the value, in more than monetary terms of culture and creativity.

We need to think of Cultural Capital as being an essential part of the structure of our societies.    It is as important as Social Capital or networking. Cultural Capital the essence of our beings.

So why is Cultural Capital so valuable and how do we measure it? 

To measure cultural capital we can use opportunity costs economics.  The opportunity cost is the cost of doing something one way rather than another.

In other words instead of sending billions of dollars on having troops to Iraq, you send peace keepers and reconstruction personal who would cost less and yet produce the same outcome which we understand is the establishment of democracy. 

In other words looking at doing something a different way using cultural or social capital would give better and cheaper outcomes for the same final result. 

Another example is the use of the arts and culture to encourage and promote economic and environmental well-being, then with that, social inclusion and social integration amongst young people in cities.

We could set up spaces where disconnected young people could dance, play music, do visual and craft arts where they can get a sense of belonging and achievement.

In creative spaces young people could be encouraged to express their culture and there identity in a positive way.  

The alternatives, far more expensive capital costs are the provision of policing and young people high on alcohol and drugs and in London recently, rioting and now long prison sentences costing millions of dollars.   The art and culture preventions much cheaper.   

The politicians and social commentators are questioning the causes of the rioting and the soul searching will continue.  The discussion, note that many of the young people using blackberries and text messages and facebook pages, were middle class and have jobs, they wanted a thrill as they appeared to be bored with life, lacked any vision, and then didn’t think of any consequence of the destruction the created.  Other commentators say they had no values and no respect, whatever that might mean.

If young people had been given activities that engaged them, in creative fun, provide engagement and self esteem, would the riots still have happened?  Would the young people have found positive ways to express their frustration?

Cultural capital is also about knowing who we are as individuals and nations.  Communities define themselves,  when they express creativity and engagement.  This expression can   express with words, dance, music and visual arts, and we can express ourselves with craft or we can take part in story telling or song writing.   The artists as facilitators can inspire, draw out and provide a whole mix of benefits for society.   The wide benefits are in social capital, using the cultural capital.  Also through the arts and cultural interaction ethnic differences are understood and communicated. Colour is no longer an issue.

As I said in Friday’s blog some of the outcomes are the spiritual well-being of those taking part in the cultural activity.

So back to Cultural Capital and its meaning.  

On page 13 of my book “Cultural Well-being and Cultural Capital”  

I define it as being “a process of building the economic base of any community” which also includes “…the meaning and production of capital, the ideas of creativity, imagination, innovation, history, values and rituals”  It is the capital that ultimately we measure in money and assets.  for the free downloadable book.  

As I have said in my blogs about the unequal society, as the gap between rich and poor gets larger and larger we will see more rioting. 

Let’s try to set up more arts events and spaces where young people can go and hang out, thus enabling them to express themselves and built values and self-respect. 

The cost of these spaces and events is far cheaper then tidying up after riots.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Spiritual Well-being as part of Cultural Well-being

…culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of society or a social group, and…it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs  ( UNESCO 2001)

In 2009, working with the Bishop’s Action Foundation in New Plymouth, I conducted a series of 40 interviews with Older New Zealanders asking them about their spiritual well-being, what they believed spirituality means and how they used their spirituality in times of trouble.

The full research can be seen at  

What was obvious was for most of those interviewed there was a clear difference between Spirituality and Religion.   Spirituality was often about family, community, nature and the environment, music and the arts.   For some it was about Religion, but that was the minority.

Even those who used prayer in times of difficulty, often also walked on the beach, in the country and listened to music when things became stressful.

This research has not been followed by research on spirituality of young people.  We just couldn’t get funding.   This is very sad as watching the London Riots and listening to young people, I am increasingly sure that we need to help the younger generation to understand ‘spirituality’ and how that spirituality could enable them to see the world as being something to be treasured and to enhance their value of their lives and community.

The young people in England who are rioting are in many cases ‘middle class’.    What have the learnt about the world?  Have we shared the beauty of the world and nature?  Have we taught them to appreciate and be awed by nature?  Have the learnt to love being with family and friends on a beach or park or with a picnic?  Have they learnt to appreciate things that cost nothing?   Have they ever been taught to really look at what is happening around them? 

Some of the commentators are talking about values, but culture is more than values.   Culture is about History, Belief, Values and the rituals that enable us to connect with each others.   So is the discomfort of the young people about disconnection with their cultures and with that disconnection with spiritual well-being.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unequal society

 One of my blog readers has sent me this link about the unequal society.    It was written in Vanity Fair magazine.   That reader directs us to Page 5 of that article.  

This is certainly worth reading and thinking about.

Our New Zealand figures are not much behind.  

The lnk above starts with to following including the headline: 

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.
I think we need to look very seriously at inequality and with it taxes.  We know that some of our richest pay little or no tax.    The business man who sued his accountant for not advising him correctly which meant he paid $NZ4,000,000 too much tax, had the court direct the accountancy firm to pay him that amount, which they could get from their insurance.  This is pure tax avoidance and just reinforces that current picture where those on salaries and small incomes still pay the most tax per dollar earned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Snow and Climate Change

Snow is so beautiful.  We are awed and we laugh, in Cuba Street people dance.  Cameras snap and children make snow ball, and snowmen and snow women are standing beside the footpaths.   There is snow everywhere on the hills and on the flat over the last few days. 

While rain is depressing, snow makes us happy and playful, we are happy and even through the snow is melting we are all still happy, something to talk about and enjoy. Everyone has a story to share.  Social capital is being enhanced.  People laughing and talking on the streets.

We have lived in Wellington, Lower Hutt and the Kapiti Coast for nearly 45 years and it hasn’t snowed, well a few snow flurries, but this snow was on the ground and it is cold, the hills so beautiful. 

This year we have had tornados, we have had storms and before that spring bubs blooming in early June, instead of September.    June and July warmest on record and August will be coldest on record.

Last night I was in central Wellington.   I was invited to dinner up on the hills suburb of Karori.  As I left the city it started to hailing, getting thicker by the minute.   Thick large and heavy hail made driving difficult and the ground was soon beautiful covered, foot path, road and the grass all turned white.  

My car can only drive because I was following a four wheeled drive car and driving in its wet track being made in front of me.  Eventually I park and wonder how to get to the house across the road.  

In the end I hold onto the car until I can get to the grass verge.  Then slowly, slowly make my way to the house across a main road.   The main road was empty, hail thick on the road with a small track through the middle. 

No-one driving now just too dangerous and a wonderful quietness – in just minutes the whole of the land had been covered with thick white hail – slippery but awesomely beautiful.

The day before it had been snow and the hail now lay on the snow. 

I decide to stay the night.  We eat and talk in the warmth of the house –

I had left heaters and electric blanket on in the apartment.  The night before there had been power cuts, so wanted my apartment warm for the night, but at this point it didn’t seem to be any way I would get away from Karori. 

Wonderful food, company of grandchildren and family and warmth keep the evening perfect.

By 8.30 it started to rains now heavy and wet.  Very quickly the rain cleans the roads of hail and snow and I can go home to the inner city apartment – now warm and snug – the drive beautiful in near deserted roads with thick white edges like paintings framed.

On the radio yesterday I had heard an interview with a climate change sceptic.   His words echo in my head.   “This is just a normal weather cycle” he was staying.     

Funny cycle I say.  Must be a big cycle – nothing like this weather in my life time.

Our government are discussing and setting up  “Emissions Trading Schemes”  The  emissions scheme debate, are both in New Zealand and from Australia. 

I also hear discussions of Climate Change and global warming.   I certainly don’t need a scientist to tell me this is Climate Change.   Hot and Cold and serious fluctuations between the two and many unseasonal.

I know we have now added emissions costs to our petrol, electricity and  we are told that our new ‘trading scheme’ is now working well.

What we don’t hear is what is happening to our money – where is the money that is coming from our contributions.  Someone must be making money and I don’t think it is the ordinary people.   Where is the money going, who is using it?  Are these schemes cutting back global pollution?

We also hear the big polluters will not pay into this scheme, might stop growth! 

We hear that farming shouldn’t carry the cost of emissions, we need to earn the money for us from balance of payments. 

But when I ask who gets the emissions charges, no-one appears to know.  Certainly there is no trickle down to us all. 

Is this just another tax.  If so maybe that is good, but if just a way for the traders to take a cut of all transactions, then we need to watch and be informed.  

Whatever is happening.  Whoever makes money from the Trading Schemes.  Whatever costs we pay.   What is certain in our part of the world anyway, there is certainly climate change.  

But seriously it would be really good to really know what is happening.   

Maybe this election we will all need to vote GREEN.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Youth Unemployment and National Party response

It is staggering to hear John Key at the National Party conference today pronouncing his policy on Youth Unemployment. 

Yes all sounds very positive, unless you are young, unemployed, angry and out of or cant get into any of the training system. You probably have no qualifications at all.

Let’s take these one by one.   

A lot of young people are unemployed because they do not read or write.   Why is that?  It is because the education system failed these young people. 

Basic skills come only after one has the basic eye hand co-ordination skills.   These many children never when to preschool.  About twelve to fifteen years ago when these young people should have been at preschool, there were no places and no financial support for their parents.  

Luckily for the next set of young people Helen Clarke’s government started a move to make preschool affordable, but too late for these young people.  These young people again failed when first at school and then failed at secondary school – being behind at the age of 5 kept them behind the other children and their they stayed. 

Then there was an economic downturn and these same people have failed to get jobs.  These young people and now disenfranchised and angry, many are already poor or come from poor families and some are also hungry. 

When one listens to the politicians all these is there own fault.  Sadly this government has again cut back on early childhood spending and now will cut their benefits. 

The second reason they are unemployed is that there are not jobs. 

Seriously no jobs – oh yes there are few seasonal workers jobs, but unless these poor, illiterate young people can afford to go to Australia or to seasonal work jobs in other parts of New Zealand there are still no jobs, ever day we hear of more redundancies and the people out of work, they young people have never had work so they are just not work ready or prepared.   Also who wants to employ a young person who is angry, hungry and can’t read or write.

Thirdly this government has cut all the non threatening community education programmes.    I know from my work in prisons that the offenders who came to the art programmes learn to finish a task, gained self esteem, succeeded for the first time ever, but even more important many of them learnt basic eye and hand co-ordination skills that are necessary for reading.   They learnt these skills which most children learn in preschool.  

So what is the government doing?    They are taking away any incentive for self determination.   The Government will control their benefit, they can’t spend money on cigarette, alcohol, will they be able to go to the pictures, what about fast foods, will they also be on the banned list.

Come on New Zealand and National be innovative.  John Key, stop thinking up policies that are popular with your members and start putting yourself in the shoes of the underclass.  

I fear if you don’t we will see riots in Auckland in the same way as in London.