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Coming from the Greek words phorein (to carry) and meta (beyond), metaphor takes words beyond their face value, rescuing them from habit and time's erosion and bringing their meaning back to life. It consists in descending in order to rise, in using the concrete to soar above the abstract. We could say: “She died at the age of 20” - or we could say instead: “She was cut down in the flower of her youth.” The number may be precise - but the image tells the truth. Lively and colourful, metaphor is the very face of belonging, for thanks to metaphor, we inhabit the words and they live in us.

The Grain of Sand and the Blade of Grass

Individualism can be either the worst or the best of things, depending on whether it resembles a grain of sand or a blade of grass. The grain of sand has no attachments; it is free as the wind. But it is also at the mercy of the wind, blown about from place to place until it settles, a nameless particle lost in the mass. By contrast, each blade of grass is rooted in the earth, energized by...

The Sea and Life

All forms of life are linked to each other as interconnected elements of an ecosystem. When life is threatened in one part of the system, it retreats from all parts of that system – from the environment, from communities, from houses and cities and works of art – like the sea which retreats uniformly from every bay as the tide goes out. Restoring life requires doing the same in reverse:...

The Bird that tells the Hours

In Out of Africa, Karen Blixen writes about the fascination her cuckoo clock held for the young Kikuyu shepherds who lived near her. Knowing nothing about clocks and used to measuring time by the sun, they thought the “bird that told the hours” was a live bird. In the same way we project our mechanistic view of the world onto living beings, the shepherds projected their animistic view of...

The Art of the Graft

The individual is connected to society in much the same way that our hearts are connected to our bodies: through a multitude of small but vital links. In one case the connections are physical (veins, arteries, blood) and in the other, social (people, places, memories, symbols), but in both cases they are necessary for the organism to function. When the physical connections are broken,...

Midas the Dis-enchanter, or Instrumental Reason

According to Greek mythology, Silenus was the adviser and tutor of the god Dionysos. One day when Silenus had had too much to drink (as usual), he got lost in the gardens of Midas, king of Phrygia. Midas found him there and brought him to his castle, where he treated Silenus with the greatest respect and care. Wishing to reward Midas for his hospitality, Dionysos offered to grant him whatever...


When the flower of a fruit tree is not visited by pollinating insects, it withers without ever bearing fruit. No longer able to attract people or nourish the birds, the flower becomes, in effect, lonely, its living connections severed and its links of belonging broken. Just so, people need to be nourished by the presence of others: other people – but also plants, animals, works of art and so on.

Social Gardening

Social gardening is more than friends and neighbours growing food together. It is time out from the concerns of production and efficiency, and an invitation to attend to the mystery of life. It is about nurturing resilience, life’s ability to bounce back from shock or stress. Resilience is an inherent property of natural organisms and systems – it is not something we can produce. We can...


Twenty years before this photograph was taken, this oak was cut in two by a tornado. Yet with no outside help, it eventually returned to its original form. This is resilience. But while resilience is spontaneous in the wild, it requires careful acts of nurturing when human presence is involved. Jean Giono, the poet of resilience, illustrates the kind of care and nurturing that can...

The Canary in the Machine

For many generations canaries were used as an indicator of air quality in coal mines. When the canary stopped singing or died, the miners knew they had to return to the surface quickly. Since then, we use the expression “canary in the coal mine” to refer to a person or event that provides early warning of a disaster. In today’s world we might speak of the “canary in the machine” rather than...





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Jacques Dufresne's

The editor of L'Encyclopédie de L'Agora and well known newspaper chronicler and philosopher, analyses actuality through the looking glass of Belonging.
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Loneliness affects one in ten people in France

ONE in ten people in France lives in solitude and a quarter have only the most basic links to family or friends, a new report has revealed. The issue of solitude came up in 2003 after the...

Preventing Home Foreclosures - a Promising Innovation in Philadelphia

Between June 2008 and May 2009, of the 4,690 homeowners who were able to negotiate with their banks through this program, 2,776 succeeded in holding on to their homes.