Saturday, 30 November 2013

Because we have everything we need.

One of the most beautiful and inspiring lessons I ever learnt was from an I-Kiribati woman. Years later I am still astounded by her naive genius, or was just pure genius?

We live in a paradigm that is ruled by the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. If they are not selling us something they are gaining information so someone else can sell us something. The caller says, 'I'm only doing market research, I'm not selling you anything.' I know I've been that caller. Completely against my principals and in desperation for rent money, I worked in a call centre in Amsterdam doing market research in the UK. It was vial. 

Fifty years ago advertisements were kind and charming, "Omo adds whiteness to brightness", "Rowntrees fruit gums, you can taste the fruit" or "Oxo makes cooking so easy". No insults or harm there. Today our weaknesses are preyed upon. It's a two part attack, phase one creates insecurity in the potential consumer, either existing ones are fully developed or new ones are created, the finishing stage then offers a solution to our inadequacy. Other techniques such as a sense of panic are added to the formula and we find ourselves, despite our intellectual ability and vegetarianism, furnished with steak knives and other unnecessities. "But wait! That's not all, call now and you get an extra steam cleaner absolutely free!"

A part of my role in the AusAid English Language Program in The Republic of Kiribati was testing the speaking and listening abilities of the inservice teachers. I had designed a script of questions from which I was able to test their communicative competence and grammatic accuracy in both skills.

"What do you prefer about living on the outer islands?" I asked for the umpteenth time. "Coming to the capital island Tarawa is stressful because we see things for sale and you start to believe that you need those things and of course then you need money to buy them. On the outer islands we don't have money. We don't need to buy anything because we have everything we need. The ocean provides us with fish, the sky water and the breadfruit trees, coconut trees and pandanus tress provide us with more food and materials to make mattresses and houses."

I was really confused. I just didn't understand what she was getting at. It slowly dawned on me. I had spent a weekend on an outer island called Marakei and briefly experienced life without currency. I saw the happiness abounding in the people. It was this innocence and joy that stole my heart. Still to this day I continue to be astounded by the serenity and happiness I felt for those days when I had everything I needed.

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