The "Third Something" is a meaning that arises from spiritually-correct relationships with Self, Others, our surroundings and being aligned with a purpose greater than our own individualistic goals. It is an immaterial reward, a form of spiritual earning that fills us with inner joy enhancing our wellbeing physically and mentally. It exists outside us, somewhere between relationships, and it is only harvested by the right interactions, of love, humility and gratitude, which keep it alive.

My post-doctoral work in media-anthropology is focused on finding ways that nurture The Third Something at a time when materialistic worldview is the dominant way of seeing the world. I began by looking at visual literacy to decode internal biases caused by the way "development" is articulated. In my PhD dissertation I coined the term "donor gaze" to explain the harmful impact of using the narrow lenses of international development, which conceptualise "progress" only in terms of how much of the natural world we have managed to process and adapt for human consumption. This way of seeing our world separates the inseparable whole into "us" and "them," disregarding the principle of oneness that we are all interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. Spiritually-literate people are aware how life really works and they show reverence to all life.

Sadly, the metrics for measuring progress are rigid and hierarchical. I still struggle to understand how it is possible to call my grandmother poor simply because she did not spend two dollars a day? My grandmother (Bibi in Swahili) enjoyed a healthy 98 years of life, lovingly cultivating her mixed crops farm, producing everything she ate including fresh clarified butter and the traditional fermented banana brew (mbege ) which she occassionaly sold when she had a need to buy manufactured items.

Bibi walked barefooted, drew water from the natural springs (above) flowing through the volcanic rocks on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and spent quality time in communion with others at the vibrant daily market or during celebrations. Our Bibi told us stories to entertain, teach and to warn. Bibi was never hospitalised or even visit a dentist. Yet according to the statistics, she was poor. A soul-less statistic. She passed away peacefully in 1982 before Social Media could tell her that she was poor.

Life in the Post-Social Media world requires not only visual literacy but a very sound spiritual literacy that grounds us to maintain our inner OK-ness. We are surrounded by images, which we interpret using what is culturally and environmentally known to us; the so called "pictures in our heads." However, due to unprecedented progress in information technology, some of these images cross cultural borders to reach cultural Others often disempowering the receivers in non-industrialised countries because what is signified is perceived as being more glamorous and desirable than what is found in one’s immediate environment. Furthermore, the Western languages that accompany the images reinforce the notion that there is only one standard of life that all should aspire to; most often expressed in uncorrelated materialistic terms.

Consider for instance the word chair. According to the Oxford dictionary, a chair is "a separate seat for one person, typically with a back and four legs."  This is taken for granted in communities with such seating arrangements but it may be "lost in translation" when the word crosses cultural-ecological borders to a Tanzanian rural community where people sit on mats or at best on three legged vigodas (right) 

Kigoda (singular) Vigoda (plural)   

Vigodas are very popular household items even in middle class homes where women sit whilst cooking on charcoal stoves in the outside kitchen. A Kigoda is often reserved for respected elders in some communities.

Explaining the word chair by literal translation alone is insufficient and in such a context it is visually illiterate. There are many more examples of visual illiteracy particularly in children and young adults whose original ‘pictures in the heads’ are constantly challenged by mediated texts, social media and even music videos. This is the exact reason why I undertook this post-doctoral research to pilot out a holistic perception tool in order to address young people’s anxieties about not being good enough and remind them that indeed ‘the grass is greener where you water it.’ Compassion towards self and Others is a good starting point and so I drew on Transactional Analysis position of "I am OK You are OK" to develop an empowering personal philosophy; Tuko Sawa. (We are Okay!)

What Tuko Sawa does:

It emphasises that we are all created perfectly as we are; from the invisible bacteria to the mighty elephant, every living organism calls this planet home. We are different but equal. We are all born here, we live here and we share the same life cycle. The principle of Oneness shows without a single shred of doubt that we are all connected in one web of life. We breathe the same air, drink the same water and depend on other living matter for our own energetic needs. 
When it comes to cultures, Tuko Sawa insists that no single culture should monopolise  standardisation of meaning or indeed what a good life looks like. Different cultures have different ways of being and interpreting the world and therefore spiritual literacy can go a long way in rebalancing perception of how we intepret cross-cultural phenomena and create better relationships. 
If we all decide to nurture "The Third Something" a shift will happen in how development projects are implemented because we will embark on compassionate dialogues to find out the best way of serving and empowering others to be of service too. This is easily done if we can all observe THE GOLDEN RULE of treating others the way we wish to be treated and extend this to the rest of Nature.


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