I recently read Shannon Kaiser’s article, “12 Healthy Habits The World Can Learn From Hawaii Locals”. I appreciated Ms. Kaiser’s perception of how life rolls on through the day for Hawaii locals but I’d like to offer up an alternative list of lessons that people could pick-up from local Hawaii residents. I’m sure Ms. Kaiser meant well and was convinced that she was conveying the guiding ideals of local island residents but, I think that many of us who live daily life in our beautiful islands are impacted by the realities of living in one of the most expensive places in the nation (i.e. the median home price in March 2014 was $679,000 and the median household income was $66,259 in 2012). Hawaii has a ridiculous cost-of-living; the stories you hear about people spending over $5 for a gallon of milk are not exaggerations; we pay more for most commercial goods, the current price of gas in my neighborhood is $4.36/gallon, the cost of childcare and private schooling is outrageous and the cost of travel off or between the islands for a family of 3 rivals the cost of a down payment for many homes on the continental US. All of that aside, there are five ideals that I know local Hawaii residents have figured out and integrate into our lives, often without even realizing it.
1) ‘Ohana and Food: As Lilo so wisely said in the Disney classic, ” ‘Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind.” in Hawaii, the concept of family is elastic and fluid. Beyond those people who you happen to be biologically related to thanks to a random genetic pool of luck, the concept of ‘ohana is often extended to include the people that you are emotionally and sentimentally tied to. Family structures ten to broadly span generations and geography. Friends who have become intimately entwined into daily life are embraced and claimed as ‘ohana. The fluidity of ‘ohana also allows locals to count their neighbors and communities as part of their ‘ohana thus deserving of the same demonstrations of care, respect and aloha. ‘Ohana permeates every part of our lives here in the islands; many of us reside with or remain close to our parents, grandparents and extended family, many of our hanai family (friends-turned-family or otherwise “adopted” or “absorbed”) spend time together at work, after work and throughout our weekends. For some families, the only way to navigate through the daily demands of jobs (often, multiple jobs to compensate for the extreme cost-of-living in the islands), family life, and everyday reality is to lean on one another – sharing the responsibilities for child care, shuttling services, household expenses (multiple families or roommates sharing one residence is not unusual). Although this lifestyle may not be popular, convenient or preferred by our counterparts on the continent, there are many of us who couldn’t afford life in paradise without these connections. On the other hand, one of the favorite ways to enjoy the company of family and friends is over food. Always. Embracing the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic culinary legacies in Hawaii, combined with the abundance of excellent produce and seafood and meats, every gathering – be a simple extended or hanai family meal or a deluxe first-birthday luau – is anchored by an abundance of food that would overwhelm the most discerning foodies and likely put them in food-recovery coma for a week. We never show up empty-handed to a part. And, I promise, you won’t leave empty-handed either. Local style: always contribute with aloha and you will always be taken care of. Usually with a plate or two of leftovers that will carry you through the week.
2) Hawaiian Time: Many think that Hawaiian Time simply means you always run late. I would suggest that Hawaiian Time is more a recognition that there are only 24 hours in a day and there is no way that we are going to get through everything on our gotta-do list in those 24 hours so prioritize, linger over the moments that are truly pleasurable and don’t rush the small stuff – like those moments when your 8-year-old is trying to body surf one more wave or your wife is lingering over her coffee as she looks at papayas growing in the front yard or the 4.5 minutes it takes to talk-story with your neighbor while walking the dog because, at the end of the day, those moments that ran over on Hawaiian Time are the ones that you’ll probably cherish while, in a week, you’ll probably forget what appointment you we late for or where you were trying to rush off in the first place. **note** I am in no way condoning chronic lateness. I am pretty anal about being where we need to be when we need to be there – on time and ready. But, I am learning to embrace the value that enjoying and lingering in the simple, special moments are, ultimately, more valuable.
3) Diversity and Ha’aheo: We used to say that there was no ethnic majority in Hawaii, that it is a state comprised of minorities. And, while the number may prove that to be statistically inaccurate, the essence holds true; Hawaii is home to a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-national populations so it isn’t surprising to find that the local shave, over time, found a way to create a unique “local” culture that blends elements from the peoples and places all over the world. Acknowledging and respecting differences and the fact that no one’s experience or background will mirror that of anyone else’s has helped many local communities create a life rhythm that embraces, if not celebrates, diversity. Along with the appreciation of diversity is the ideal of “ha’aheo” or pride. Pride is not arrogance. pride is a respect and the value of honoring who and where we have come from.
4) History and Ho’oponopono: Because the local population of Hawaii comes from such diverse backgrounds, the history of the people of Hawaii as well as Hawaii herself is complex, complicated and emotional. These islands were the only lands in the USA that operated as an independent kingdom. The Kingdom of Hawaii, with it’s rich and storied existence was eventually overthrown; the islands became the fabled paradise for commercial ventures, religious missionaries, political power struggles – all confined to a very small, isolated land mass. It is no surprise that conflict is bound to arise and Hawaii has endured (and continues to endure as demonstrated by the current ongoing debate about the official recognition and status of the Kingdom of Hawaii by the United States) more than her fair share. But, the take-away lesson is the concept of ho’oponopono – the practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. Bearing in mind that humans – and therefore communities – are flawed and that our experiences and histories are viewed through emotional lenses and personal perspectives, the practice of ho’oponopono is a process – it is not necessarily product-focused. It is the striving for a space of reconciliation and re-gathering or re-forming as a single unit, be it ‘ohana or community, after a time of conflict or fragmentation. The only way to truly achieve this space of reconciliation is through outreach, discussion, restitution and forgiveness. A high ideal, to be sure, but one that that we should all aspire to.
5) Mälama ka ‘aina: Hawaiian culture is rooted – physically, emotionally, spiritually, societally – to the land. Yes, the physical land. At it’s very core, the people of Hawaii, native and locals, are charged with caring for the land. For practical reasons, we need to take care of islands because we live on an itty-bitty isolated island chain in the middle of a big-ass ocean. We need to take care of our islands because our largest economic driver is tourism and tourists won’t pay thousands of dollars to lie in the sun on a dirty, polluted, trash-riddled beach. We need to take care of our islands because the beauty of this land is so overwhelming I am so often struck speechless – and, if you know me, you’d know that is quite a feat. We need to take care of our islands because this land has a spiritual soul that will sneak into your own soul, possess your heart and brand your memory with the rhythms of the waves and the whispers of the tradewinds.
I’m sure that there are many more lessons and ideals that are found in the people who call Hawaii home that could benefit the health and well-being of others. Or maybe even just add a little bit more breathing room into our normally busy, chaotic or insane lives. There are definitely several from Ms. Kaiser’s list that I’d like to see integrated into our everyday world (put your digital devices away, release expectations being two that jump out at me screaming for attention), but the five items that I have shared are the ones that touch and structure the daily life rhythms of me and mine. Hawaii is not only a place, it is a way of living – a way of being. Be well, friends, and be welcome in sharing bits and pieces of our Hawaii life.