This article, based on some thoughts in Affordable Paradise, was published in the Hawaii Island Journal, Voume 8/Number 23, Nov/Dec., 2007
Living in Paradise: Aloha 101
There's a magical, special feeling in these Islands of Hawai'i. Those of us who live here call it aloha. It's alive and well, and to some it's so powerful and pervasive that it is an essential part of life-like breathing. To many people, this feeling is a huge part of what they're here for. To our wonderful locals, it's why they stay in spite of the promises of more of everything on the mainland. To the ones who followed the lure of the mainland, it's why they eventually come back home. To those who have moved here from elsewhere, it's often the mystique and power of the islands that brings them to this extraordinary destination in the first place, and in the end it is what keeps them here forever.
But it's not that way for everyone. To some folks, these feelings seem not to exist. We've had friends and even relatives from the mainland come to visit and notice nothing, while others feel it profoundly. To those who said they felt nothing, Hawai'i was just another place.
This talk-story is about the importance of knowing the difference. It especially speaks to those who are new here or just considering making Hawai'i their home.
The Aloha Culture
A large part of the Hawai'ian culture is based in the philosophy of giving back to the community. Those who live this philosophy would feel incomplete living their lives only for themselves, or even just for their own families. Family members give back to their families, and the family as a whole gives back to the community, and this, coming from the heart, is an important ingredient of the spirit of aloha. This is a philosophy not often found to be practiced in most mainland cultures and it is one of the differences not easily understood by Hawai'i's people. Not surprisingly, the island newcomers who truly live lives of aloha are those who find themselves most at ease with-and accepted by-the locals here.
The focus here is to leave no doubt about the importance of living aloha; living consciously, and in a way that includes giving back to the community, to your neighbors, and especially to the people of these islands who are your hosts. As more and more people flood in from every corner of the US mainland, we are beginning to see a dilution of aloha and it hurts.
Things are changing fast here. Exponentially. So fast that even those of us who live right here in the middle of it can see it happen on a daily basis. When a population expands rapidly for any reason, change is inevitable. In our Island culture, the change goes beyond just adding people. We're adding people from a different culture: Mainland Culture.
For the first time now, we're seeing traffic jams in Hilo. Kona-side traffic has become impossible. We're hearing horns honking now, even in sweet little Hilo. We're witnessing the exasperation of the folks in their new SUVs in dealing with island-style driving. We're seeing that mainland-style "me first" attitude. We hear more and more car alarms going of at all times of the day and night. We're starting to see long lines everywhere. It's scary.
Only a few years ago, most of our drivers were courteous, would always be conscious of the needs of others in a traffic situation and try their best to accommodate. You would never have to wait in a driveway for more than a few seconds before somebody would slow down and wave you in ahead of them. Aloha!
Random acts of aloha are happening less now, and we feel this is at least in part due to the new arrivals who are bringing their mainland habits with them. Or maybe they tried for a while to do it the aloha way and have just forgotten why they're here.
Road manners are a very small part of a big picture, but a part in which the results are clear and obvious.
The more people we get here who will not leave their mainland ways behind, the more pressure there will be on the entire island culture to accommodate them. The more they get accommodated, the more dilution there will be to the island life that most of us cherish, and ironically, the very island life that the newcomers came here to experience.
Some Realities of Island Life
It's rare when two or more people who observe the same situation come away with the same "reality," and your own reality of life in Hawai'i will be yours alone. Much depends on your own values and perceptions, so what you read here are some of the things you need to "feel" for yourself. If the differences in Hawai'i's culture don't feel good now, will they become major irritations later? The reality of life in Hawai'i is not the same as a vacation at Waikiki Beach.
A Few Examples
Stores here work differently than on the mainland. Even the mainland-name stores do it island style. For the most part, this means that inventory controls are different and you can't depend on finding your favorite items at any particular business. Everything here gets shipped in, so we get what is offered to us today. When the supply is gone, sometimes it's gone for good, and a replacement item will appear instead-or not.
Getting anything done by others works differently here. There's this casual attitude that permeates every part of life. For sure, this works better in personal than in business relationships, but it's there. Everywhere. For some, it's a feel-good thing. For others it's irritating.
For many years, we've been hearing stories of how "things just don't happen here the way they did back home." Surprise! This isn't back home. This is an island in the middle of the ocean. This is the most remote landmass on the entire planet. Why would it "be like home?"
The "it didn't work this way back home" syndrome shows up in many aspects of Island life. If you are of a mind to seek out these differences, you can find them everywhere. Or you could fall into step with Island life and appreciate your new environment, knowing in your heart that the differences are all integral and essential parts of the whole package that attracted you to Hawai'i in the first place. Moving to Hawai'i is a lot like moving to a different country. As you begin to embrace your newfound culture, its peace and aloha will embrace you.
It even happens with big mainstream businesses here. A while ago, I needed some info from our local Sears store. I called the main information number in the phone book. The phone rang and rang . . . no answer. No voice-mail, no answering machine. And this is Sears, Roebuck, Inc.! (Island style.)
That's the way it is here. Things don't happen here the way they do in most other places, nor are they supposed to. Some loving patience, tolerance, and a healthy sense of humor are real assets. They are also just another part of living aloha.
What we strive for is a lifestyle that precludes needing anything in a hurry. Delays are just more opportunities to head for the beach. Time to "talk story" with a neighbor. And so what if it takes an extra few days to finish painting the house? What's the hurry?
This casual attitude is pervasive here, and it's just part of life. It drives some people up the wall, and others fall into a comfortable step with it. It's important to would-be residents that they be honest enough with themselves to know that their acceptance of this kind of lifestyle is real and not just fun because it's new. Folks who have spent a good part of their lives on the Mainland big-city treadmill or living a life of appointments and timetables might have difficulty adjusting.
Indeed, it is the "laid back" part that attracts a lot of folks at first, but then in the end it can be some of the ingredients of "laid back" that seem to be their undoing. That's the island way.
The key, of course, is to be at peace with this lifestyle, and if that comes naturally to you and feels very good to you, then at least in that area you'll probably do well here. If it feels like it will take all the patience you can muster to put up with the leisurely ways of the islands, then this might not be your cup of tea.
An Aloha Exercise
Next time you're driving and you see somebody waiting to get out of a parking lot into the flow of traffic, give up that precious five seconds to let him or her in. When you come to an intersection, look around. Is there a way that by giving up a few seconds of your time you could ease a situation that will make the traffic flow better for everyone?
Living consciously is a huge ingredient of living aloha.
It's really amazing how this works: You slow down to let somebody in front of you in, or maybe to make a left turn across your traffic lane. Do you have to? No, of course not. You do it because it makes your heart feel good to live aloha.
After that kind little deed that cost you nothing, you've brightened the day of somebody else, and that person will extend the same courtesy at his or her next opportunity. And on it goes. It feels good, and best of all, it's contagious.
Now take this same principle into every area of your life. Consider the needs of others. Live consciously! Live aloha!
In these kinds of decisions, it's important to listen to your heart-your intuition. Sure, there are lots of practical, nuts-and-bolts choices that need to be made when considering a major lifestyle change, but the final word should come from a place other than logic. The final decision is not just a logical one because moving to Hawai'i is indeed a major lifestyle change. It's not at all comparable to moving from one mainland state to another, even though that could be a big deal, as well.
If you do decide to make Hawai'i your new home, it's time to embrace Hawai'i's culture; her lifestyle; and most importantly, her people, without whom there would be no such thing as aloha.
Wherever life leads you, we wish for you brilliant rainbows, spectacular sunsets and much aloha!
Skip & Camille Thomsen
This article was excerpted in part from Skip's book, Affordable Paradise. The Fourth Edition is now available online or at your local boook store.
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