What we all can learn from Hawaiian Culture
“When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build upon it,” -Yo Yo Ma
I am tremendously lucky to have had the global experiences I’ve had as a result of my work. As a global facilitator and keynote speaker, I have been given the incredible opportunity to travel to nearly 100 countries and all 50 States. Each place has brought me a new gift to enrich my life — understanding, and then practicing, the different cultures. My goal when traveling is not to be a tourist, yet be a seeker of wisdom from the people. To see their perspective, and thier way of life. I view this opportunity to travel not as a privilege or a blessing (while it is certainly both) — instead I view it as a responsibility. I know so many others for various reasons won’t have the same opportunity to see the world the way I have seen it. It’s my responsibility to absorb these experiences and perspectives and to share them with the world through my understanding. Maybe, through my writing, speaking, creativity, video, and humor, I can help pass the gifts of other cultures on.
This gift I’m sharing hails from Hawaii, and has three parts; respect, gratitude, and authenticity, and it all started with getting absolutely rocked by a wave while surfing.
In my downtime after a speech, I was getting humbled by the power of the ocean and Mother Nature. Each time, after the mighty Pacific ejected me from my own two feet and board, I came up laughing at the pure joy of being in the moment, getting whooped by something as old as the Earth itself. I gave my daughter the Shaka sign and laughed my way back out to the break.
Later, reflecting in my hotel room, I considered the wisdom that wove together the lives of the islands’ inhabitants. Aloha, Mahalo, and Ohana, each word, though simple in its phonetic structure, are timeless truths that have shaped generations.
Aloha, as I have come to understand it, is more than just a warm greeting or a heartfelt goodbye. Aloha is an ethos, a way of life that encapsulates love, compassion, and a deep-rooted respect for others.
I considered the ways that we live Aloha in our everyday lives. An Aloha mindset, to me, comes through when we’re present, actively listening, and providing the people we’re with warmness and openness. This reminded me of a question I have come to use for myself, and share in the Change Agents Academy: “How can I grow the energy in this room?”
This question, though simple, helps me check my current energy that I’m contributing to the collective energy I find myself in at that moment. I strive to vibrate of love, compassion, and respect to any group I speak to or facilitate. I seek to give off Aloha energy to everybody I meet, whether through a warm smile or empathy for their perspective.
As I walked down the stairs to the lobby for dinner, I was racking my brain to find tangible examples in my life I could use to explain my understanding of Aloha on my upcoming podcast episode. I laughed to myself as I flashed back to rush hour on a hot Phoenix freeway when a guy in a huge lifted pickup truck (you know the type) cut me off for being in the space he wanted to be in. As the universe always does, it balances everything, and his negative energy fed back to him as he found himself stuck in the slow lane, while my lane deftly opened up. Karma. As I naturally passed him he gave me the finger — not very Aloha if I do say so myself. However, it was a clear micro story that told me everything I needed to know about him and his current situation in life — his anger fed his outcomes. Those who do not learn their lessons are condemned to relive them.
This shifted my wandering pension to Mahalo, another Hawaiian term I was mulling over in my mind. Mahalo, at first glance, signifies gratitude and appreciation, though I’ve found it’s a larger acknowledgment of the lessons we’ve learned, the connections we’ve formed, and the opportunities that have appeared before us. Mahalo will teach us to view every obstacle as an opportunity for learning and growth. Without it, we continue to make the same mistakes over and over.
I started thinking about the unique power mistakes have in our lives. In my experience, mistakes, when we own them and use them as lessons, actually make us more attractive to other people. We gravitate towards those characters in our lives — real or fictional — that are flawed. The Pratfall Effect was the product of a 1960’s study by Elliot Aronson which showed pretty much that same thing; that the attractiveness or likability of a person, object, or company is enhanced when they make mistakes. So, following this logic, Mahalo means we can actually be excited for roadblocks and failures.
Excitement for failure brings a zest for life that attracts a certain type of person. Adventure seekers, travelers, mountain climbers, performers, and entrepreneurs all share that same excitement in different ways. They’re the people that know whatever they’re about to do could go horribly wrong, yet they do it anyway because the thrill of overcoming is greater than the pain of failure. Curiously, these people all seem to gravitate towards each other, which brings about the final ancient Hawaiian principle I would ponder on that trip to Hawaii.
Flaws and failure mistakes make us more human, relatable, and likable. As I share in past articles, authenticity, we’ve found, vibrates at 400x the energy of love, the next highest human energy vibration. Aloha and Mahalo allow us to live authentically, and when we vibrate with authenticity we attract the others that vibrate at the same frequency. Ohana, in its most literal sense, means “family,” though it’s used to describe the relationships we surround ourselves with beyond our blood line. Ohana outlines the people we bring into our lives — the family we unconsciously choose by just being ourselves. When we level up ourselves, we level up the people we surround ourselves with, and ultimately, level up the impact we can have on the world. It’s critical when we’re unknowingly hand-picking the ensemble cast of our own lives that we attract only those who resonate with our values, fortify our dreams, and challenge us to evolve into the best versions of ourselves.
As I laid down at the end of the day, I worked backwards through the terms and my reflections. Ohana means the people in our lives that strengthen us, and we choose those people, sometimes unconsciously. We can choose the people that serve us the best when we live our lives authentically with Mahalo, grateful and appreciative of our successes and our failures. Yet, we only have the ability to attract success or opportunities in the first place when we live Aloha and permeate respect when we live respect, love, and compassion.
Aloha, Mahalo, and Ohana,
In light of recent events on Maui, here are some ways to live Aloha, Mahalo, and Ohana:
- Hawaii Community Foundation Maui Strong fund: Focusing on rapid response and working with local nonprofits to understand community needs. More details.
- Maui Food Bank: Collecting and distributing food to help the hungry in Maui County. More details.
- Maui United Way: Providing direct relief to families and nonprofits. More details.
- The Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division: Providing food and resources for evacuees. More details.
- Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation: Partnering with the state Department of Education to support school communities in West Maui through Oct. 1. More details.
- Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement: Matching up to $1.5 million in donations for Maui fire victims as of Friday evening. More details.
- Maui Humane Society: Supporting shelters for displaced people and animals, and caring for injured animals. More details.
- World Central Kitchen: Providing meals to people in need by partnering with local organizations. More details.
- River of Life Mission: Providing coffee and stuffed animals to shelters. More details.