To someone who lives outside of Hawai’i, the word “Aloha” has been marketed to solely mean “Hello” or “Goodbye”. But realistically Aloha is not a phrase, slogan or a piece of marketing material. To people that truly understand Aloha, it is a way of life. Pono Shim (CEO & President of Enterprise Honolulu, the Oahu Economic Development Board) stated it perfectly when he wrote:
“Aloha is to be in the presence of life, to share the essence of one’s being with openness, honesty and humility. It is a way of being, a way of behaving, a way of life. It is a commitment to being real. It is a commitment to accepting others and giving dignity to who they are and what they have to offer. ”
These meanings are the principles of relationships with ones self, family and friends, strangers and the world in which we live in. Much deeper than just a Hello or Goodbye.
I have always seen the value of interconnectedness with people in business and in life, but Hawai’i truly has an understanding about this that I have rarely seen elsewhere. I was fortunate to live in Hawai’i for 5 years of my life but visiting has made me truly appreciate its culture. Here is how true Aloha was shown to be in the last 10 days on my visit to Oahu.
Akahai: Kindness to be expressed with tenderness.
One of the first introductions I had to the true meaning of Aloha came from my great friend Vance Arakaki. He works for an amazing sustainable innovation firm called the KYA Sustainability Studio and his learnings from this company, which is pioneering the sustainability movement in Hawaiʻi, was the first start towards educating me on Aloha’s real meaning.
Vance is someone who shares genuine kindness with all around him. I have never seen him act anything but with a tenderness that flows through his interactions with everyone, especially to new people he meets everyday. Try to share a level of kindness with new people which will help you connect and nurture new relationships. If people can feel the tenderness in your kindness, you will be able to connect with them at a higher level.
Lokahi: Unity to be expressed with harmony.
In Hawai’i, one of the strongest pieces of their culture is the true sense of loyalty and family. Every elder is either an aunty or uncle to you. I mean, you could walk into a local restaurant and the waitress will treat you like you are part of her family when serving you. Or you could be invited into one of your friends family parties who you may never have met before and it will be as if you are one of them. The people in Hawai’i have this high value on nurturing the community which starts by a level of respect like a family member.
Try interacting with others as if they were your own family. This sense of unity and harmony will bind people and make all actions moving forward more harmonious and successful in whatever direction you are heading. Thank you to my Hawai’i family!
‘Olu’Olu: Agreeableness to be expressed with Pleasantness.
Agreeableness doesn’t mean always saying yes, but more so connecting on a level of life enjoyment with one another. If you can spiritually connect with another in a pleasant way, life has meaning. My best friend back in Hawai’i is Sayaka Ogura and she has shown me how to have more meaning in my life through enjoyment and pleasantness. Everyday with her is about agreeing on how we choose to live a positive and happy lifestyle and I cannot thank her enough for showing me that path.
If you can understand that the ultimate goal for all is to live a happy and meaningful life, make a commitment to agreeableness towards that and providing pleasant interactions can change lives.
Ha’aha’a: Humility to be expressed with modesty.
I was honored to attend The Kipapa i ke Ala Lecture Series which is hosted by The Pacific Asian for Entrepreneurship at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa (This event was wildly successful and I will have to do an entire separate post on my reflections). This lecture series hosted an audience of over 600 people from the business community and featured three amazing entrepreneurs who found big success that came from small town Hilo, Allan Ikawa (Founder Big Island Candies), Duane Kurisu (Founder aio) and Barry Taniguchi (President KTA Super Stores).
All three of these entrepreneurs actually hate doing these big public appearances for the sake of keeping a modest low profile and throughout the fireside chat each would awkwardly try to deflect questions to others so they wouldn’t have to talk. But when they did speak, you could truly connect with what they were saying because you could feel they weren’t saying it in a way to prove they were better than you, but it was in a way that they sincerely cared.
One of the best quotes was said by Barry Taniguchi when he said, “You should always take care of the community because the community is the one that will take care of you.” All three entrepreneurs have devoted their businesses to giving back and always showing this sense of humility to the community they live within has created the strongest level of respect for them.
You may not be seen as the most powerful person in the world, but that image of power in the eyes of others leads to so many less true connections in life. Live with humility.
Ahonui: Patience to be expressed with perseverance.
A handful of my friends I met in Hawai’i actually ended up moving away and one of them was a good friend named Molly Fearn. She left Hawai’i to pursue grad school at NYU. We happened to both be back in Hawai’i at the same time and had a great conversation about comparing values we learned in Hawai’i with the places where we live now.
One of the biggest characteristics she got caught up in was this exhausting trait of working. Now, obviously work ethic is a very positive thing but in New York she almost got the sense that this is all people do. She almost feels like living there you are defined by the work you do and that their idea of success is a top notch work resume. There are pros and cons to that type of culture, but when she came back to Hawai’i she ultimately realized how a lot of people in New York who get caught up in this culture “…live such a crappy life!”
They are constantly rushing around trying to create financial success that they don’t enjoy the small things in life. Ultimately, is financial success a meaningful fulfilled one? It is extremely difficult to be patient and wait for your moments in life, but if you can persevere through life’s anxieties, pressures (social to financial), and egos, you will be able to live one with moral and meaning.
ALO + HĀ: to be able to speak and connect with all principles of Aloha in the moment with others.
Here is a great video by Pono Shim that expresses his understanding of Aloha.
“To know what’s not known. To speak what’s not said. To hear what’s not heard. To feel what cannot be felt. To touch what cannot be touched. It’s the ultimately level of sensitivity to what’s happening. To care”
You know the sense of being in flow or being in the zone? That sense of feeling is how I define when you are truly sharing Aloha with someone else. I was so fortunate to catch up with one of my great friends Hans Bruesehoff. Hans and I went to this secluded part of the island were able to chat for hours about life. Now reflecting on the our time, without having to say anything before our conversations, we were in an emotional agreement of all those principles said of Aloha which made for an incredible time reconnecting with him. We were in a state where we truly cared for one another and were able to grow our friendship from our interaction. We were sharing these principles in the presence of each other. Aloha.
Whether you are in a startup, big company, non-profit or any human being living life, these principles are a proactive way of living life to its fullest. We are constantly engaging with others in every aspect of our lives and if you can live with more “Aloha”, I can guarantee you will find more success and meaning. Mahalo nui loa Hawaiʻi for all you have taught me.