Running Commentary

This month's issue of the Monitor features our convention in Hawaii, which will be a truly memorable experience. I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii last fall to speak at the Hawaii Psychological Association's (HPA) annual meeting. My primary impression of HPA, typical of my experiences of state psychological associations, is that of wonderful people doing wonderful and innovative things. I want to use my column to share with you some of my impressions of Hawaii from my first visit to the state.

The Aloha spirit: it's the law!

When one thinks about Hawaii, whether you have been there or not, the first thing that comes to mind is natural beauty. And indeed, that is the thing that knocks you out of your jet-lagged grogginess when you arrive. Yes, it is true: Hawaii is a place of breathtaking geography. But after a day or so, what I was most struck with, and what I think about most when reflecting back on this trip was the people.

First of all, Hawaii has incredible ethnic diversity. In addition to the wide variety of racial and ethnic groups, according to the most recent U.S. Census, over 20 percent of Hawaiians identify themselves as multiracial, compared with the national average of just over two percent. But the most salient and memorable characteristics of many of the people whom I met in Hawaii were their warmth, welcoming attitude, openness and hospitality. And Hawaiians are very serious about maintaining this "aloha spirit" and sharing it with others; so much so that they made it a law. It's not a law that a person could be arrested for breaking, but one that is likely more aspirational. Here is an excerpt from the Aloha Law from the Hawaii State Statutes:

"'Aloha Spirit' is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, 'Aloha,' the following unuhi laula loa may be used:

  • 'Akahai,' meaning kindness, to be expressed with tenderness;

  • 'Lokahi,' meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;

  • 'Oluolu,' meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;

  • 'Haahaa", meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;

  • 'Ahonui,' meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii. 'Aloha' is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. 'Aloha' means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. 'Aloha' is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. 'Aloha' means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable."

No ties--really

Beyond the people, one other thing I remember about the visit was that I didn't wear a tie, even when Dr. Diane Halpern and I met with Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle. On the mainland ties are part of the uniform of professional men, and even those who don't have to wear ties as part of their jobs would certainly be inclined to wear one to meet with a governor. But I was told in no uncertain terms to NOT wear a tie; in fact, the custom in Hawaii is for professional men to wear the printed, open collar, short sleeve "aloha shirts."

Even though Washington, D.C., might be the tie-wearing capital of the world, it didn't take long for me to be quite comfortable wearing my aloha shirt at the HPA meeting--so much so that upon returning to the mainland for a meeting in Chicago, putting a tie on again felt odd, confining and somehow unnatural (as if wearing a piece of fabric around your neck in a knot all day should feel "natural"). For men attending the Hawaii convention here is a warning: HPA President Dr. Gloria Neumann says that ties are forbidden at the convention and that people with scissors are to cut them off (Aloha Spirit Law notwithstanding).

Surf's up

You might be wondering about the photo on this page. It was taken before my first surfing adventure. To keep it brief, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to take surfing lessons with some folks from HPA. We had an incredible instructor, who is the woman shown in the center of the picture. I learned to paddle, catch a wave and stand up. I surfed a bunch of baby waves. It was thrilling and exhausting. I can't wait to do it again. I hope you will join me. Aloha.