Mist was creeping around the edges of the pasture and the sky was mostly dark when I pulled up at my former neighbor Andy’s house for our weekly walk this morning. Koko ran toward Andy with a wiggling, whining outpouring of affection, while his dog, Momi, greeted me with her usual calm poise.
The day brightened quickly as we walked, and when Andy’s sore back dictated that we go back, we turned to find ourselves face to face with a giant red-pink ball hanging muted, yet still vibrant, in the thick air and gray clouds of another muggy morning.
I told him I’d interviewed Councilman Jay Furfaro on Friday — an assignment for Kauai People — and was struck by Jay’s comments about trying to incorporate the Hawaiian values of pono (goodness, uprightness), a`o (learning), ho`okipa (hospitality) and ho`oponopono (to put right) into the visitor industry and also his own life.
“It’s a conduct of living based on Hawaiian values,” Jay had said. “Island culture is based on mutual respect. And when you live those values, you become a kama`aina.”
“Do you think that’s true, that when you live by those values and practice mutual respect, you become a kama`aina?” I asked Andy.
“Yes, although I’m not sure how that’s actually been put into play by some of the kama`aina elite,” Andy said, referencing one sugar official who said the needs of contract workers weren’t much different than those of cattle in a pasture.
Still, we agreed, it’s that concept of mutual respect — borne from a need to co-exist and cooperate in a relatively small and finite space — that underscores island culture and separates it from “mainland mentality.”
And failing to grasp that concept has rendered many mainland transplant activists ineffective in the local political arena, Andy said. I think it's also caused some malihini to remain apart from — or worse, become dismissive of — the broader community, the indigenous culture.
As a person who came to Kauai believing respect should be earned, rather than expressed unreservedly, learning to value the concept of mutual respect hasn’t come easily to me, and frankly, I’m still working on it. It doesn’t always mesh with my critical nature, but I know I feel better, happier, when I practice it, so I try.
With those musings prominent in my mind, I came home and tuned into New Dimensions on KKCR. The guest today was Deena Metzger, a writer, healer and medicine woman, and she was talking about how the spiritual intelligence of animals can guide us in healing our own messed up relationship with the Earth.
She noted that elephants grieve over and perform rituals for their dead, and show a distinct reverence for their bones — something she had also seen in indigenous cultures. She then reported that elephants in zoos and elsewhere had become enraged when they weren't allowed to perform those rituals.
And that made me think about how the underlying issue of the Joe Brescia dispute — and so many others, really — is respect.
So much of the pain and anguish that informs the outcry over development, vacation rentals, the misuse of ag land, disruption of burial, the absence of the sacred in our decision-making process, Predator drones — the list goes on and on — stems from a recognition that people and the land and communities are not being treated with respect.
When respect is lacking on one side, it becomes so easy to respond in kind, and so we find ourselves in that all too familiar place of no mutual respect, where civil discourse, much less resolution, is elusve.
As I was mulling over this, Deena mentioned that for us humans now, it’s all about learning how to live in mutual respect — in real alliance — with the plants, the trees, the animals, the elements.
In short, it’s time to embrace more fully the values of island culture.