Thursday, November 13, 2008

Musings: Personal Contact

The moon, full and wearing a golden halo, was sinking in a snakeskin cloud sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. It was the same moon I’d seen rise last night in Honolulu, the same moon that shone silver upon Wailua Bay when I drove home, the same moon that finally slipped, round and pale, below the mountains as the eastern sky flushed pink.

Walking along our narrow road, where tendrils of mist rose from dew-soaked pastures, returning the waves of motorists passing by, stopping to give one of Koko’s dog friends a belly rub, I reflected upon how much different life is here than in the city.

And walking in Honolulu yesterday, I thought about the last time I’d walked in Lihue, where the sidewalks, stained orange with our red clay, are nearly devoid of pedestrians and I saw four people I knew drive by while waiting to cross at a Rice Street intersection.

But Honolulu isn’t an unfriendly town of strangers. Larry Geller, the man behind Disappeared News, kindly treated me to a dim sum lunch at Chinatown, then served as my guide downtown, suggesting we drop by the Honolulu Weekly office, where publisher Laurie Carlson pitched me two stories and I was introduced to editor Ragnar Carlson, before delivering me to the door of my interview appointment.

It’s fun going to Honolulu and finally meeting people I’d dealt with only over the phone or email. There’s nothing quite like personal contact, and in my recent trips, I’ve had a lot of it. I’m continually struck by all the good people in this world — or at least, the circles I generally move in.

Coming home, I was on the same plane with Nancy McMahon, the state archaeologist who has been the subject of some intense criticism in this blog. Yet when I passed her seat, she greeted me without a hint of animosity, and I thought of the Albert Schweitzer quote that runs beneath the signature line of her emails: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

It’s easy to focus on people’s actions, or our interpretations of their actions, but it’s not so easy to know what’s really in their hearts.

And that made me think of a conversation I had the other day with a member of the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council, a Hawaiian who supports sovereignty and chose to serve because he hoped he could change what he considers a flawed process; someone who believes that some areas — like Brescia’s lot — just shouldn’t be built on because they have too many burials.

In other words, he thinks a lot like I do, and he was also saying that he thought Mark Hubbard, who recently resigned from the Council, was treated shabbily, that the Council had picked him as Chair because he knows how to run meetings, and it wasn’t right that he had been treated disrespectfully at the October meeting just because he’s a haole who represents business interests.

The Hawaiian way, he said, is to sit down together, try and figure out a solution. The Burial Council members know better than anyone the problems in the system, he said, and what they need from the public is not finger-pointing and accusations and grumblings, but guidance and solutions.

I saw those kinds of solutions and suggestions presented at the November meeting, where the locale was different, and Mark was not the chairman, and the crowd was smaller and the mood was calmer. And while the Council didn’t go as far as some wanted — writing a letter suggesting the planning commission revoke Brescia’s permit — it did reject the burial treatment plan from the state.

They probably would have done more if the threat of a lawsuit by Brescia weren’t hanging over their heads. It’s easy for us in the audience to say go for it, but no one wants to be sued, especially if your term is winding down and you’re wondering if Brescia will go after you personally, or if you’ll have representation after you leave the Council.

And it made me think, as I have many times, of how one can stop wrong-doings and effect change and expose wrong-doers without falling into personal judgment or dehumanizing and vilifying others. Because that seems to lead not to resolution, but polarization.

I still don’t have an answer, except strive to be kind, keep an open heart and mind and as often as possible, make personal contact.


Anonymous said...

'to strive, to serve and not to yield' - Kurt Hahn.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"how one can stop wrong-doings and effect change and expose wrong-doers without falling into personal judgment or dehumanizing and vilifying others"

Great thought. Likely answer: Be as intellectually honest as possible.

Such as, for example, and among other things, to note the carbon footprint of boats vs planes.