We can make Hawaii better - starting with our own behavior
Have you noticed that more and more, people are finding it completely acceptable to park their cars so that they take up more than one stall? Or that it's acceptable to not wait in line - anywhere, for anything - if you can cut in and get away with it?
The freeway onramp at Pensacola Street and the right turn onto Punchbowl from Beretania are prime examples of this. Recently, I watched a woman cut to the front of the line at a KCC Farmers Market stall. No one in line called her on it. I pointed it out to her when she came out; she mumbled something about not noticing and walked away. Every day, people speed through yellow lights in a stream of cars that often does not stop even when the light turns red!
Walking on Kailua Beach one morning recently, I watched as a man let his dog, a boxer, run around off its leash and terrorize a homeless man sleeping nearby. He took obvious delight in watching the man jump in fright. I called to him to leash his dog. He immediately came over, making "big body" and trying to physically threaten me. I told him that if he didn't leash his dog I'd call the police. He said, "Go!" So I walked to my car, grabbed my wallet, flipped it open and pretended to call. (Luckily, he was too far away to see the difference.) He called in his dog and continued to give me stink eye as he drove away.
These might seem like minor incidents, but I feel they are a telling sign of who we might become and where our Hawaii could be headed: shamefully self-centered, greedy, thoughtless and uncaring of our neighbors. It's getting ugly out there - mean-spirited, childish, compassionless interactions are becoming commonplace. The streets of Honolulu are getting harsh and our souls are closing up.
No wonder then that homelessness, hunger, poverty and crime have reached levels not seen before in our beloved home, our Aloha State. If we are not mindful of the small, everyday events in our lives, taking personal responsibility for ourselves and each other, then how can we possibly muster the collective energy to tackle the larger problems facing us? Even more frightening, how do we stop this gradual decline toward a dog-eat-dog society if we're not willing to admit it to ourselves, publicly, and take steps to stop it?
If you've read this far, then you're probably not one of those who never waits their turn, thinks only of themselves or feels justified in treating houseless people like dogs. But that doesn't let us off the hook. Ultimately, we are all responsible, through our every action and inaction, for setting the standard of what Hawaii is, and what it will become.
Life here will not get easier any time soon. With well over a million residents and about 150,000 visitors here every day, we are in uncharted territory - never have we had to share these islands with so many. Maybe we're all a bit surprised and upset, perhaps subconsciously, that we now have to share everything, everywhere, all the time - no more our secret spots! Even more sobering: the ever-escalating cost of living is forcing many of us to go without basic necessities like health care, food or a roof over our heads. All of these stresses threaten to erode our aloha for each other and for our island home.
We are the people who make up our Hawaii, from Hanalei to Bishop Street to Naalehu - no one else. It's up to us as individuals to be the guardians of our way of life. I am not willing to relinquish the Hawaii that I love, and I hope you're not either. However, if we want for ourselves and for all our keiki to come the life that we cherish, then we are going to have to work hard, now, to stem the growing selfishness that is turning life here sour. And, if we want ethical, thoughtful, selfless people to govern us, then not only do we have to elect them and demand that they hold themselves to a higher standard - we have to hold ourselves to that same higher standard and model the kind of behavior publicly that we want all to emulate.
So how can we, individually, do our part to keep our aloha for one another alive and thriving? Let us all be mindful of our everyday actions and not let our lesser selves rule even when others might. Let's slow down when the light is yellow. Let's treat our neighbors, whether they have a home or not, as we want to be treated - with respect and aloha. Let's watch out for our kupuna and help them cross the street, let's be role models for our keiki and make sure the sick and the poor are supported, let's open doors for one another and start greeting each other again as we park at Longs or get our favorite plate lunch.
To take constant responsibility for one's actions and to remind people of their own responsibilities requires us to be always present and conscious. It also takes tact, diplomacy and the occasional bit of courage. No one wants to get into a beef with others, and I'm certainly not advocating for combative conduct. We can confront one another with humility and respect, but also with a resolve grounded in island values. What kind of people would we be, after all, if we let our way of life slip away because we fear each other's reaction? And if we all go back to recognizing that we are all neighbors and treat each other as such, then we won't feel so alone out there.
Alani Apio is the board president of Kanu Hawaii.