I grew up in a time and place where very few people had anything in common with my family. It was rare to see another Polynesian/Pacific Islander that was not a member of my own family for weeks on end. So when you did come across another islander it was usually because the older generations living within a 70-mile radius had fabricated some sort of event that could bring us together for a few hours.
On the off chance that we happened upon another islander at the super market and it wasn’t a coordinated event, my parents had a procedure that went something like this:
- Make eye contact with the newbie.
- When successful eye contact was made, smile and say hello in Samoan. If Samoan failed, say hello in Tongan. If neither elicited a response, then a simple, ‘Aloha’ would do the trick.
- When a connection was established, proceed to ask a series of direct questions to get an understanding of why they are in the area and how long would they be staying.
- Exchange contact information and set a date for our families to get together
- Begin calling the other half a dozen families within our 70-mile radius and invite them to come along and meet the new people
And by the time this very familiar and expertly orchestrated procedure had played out, we would have added yet another person and his people to our extended family of exiles.
That was the way of the world for us. An islander, any islander within driving distance became family and it all started with eye contact, a smile and a warm greeting.
Here is why I bring this up – it is a lost art.
This place, our home, now has one of the largest Pacific Islander populations in the Continental United States and the more people we add to our ever-growing numbers, it seems the less we want to have in common with one another. And forget about eye contact, a smile and a warm greeting – people, even our own Pacific Islanders, are becoming increasingly rude.
I’ve tested this over and over again and each time I’ve been sorely disappointed by the result. We claim to be from the Friendly Islands, or have the Aloha Spirit and that our cultures are based upon the principles of love and respect and yet we don’t have the common decency to wave and say hello because we haven’t been introduced by someone and therefore we have no reason to be speaking to one another.
If our forefathers traveled the vast ocean for months at a time just to deliver some kalua pork and catch up on the family then I think we owe it to them and to future generations to show a little more of that island hospitality and civility.
My parents and their generation were the greatest examples of how living the values we eschew can make all the difference to someone who is struggling to find their place in the world. My mother would often remind us of our duty to be kind to everyone by singing a children’s hymn to us regularly, especially when we were being mean spirited:
I want to be kind to ev’ryone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, “Remember this:
Kindness begins with me.
Father Desmond Tutu reiterated that thought again when he said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
And that, in essence is exactly what my parents tried to install in us all those years ago by inviting strangers into our home; every bit of kindness you can share with the world can bring light and happiness to another human being. Too often we are drawn to the cynical distracting, misanthropic things in life. We should strive to seek out the good in people and start by making eye contact, smiling and offering a warm greeting.