I received an e-mail recently from a good friend that reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in years.
(More about the e-mail later.)
Shortly after I started working in the editorial department at The Garden Island, I learned two valuable lessons:
1. Never base your opinion on what someone else has told you.
2. Always keep an open mind.
The first was excellent advice I never forgot. The second guided my decisions throughout my years at TGI.
At the time, I was a news rookie who hadn’t been around long enough to figure out who were Kauai’s “good guys” and who were the “bad.”
One seasoned reporter, however, had definite opinions and was more than happy to fill me in.
Before I knew it, I had a very long list of names of the “bad guys” and a handful of the “good.”
According to my “source,” a well-known politician, businessman and civic leader topped the bad guys list.
He was “the scum of the earth,” I was told, “corrupt, dishonest and greedy.”
With nothing to contradict this, I have to admit I did base my opinion of him on what I had been told. What’s more, I believed it, until I was assigned to do a pre-election interview with him and discovered I had been totally wrong.
The man I met that hot August day was nothing like I had expected him to be. He honestly believed his vision was best for Kauai. I didn’t necessarily agree with him about everything, but I could tell there was no corruption, there was no greed. He had nothing to gain personally. Everything he advocated would, he felt, be a positive change for our island.
We came away from that first meeting with mutual respect for each other that eventually turned into a friendship that lasted until he died several years ago.
Since then, I have found there were some on that list who deserved to be there, but he was one of many who didn’t.
Lesson No. 1 taught me to always be fair.
Lesson No. 2 was and is much more complex. Keeping an open mind is crucial when making important decisions, especially on issues pertaining to what’s best for Kauai.
The problem is that so many people have conflicting opinions on exactly what that is.
As my friend pointed out in her e-mail, our island has become known as the “Just Say No” island. This is not something to be proud of.
She included a list of projects and proposals that had been shot down or shut down over the years.
Each item was controversial and hotly debated, but I won’t reopen old wounds. We should be focusing on how to resolve future issues constructively and positively.
There is no question that people on both sides of every controversy love our island, whether they’ve lived here their whole life or simply fell in love with the island on a vacation and decided to return to stay.
Long-time residents sometimes reminisce about when life here was simple, but as good as it seemed to be, it wasn’t perfect even then. Jobs were scarce, wages were low and prices were high. Economic diversity was sorely needed for more job and career opportunities, more retail food and merchandise outlets.
It seemed sometimes, though, that the protests about so many projects were based solely on what one group thought should be done to protect the island, without regard for the needs of the people who have lived here and loved Kauai the longest.
The challenge facing our people in office or on regulatory boards and commissions is to find solutions that are fair and equitable, take into consideration the concerns and needs of all involved, and comply with existing rules and regulations. And hopefully do it all without penalizing anyone.
I can’t help but think about “Ke Ala Hele Makalae,” the path that goes by the coast at Kapaa and Kealia.
This project ran into a lot of opposition and I am sure there still those that disagree with it totally. The cost, maintenance, whether it would even be used. All of these were cited as concerns.
But today it is something our island can be, and is, proud of.
Every day, people ride their bicycles besides the beautiful coastline, walk and jog, enjoy picnics in the many pavilions scattered along its length, and simply enjoy it, while improving their health, finding peace of mind, and socializing with family and friends.
And all of this because someone came up with a wonderful idea and convinced enough people to believe in it and make it happen despite all obstacles. And they did.
Kauai is our home and we love her. That should be more than enough motivation for all of us to work together for her greater good.
Rita De Silva is a resident of Kapaa and former editor of The Garden Island.