Lokahi: Hawaiian word for unity

Lokahi is the Hawaiian word for unity. Not uniformity, unity. Unity of purpose. I was introduced to this word at our state ocean safety conference a few weeks ago. The keynote address was given by a man named Kaala Souza, who is a fine waterman and a motivational speaker and a New Hope minister.

He described how each of the positions in a racing canoe has a different talent and role (the pace-setter, the change leader, the steersman, the “engine room”), but they are all united in their goal.

Sometimes everyone is working really hard but the canoe is just bulldozing its way through the water; but every so often everything clicks and the canoe suddenly feels like it’s skimming over the top of the water, everyone with a feeling of exhilaration even as they’re working really hard.

He compared this to ocean safety. It requires many people with many different roles in order to make a difference in this area. There are mayors, councilors, and state legislators who decide on expenditures and budgets. There are grantors, such as the Kauai Office of Economic Opportunity. There are community advocates and volunteers and donors. There are Web site experts. There is The Garden Island, which helps keep this issue in our public eye. There are concierges and activities desk staff and other visitor industry workers who work daily, hourly to give our guests good advice. There are fire department/ocean safety administrators, both our own Kauaians and also experts from other islands and even from other states and countries who help us with our vision.

And we still haven’t gotten to the on-scene level: There are Good Samaritans and our ever-present “mosquito fleet” of surfers. There are lifeguards. There are police officers and dispatchers. There are fire-fighters. There are rescue helicopters and Coast Guard boats. There are paramedics. There are ER doctors and nurses and clerks. There are ICU doctors and nurses and clerks. If all this fails and disaster does strike a family, there is Bridges of Hawai‘i with their remarkable crisis management and grief counseling team.

Sometimes it takes every single one of these people/positions to save a life (which is actually saving a family). Lokahi — all united in purpose, each with our own skills and strengths. My chest bursts and I have a dancing party inside my heart (my cardiologist says it’s OK) when this all comes together successfully.

I feel very fortunate to be advocating a program which no one can really be against. But to ultimately beat down our ocean safety problem I believe we’ll need still one more active team member, namely the resort hotel executives themselves — to dig a bit into their bottom line and partner into having a beach-safety presence at their very busy fronting beaches.

You’d think with all this Kaua‘i talent working together that our canoe would always be skimming. But things can, in literally a heartbeat, go terribly wrong in our ocean-surrounded community, and our team members often have to overcome in-your-face discouragement and a sense of futility, such as when drownings seem to pile up despite our best team effort. (Picture a canoe bulldozing).

We also have to be on guard against a feeling of complacency when a few months go by in which things are stable and it may seem like we’ve gotten somewhere.

And from another angle: There are of course many other important projects and programs (and people) that need attention and support, and there are only so many pieces to the budget pie and so many hours in a day.

When you try to expand the idea of lokahi to include all of these projects and programs, not all of which necessarily have unanimous support, well, things can become very challenging and concepts such as team unity and aloha often seem to wind up taking a back seat. Furthermore, in these tough economic and climate times, we all know (and know of) people who are getting kicked in the teeth in ways other than drowning, and in these circumstances someone like me going on about lokahi might seem like a bitter joke.

When we do have our moments, though, of feeling the canoe skimming over the top of the water, we need to be able to say our own little prayer and to smile and to take in the moment and appreciate the work and each other. Therefore let me add one more Hawaiian word to this discussion: mahalo, to all who are helping, each in our own key way, with our tough ocean safety effort. The spared families especially say … mahalo.

• Monty Downs is an emergency room doctor at Wilcox Memorial Hospital.

  1. Judith Trupiano June 25, 2020 11:51 am Reply

    Mahalo, perhaps one day rhe meaning of makahi will again bloom in the hearts of man kind!

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