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Love and Responsibility in Action

The fires on Maui, one of our beautiful Hawaiian islands, is a top news story these days. The fires were devasting and the impacts, heartbreaking.  But along with the heartbreak, there have been stories of the incredible resilience of the Hawaiian Islanders. Although they each have incredible hardships to bear, they are setting these aside to focus on and take care of each other.  Many have lost everything including belongings, family, friends, and beloved pets but are out there helping everyone else.  It’s humanity at its best.  There are two words that I’ve heard mentioned in several of the recent news stories that caught my attention, “Kuleana” and “Aloha”.  Both words capture concepts that truly embody the Hawaiian people.

Kuleana lies at the heart of Hawaiian culture.  It is a uniquely Hawaiian value and practice which loosely translated means “responsibility.”  Kuleana is a reciprocal relationship between the person who is responsible, and the thing which they are responsible for. For example, Hawaiians have a Kuleana to their land: to care for it and to respect it, and in return, the land has the Kuleana to feed, shelter, and clothe them.  Through this relationship, they maintain balance within society and with our natural environment. It is a very symbiotic relationship.

I always thought “Aloha” meant either hello or goodbye. Lately, I learned that is so much more.  Aloha is about embodying the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle; it is about respect, compassion, and love for one another, and to live in harmony with everything around you.  Aloha is not something that is spoken; it is something that must be felt and experienced.

When you bring Kuleana and Aloha together, it is very special and unique.  The two concepts work together to bring mutual harmony to people and their environment.  For example, if you are part of the island community, you might be part of a neighborhood project to plant more trees. You participate because you care about the environment and your community’s well-being. You’re living your Kuleana by taking responsibility for and giving back to your surroundings.  As you’re planting those trees, you’re spreading aloha – that sense of love and connection, by working side by side with your neighbors.  But you aren’t just quietly working; you are helping your neighbors, checking on their wellbeing and connecting with them on a deeper level. In other words, you are caring for your surroundings and your people for the greater good.  In a nutshell, Kuleana and Aloha are the dynamic duo needed everywhere to make the world a better place.

Since both concepts are core to Hawaiian culture, it’s easy to understand how people of the island have a natural inclination to set aside their own situation to help each other.  It’s truly amazing. There are lessons here we can all benefit from if we would take the time to learn more about and practice these concepts ourselves daily.

Both concepts are amazing by themselves, but combine them, and they are phenomenal. Imagine the reciprocity and follow that up with love and care. Imagine what happens when we all do that?


“You don’t have to live in Hawaii – or even be Hawaiian – to embrace the aloha spirit.” – Mark Ellman