From the Culture of Aloha, a Path Out of Gun Violence
U.S. society tends to deal with violence by treating it as an individual occurrence—focusing on the “perpetrator” and how he is different from us. The more people killed or maimed, the more horrendous the event, the more we separate the actor and event from ourselves—the good people—and individualize responsibility to the “gun-toter.” All that matters is believing that we’re different—whether because of race, religion, political beliefs, economic status, mental illness, or some other characteristic. It’s the stigmatizing game.
We exclude the “other” from ourselves, rather than admitting to common characteristics. Added to this deep attitude of exclusion is a deep acceptance of violence as a means to domination, to superiority, to being the winner. So deep and pervasive are these attitudes of domination and exclusion in our culture that we don’t even see them until they are called to our attention. These attitudes are two of three that form the basis of the primary U.S. deep culture—one that goes below our ethnicity, or even religion, and forms our fundamental approach to relations with one another, with the economy, with the environment, with education, and with god(s) and religion. The third leg of this deep culture is individualism. It is a domination, individualism, and exclusion—or DIE—deep culture that is the essence of modern U.S. society. DIE pervades our leisure, work, politics, families—it affects virtually everything we do. We assume our deep culture is normal and defend it as natural for a society.
There is no better mental health treatment for a child than the loving embrace of the child’s community.
But not so. In Hawai‘i, we express the values of ‘Olu‘olu (compatible, non-conflictive, mellow, comfortable, non-dominating), Lokahi (elevating the importance of family, groups, seeing things with holistic eyes) and Aloha (caring, sharing, inclusiveness, and love). This OLA culture (in Hawaiian, “ola” means life and health) exists not only in Hawai‘i or among Hawaiians. Around the world, there are pockets of OLA. Many families practice it, as do some churches, schools, and social groups. Unfortunately, it stops too often at the borders of those small groups.
In response to tragic events like the shootings at Sandy Hook, we need to be far more broadly focused than on treatment for autism or more treatment for mental illness. We need to see beyond the remedy of weapons control in a civil society.
If we understand the broader framework before us, we can have a better common appreciation of the depth of change to be made.
The very deep culture of DIE itself must be replaced with OLA (however one chooses to express it). In a culture of inclusion, loving, caring and sharing, every child is treasured, honored, and accepted. There is no better mental health treatment for a child than the loving embrace of the child’s community. From that starting environment, the child’s challenges as well as gifts are addressed.
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In an OLA school environment, we would find group and individual achievements and excellence praised, rather than superiority or domination. Tests would be taken by groups helping one another get to the correct answers, rather than separating children and ranking one higher or smarter than the other after the tests.
These fundamental values, practiced from early childhood, should spread far beyond the school ground, working their way into the core of all our relations with one another, with our treatment and respect for our environment, with our curiosities and acceptance of different religions, languages, and customs, with nations and cultures different from our own.
None of us can change the deep culture alone. But if we understand the broader framework before us, we can have a better common appreciation of the depth of change to be made.
Knowing that others are already practicing a culture of life and health, we need not feel so isolated in our work. That knowledge is the foundation of long and deep change in our society.
Poka Laenui wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Poka is executive director of the Wai‘anae Coast Community Mental Health Center.
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