Here in Hawaii, we often harness the magic of the indigenous language and culture to support something that we are saying or doing. I think that this can be good or bad, helpful or harmful.

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When I hear people talking about ho’oponopono (“to make right” or “forgiveness”), I hear a lot of people talking about justice, but I fear that too many people forget the part about forgiveness.

Unfortunately, I hear far too many people using the term ho’oponopono to try to build support for their quest for revenge.

I do not write today to try to teach people the intricacies of an indigenous tradition. I value that teaching, but it should come from someone more qualified than me.

I do want to discuss, for a moment, the concept of forgiveness and the value that it has for building community on these small islands, where we all must depend on each other for survival. Everyone is good at something, and we need to find a way to benefit from their contributions.

What do I know about forgiveness? Well, I am a Christian (specifically Episcopalian), and I am ethnically Micmac Indian and Ashkenazi Jewish, plus a few other things. If not for genocide, my mother’s family would not have fled to America during World War II, which eventually enabled her to meet a man whose family had also escaped genocide.

I was raised without a concept of bitterness about the past, and I grew up seeing conflicts get resolved and both parties moving forward as partners thereafter. In church, I routinely ask to be forgiven my sins as I forgive those who sin against me. I cannot have one without the other. If I want to be forgiven for things I do, I have to do my part to lead by example and promote a culture where people can be forgiven.

Mark Cuban is a businessman and investor who has a unique approach to dealing with prejudiced employees. Flickr: Gage Skidmore

Anger, bitterness and hate imprison us, and we have the power to let go of them. I understand that this is easier said than done. As humans, we often tend to be good at saying that we have released these kinds of feelings but then showing through our actions down the road that we have not released them at all.

As bad things happen that have the potential to divide our society, we get to choose how to react. We can react out of love or fear. If we choose fear, it often prevents us from finding lokahi (“harmony” or “unity”) and aloha.

I do not propose that we should forgive someone who continues to deface our dignity. For example, if someone is continuously showing some prejudice — racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, antisemitism, etc. — I am not saying that we should just forgive the person and allow it to continue.

I am saying, though, that we need to have a path for rehabilitation, where we can teach the person how to be a good citizen in our society and help them to follow that path.

“I do not propose that we should forgive someone who continues to deface our dignity.”

I remember watching an interview with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, where he explained an approach to prejudice that I really appreciated. He said that, when he had an employee who showed a form of prejudice, he did not simply fire them and kick the can down the road. Instead, he would provide them with sensitivity training to help rehabilitate them so that they could be a better citizen.

The next step in such a situation is that everyone else needs to allow that person to change and re-integrate as part of the team and community so that we can benefit from their contributions. I wonder if we could be a healthier society if it became socially acceptable to publicly admit our prejudiced beliefs so that our community could help cure us instead of ostracizing or shaming us.

Correcting Prejudice

My friends have heard about my advocacy to end the payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities here in Hawaii. For those who do not know, under Section 387-9, Hawaii Revised Statutes, the minimum wage protections exclude me because I have a disability.

Workers with disabilities often become warehoused in workshops, making pennies per hour. Because of my advocacy, I meet people every day who speak their prejudiced views, telling me that we cannot be productive and should not be paid equally. Some people have taken the time to learn and have gradually corrected their own prejudice.

I do not give up on the ones who hold onto their prejudice, but, for the ones who change, I am their greatest supporter. If I did not allow them to change, they could not become my allies and friends.

I owe it to myself — and we all do — to give ourselves the opportunity to have more friends and to benefit from the forgotten part of ho’oponopono.

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