Danny De Gracia: Hawaii Is Becoming An Unpleasant Place To Live. Arguing Doesn't Help - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

In halcyon days past, Hawaii was a destination where the world traveled to forget its troubles and be left alone. Today, Hawaii is where one goes to be troubled and disrupted, with everyone outraged over something new every day, and everyone protesting or rallying in support of something new, every day.

It has been suggested that Hawaii is a melting pot, or, depending on who you talk to, a salad bowl of different peoples, languages, cultures, and beliefs. But lately, the part of the kitchen that Hawaii resembles most is a meat grinder, where all of us are being shoved into one compact space and torn apart together.

The public was already distressed and tensions were already running high before the COVID-19 pandemic. Add to that the pressures of the ongoing pandemic, the results of the 2020 election, economic woes, and now multiple police shootings in the community, and Hawaii is just about ready to tear itself apart.

The recent decision by Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm to charge three HPD officers involved in the shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap has given locals something new to be at each other’s throats over, but maybe right now we just need to cool things down and de-escalate tensions in the community.

Understanding Community Tension and Conflict

I get it that people are restless. Hawaii is a very annoying place to live these days, because we are constantly being put into conflict with others. People don’t realize this, but there are social, institutional and built environmental factors which force us to compete against and in some cases fight against people just to get through the day.

This conflict might be as small as having difficulty leaving for work in the mornings, because you have neighbors that park their cars in a way that makes it hard for you to safely leave the street you live on. Or, the conflict may be as big as you having financial problems that put you in marital distress over how to provide for your children, how to pay the rent, and how to pay for food. In a single day, there are many of these annoyances one has to face.

Together, these things create what is called allostatic load, which is the sum of all the stress one encounters. Excessive allostatic load can lead to emotional distress and even health problems. Being in a constant state of fight or flight can also dynamically change the way one responds to the people and the world around them.

Approaching Aiea Eastbound early morning commute traffic1.
Money problems, traffic, the pandemic — all these daily stressors impact the way we interact with the world around us. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Thomas Jefferson alluded to this possibility 234 years ago, when he warned that overcrowding and overpopulation would be bad for the nation. Political scientist Benjamin Barber also discussed this frictional theory in the 1990s in a concept he called “Jihad vs. McWorld.”

On Oahu, we live in overcrowded, run-down communities with paranoid neighbors, increasing crime, thousands of tourists and strangers we don’t recognize, limited options for personal advancement, and an overriding sense that we are here to just make ends meet and then die.

What is Fault Lines?
“Fault Lines” is a special project that  continues to explore disruption and discord in Hawaii, especially as we emerge from a pandemic that exposed new points of contention, and what we as a community can do to bridge some of the social and political gaps that are developing. Read more here.

When organizing a city or state, generally speaking, planners aim to structure things so people can cooperate more and compete less. When a society is built right, it’s easier for people to live harmoniously. This, as you know, is not the case in Hawaii.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding is common here. Conflict with people of vast cultural differences we don’t understand is also common. The most tragic example of this may very well be the Lindani Myeni shooting earlier this year.

Community tensions create incorrect expectations all around, and this is dangerous because it leads people to act in ways they ordinarily would not.

Stanford University researcher Philip G. Zimbardo conducted an experiment in 1971 where he built a simulated prison and randomly selected psychologically healthy student participants to act as prisoners and prison guards for two weeks. The experiment had to be cancelled early because the prisoners and guards alike quickly devolved into violent, demeaning behavior.

The lesson learned from the experiment was that people are products of their environment and even “good” individuals can be warped into committing atrocities. This is why the increasingly divisive issue of policing is not as simple as cries to “defund the police!” or “always back the blue!” There is a higher discussion we need to have, and that can’t occur when everyone is raging at each other.

In Hawaii, we have progressive movements holding rallies that cast local police officers as racists. On the other hand, we have conservative groups, like the Hawaii Republican Party, holding briefings on the officers involved in the Sykap shooting, suggesting that the public call or email the prosecutor’s office in the same way that people would lobby legislators at the capitol during session.

We all need to dial this down a notch and stop agitating each other further. The Department of Homeland Security talks about how online arguments and divisive topics usually do more harm than good because instead of promoting understanding, they just make people resent each other more.

That’s the last thing we need right now.

I get it that people like to project themselves into causes and crusades. But right now, this hyperpartisanship and divisiveness is not helping a more perfect union. We need to stop treating every issue like a campaign issue and stop injecting partisanship into everything.

Want to really help Hawaii? Take the flags off your truck, put away the signs, stop gathering in front of city hall and stop arguing with strangers on Facebook. That goes for progressives and conservatives. Hug your children, spend face-to-face time with your family, and be good to your neighbors. Let these political controversies resolve themselves.

Read this next:

We Need To Improve Government Transparency in Hawaii

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Agree with Diane, 100%.  My reaction at first was, "SO, what places aren't functioning like this now?"  And, of course, we have the added problem of tourism being intrusive to the max, but as the biggest part of our economy.  A real conundrum, which was looming, but was really brought to the fore by the covid crisis.  Nice to have it spelled out in an excellent article, but like a previous article with the headline something akin to "Alternate Energy vs Ag,", the headline could have been a little less dramatic, altho' I agree totally that Hawaii HAS become a much less desirable place to live!!  And I do resent those who think only of making money - from renting their house or part of it to those who participate in big business - as opposed to considering quality of life as most important in all respects.  A good start? Raise the minimum wage from not even $12 an hour up to $17 in several SHORT steps.BTW, we did just get a call from in relative in Oregon where it was 111 degrees saying that he now understands why we were so smart as to live in Hawaii.-KBay Witch

gretchen · 1 year ago

A very well thought out article and finely written.  Sadly, we are catching up with the current mainland insanity.  To me  a march toward Socialism.  Add to that the cost of living here and the "good old boy" management mentality in many areas, we have a lot of work to do to roll back to the days of yore.

Diane · 1 year ago

I agree with this De Garcia's title.  This place is so expensive to live.  We need tourism.  We need to be safe.  We need the Law Enforcement.  Then, our Legislature is trying to raise taxes.  Instead to trying trying to raise taxes, how about come up  with ways to reduce the cost of living.  Examples;  Getting rid of the 100 year old Jones Act.  Find other ways to collect taxes instead of the insidious income tax.  Maybe a sales tax instead, and food and drugs should be exempt.  No wonder we have so much low income.  We are over taxed.  Does the Governor and the Legislature do anything to help?  No.  Nothing has changed.  Yes.  This State is already an unpleasant place to live.  I work over 80 hours a week just to survive.  I will soon have leave the State that I was born and raised.  As of June 2021, the median price of a home in Honolulu is $978,000.00.  Not to mention one of the countries highest state and county taxes.  

HiLe · 1 year ago

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