Applying “Aloha”

Learning the race is a marathon and not a sprint, and valuing the small triumphs along the way, is one of the biggest keys to not only surviving but thriving in law enforcement.


Authors’ note:  This is the 3rd and final installment in this series including the articles Type A or Type B:  Which one are you? and Lessons of Aloha.  If you have not yet read these articles, we recommend clicking on their attached links.

In last month’s column we began by presenting a very unique Hawaiian law, that of

§ 5-7.5 the "Aloha Spirit" statute, and we ended with a question:  What if we (as law enforcement officers) adapted that small part from the Hawai’i Revised Statutes that makes “the Aloha Spirit” part of their law and made it a part of our personal covenant with the public we serve?  Of course, to do so would almost certainly have to be an individual choice for most of us, and the question itself seems, and may be, largely rhetorical, but “What if…”  What would that look like?  How would it work?  Is it even realistic considering the many challenges modern policing faces?  Or is it merely an interesting rhetorical exorcise with no practical application for you or me?

Well, if you take time to get past the somewhat florid wording of the law itself and frame the words in more down-to-earth applications, it seems applying the “Aloha Spirit” is both achievable and smart.  Let’s consider what the statute calls the “unuhi laula loa” (“free translation” in the Hawaiian language… I looked it up) using the letters of “Aloha”:

  • "Akahai" – Kindness, to be expressed with tenderness;
  •  "Lokahi" - Unity, to be expressed with harmony;
  •  "?Olu?olu" - Agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
  •  "Ha?aha?a" - Humility, to be expressed with modesty;
  •  "Ahonui" - Patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

Okay, okay, okay… don’t click off just yet and start reading that product review, or the news feed about that thing that happened to those cops over at that place.  Both excellent and interesting articles, no doubt, but they aren’t going anywhere.  Just bear with us a few minutes…

Take a few minutes to reflect on the five principles of the “Aloha Spirit” and how they are important to law enforcement and your role in it, and also how quickly and easily they are so often cast aside and the ramifications of that dismissal. 

Akahai (Kindness) – One of greatest gifts a police officer can give is compassion.  Compassion is the ability to empathize with the pain or fears of others, and usually to translate that empathy into a desire to offer help.  It’s almost a cliché, isn’t it, that so many young (and not so young) cops say they entered policing “to help people.”  But another near-cliché is that of the jaded veteran officer, hardened to human suffering and the flaws that lead to it; angry, bitter, or just numb after years of revolving door justice and feeling like nothing will ever make a difference, marking time until retirement, and with little memory of the compassion and kindness that guided the front end of a career.

Maybe it’s time to recapture that compassion and kindness, to realize people are flawed – all of us – and sometimes do stupid and ill-considered things that come onto law enforcement’s radar.  Maybe it’s time to start seeing “The Big Picture” and look to the thousands of small victories good cops achieve every day, and pull focus from the frustration of human frailty.  Maybe it’s time to recommit to kindness and compassion as a guiding principle for law enforcers, and to realize kindness does not mean sacrificing toughness, or officer safety, or strict accountability for offenders, but that all of those can and should coexist with it.

Lokahi (Unity) – The growth of an “Us vs. Them” mentality in law enforcement - with “Them” being pretty much anyone NOT in law enforcement - is, on one level, understandable.  It is a product of cynicism, borne out of distrust of, and a lack of understanding by, the public we serve.  It’s also deeply regrettable. 

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