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Mills and the Aloha Spirit

How are we? Aloha kaua. How is your spirit? Pehea kou piko. One of the wonderful aspects of these two Hawaiian greetings revolves around going beyond a simple “hello” to asking each other how are “we” doing.

I am frequently asked by our students, faculty and staff about the term “aloha.” Renata Provenzano’s translation in her book of Hawaiian traditions perhaps best explains this exchange. The term aloha embraces everything from “hello” and “goodbye” but also goes beyond that to express our love, caring, sharing, and goodwill to all. Provenzano also shares with us that in Hawaiian culture both a healthy and balanced life begins with the extension of the spirit of aloha.
For those who want a more literal translation of aloha, the suffix “ha” means the “breath of life” so when we say “aloha,” it connotes a symbolic exchange between people of sharing a life-giving force that operates in all of our lives. When you think about it, without our physical ability to breathe, we would have no life. So when we then apply this to our extension of our hospitality to one another in the spirit of aloha, it is considered in Hawaiian circles as a sacred exchange of “ha” (breath of life) and what keeps us connected as a community, or ohana.

Provenzano also goes on to share with us that this exchange is based from an ancient Hawaiian tradition that was reserved between how families and loved ones would greet one another. It involved a practice of rubbing noses, saying aloha and inhaling each other’s breath (or ha). This, she said, was considered the most heartfelt and sincere welcome – “to share your life energy with another person” – as it also serves as the foundation of aloha.

Usually whenever I am with a group of students, faculty, staff, and even parents of our students, while I do not rub noses with everyone, I do open and close my comments with “aloha.” I also go one step further by asking that everyone extend this spirit of hospitality or “aloha” to one another as well by our greeting one another. By doing so, it serves several different purposes. It not only breaks down the social and emotional barriers that may separate us strangers but by sharing a common greeting, it also acknowledges our fundamental human connection with one another.

Think about it. When we can act in a manner which extends ourselves from a caring place with one another, wherein everyone is drawn into the circle of our “community” (or “ohana” in Hawaiian) no matter who we are as a student, faculty, staff member or administrator at Mills. Can you imagine what an empowered community we would have?

As the spirit of aloha is the center of all things Hawaiian, so too is it in some ways the center of how we must continue to mindfully conduct ourselves with one another at the College. For instance, as my outreach as the Dean of Student Life requires that my team and I not only extend our spirit of aloha to one another via our work, it also extends itself into the relationships we share with many different groups on campus who also become a part of our aloha or ohana network.

So there is something to be said regarding the old Hawaiian belief that no task is too big when done together by all (a’ohe hana nui ke aluia) which when fully operational does reflect the principles of the spirit of aloha in action. . .even at Mills! My hope is that when we see each other next we can ask each other, “How is your spirit?” We can all feel good about sharing our “breath of life” with one another by responding, aloha kaua, or “we are doing well.” Pass it on!