By Chris McCusker, Ph.D.
TLG Senior Consultant
These are hard days for empathetic people.
The “Big Distracting Hurt”
The list is long when it comes to unbearable genocide, cruelty, pain, suffering, deception, and the like. I call it the “Big Distracting Hurt (BDH),” and it comes from events outside our country but also within.
Somehow, every morning we get moving and jump into our professional roles. After all, the BDH is societal context and not an organizational one in most cases. We manage to put it out of our minds, put on a slightly happy face, and get to work. There is comfort in familiar work structures, and the professional intimacy we share with coworkers.
Feeding the Wolves
Many of us have heard the story of the Native American Chief who explains to his grandson the story of the fight between two wolves that live inside us. The one we feed will win the battle. These days I think about that story in the context of positive and negative energy wolves (rather than good versus bad ones).
Obviously, the “negative energy wolf” has gained a significant amount of weight in recent times. It seems to be fed constantly. The “positive energy wolf,” however, is looking a bit thin. It is hungry. How can we feed it in our workplaces? Would it make a difference?
The Aloha Spirit
As I reflect on this month’s topic, “The Connection Conundrum,” one thing come to mind: Aloha.
Whether you have ever visited Hawaii or not, most of us are familiar with the word “Aloha.” Most of us know it as a greeting often said there, and it means “hello” and “goodbye.” It turns out that it means much more. In fact, “the Aloha spirit” is enshrined into Hawaiian law. Luckily, nobody goes to jail for not saying “Aloha” in Hawaii. But the law serves to remind folks of the importance of Aloha spirit, and their obligation to share it.
In a nutshell, the Aloha spirit is the positive energy that flows from one person to the next. The Native Polynesian peoples of Hawaii have fought hard to preserve their culture and share the Aloha spirit. This is done in various ways through warm greetings, smiles, a sense of fun, and positive attitudes.
The Aloha Way
The Aloha Spirit takes on deeper meaning when we consider how the Hawaiians translate it into actions. This is known as the Aloha Way, and its logic is very similar to how we think about character based leadership development at Turknett. Inner thoughts and feelings are expressed outwardly. As we develop as leaders we have to figure out how to draw on the positive qualities inside of us and express them in constructive ways. In a similar sense, Aloha is a character based framework. Aloha is not just a word – it is an acronym. Each letter stands for a different “quality of character.” And expressing those qualities as we relate to each other is believed to create positive energy.
The Meaning of Aloha
Here is an excerpt from Hawaii’s “Aloha Spirit Law (The Law of the Aloha Spirit (hawaii.edu)),” which describes this deeper meaning of Aloha:
“Aloha Spirit”. (a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, “Aloha”, the following unuhi laulā loa may be used:
A – “Akahai”, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
L – “Lōkahi”, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
O – “ʻOluʻolu” meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
H – “Haʻahaʻa”, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
A – “Ahonui”, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaiʻi. ”Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ”Aloha” means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. Finally, “Aloha” is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.
Could Aloha make a difference in your workplace?
I’m not so sure it makes sense to greet everyone with an Aloha and a Lei before your next staff meeting. But I think it does make sense to draw attention to the Aloha qualities that live inside of us all. And thus reflect on how we can feed that “positive energy wolf” in our situations. In doing so, ancient Polynesian wisdom says we will create and cultivate positive energy in our relationships. And this might be especially important at this time of “The Big Distracting Hurt.”
Years ago, Professor Sumantra Ghosal talked about “The Smell of the Place.” This hard to define aspect of a company’s culture that has to do with the “vibes,” or feeling, of a workplace. He argued that a lot can depend on the “smell of the place.” Our search for “happy and productive workers” in this moment might depend on how well we can create the “smell” of the “positive energy wolf.”