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October 8, 2022

Stay Pono – a Hawaiian philosophy we all should live by

As most Hawaiian expressions it’s hard to translate to any other language and it does not have a one-to-one-word English translation. The Hawaiian-English dictionary devotes one half page in the attempt to convey these layers of meaning in English. The word pono means to be righteousness, but this translation missed the balance and harmony pono connotes for Hawaiians.

Samuel Hoyt Elbert’s Hawaiian dictionary gives six different meanings for pono:

  1. Goodness, uprightness, morality, moral qualities, correct or proper procedure, excellence, well-being, prosperity, welfare, benefit, behalf, equity, sake, true condition or nature, duty; moral, fitting, proper, righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, beneficial, successful, in perfect order, accurate, correct, eased, relieved; should, ought, must, necessary.
  2. Completely, properly, rightly, well, exactly, carefully, satisfactorily, much (an intensifier).
  3. Property, resources, assets, fortune, belongings, equipment, household goods, furniture, gear of any kind, possessions, accessories, necessities.
  4. Use, purpose, plan.
  5. Hope.
  6. Careless, informal, improper, any kind of (preceding a stem). For example: Ponoʻai, to eat in any way or anything, take potluck. Ponohana, to work any way that suits one. Pononō i ka noho, living any old way, shiftless. Pono lole, any kind of clothes. Mai pono hana ʻoe, akā e hana pono, don’t work carelessly, but work carefully.

Pono may seem like an outdated idea to many, especially in the way it encourages moral and righteous behavior. But we need this mindset now more than evern.

When we live according to the value of pono, we live a harmonious and balanced life, being in perfect alignment with all of nature, God, ourselves, our ancestors, the land, work, others around us and life.

Living pono means one has the perfect relationship with the creative energy of the universe, however you might describe that energy: God, Goddess, the Universe, Source, prana, chi… Our life will be filled with ho’omaluhia, peace, because our actions are in alignment with who God meant us to be and thereby we carry great mana, or spiritual power.

Pono means you are in complete harmony and alignment with your relationship with Earth. That you operate on the planet as one who is the caretaker of the land during your lifetime. That you leave the land in a state as good or better than you found it so that next generations can enjoy the resources that were gifted to you in your lifetime.

Being pono means standing up for the right, even when unpopular or mocked. It’s not easy to stand for truth, especially when we’re alone. But the value of pono encourages us to do so.

Pono means that you have a respectful, balanced, harmonious relationship with your parents, your partner, your extended family, your corowkers, neighbours – everybody. It means your relationships with others are just and fair and free from anger, jealousy, resentment or any other negative energy.

Pono, much like mahalo, or a thankful way of living, and kuleana, or a sense of personal responsibility, is one of the values of the aloha spirit that’s so deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture. Though pono is a wee bit different from the other values because it is slightly out of reach. It is something we authentically aspire towards, rather than something we can fully attain. It’s more than doing the right thing in any given situation; it’s rather living life with balance, harmony and integrity, seeking to improve the surrounding world.

The concept of pono is taught to Hawaiian children at a very young age. It is a guiding principle that is to shape their every decision. – “Is it pono?”
In other words, will what you’re about to do help bring harmony and good into the world?

Everyone does something that’s not pono once in a while. But the Hawaiian way is to keep working towards pono in life by making righteous decisions each day.

Pono is a concept worth adopting in our own life. If each of us really aspired to be pono – what a different world we could live in.

How could we further implement the value of pono in our lives?

Take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my relationship with God/Universe/Source balanced?
  • How is my relationship with others (family, spouse, friends, coworkers, neighbours, classmates, the cashier at the grocery store)? Am I doing too little or too much of something?
  • Is my relationship with myself balanced?

If you take the time to look at your life and ask, “Is my life pono?” you can feel what you should improve on.

Since I implemented it, the Hawaiian value of pono has deeply blessed my life. Even though I’ve sometimes stood alone in my beliefs, I feel right with the Universe. That’s one of the greatest blessings I could ever feel in this life.

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