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United we swim, divided we sink

By Staff | Aug 15, 2019

Something that unites all of us: reverence for the ocean.  Treasure found near Kahekili Beach. PHOTO BY DOOMA.

My daughter learned to swim in the ocean this summer.

She tiptoed on the sand into deep water. She circled her arms, smiled wide and jumped! She laughed and laughed with her smile just treading above water. “Dad, look at me!” She wanted to show all her friends and add new tricks: diving down for rings, flying super high in the sky, standing on the surfboard.

On land, she is clumsy like me. She crashes into walls, trips over her feet and bonks her head on countertops.

In the sea, she is free. She jumps, dives and splashes. She spins, sinks and thrashes. She holds her breath, flies high, flows weightlessly. She is a fish.

She always makes new friends at the beach. Kids, families, fishermen, divers, surfers, visitors, dogs. Everyone comes for sunset, and everyone (well, almost) smiles at my daughter as she laughs and plays.

Nature. Water. Sunshine. Family. Personal Connection. Community. Aloha. The Hawaiian Beach. Happy, growing children. There are so many things that we all cherish. We have so much common ground to build on.

Lately, during the day when I’m scanning a computer or phone screen, transferring all of the immediate news of the world into my brain, I feel anxious and worried about the opposing force: what divides us.

Internationally, we live in a world of over 200 countries, each pursuing its own agenda.

Nationally, we are talking to each other too often in social media echo chambers, while biased actors (the Russian government, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook) are exploiting our data and psychology for power and profit. (Check out Netflix’s “The Great Hack” if you want to understand the Matrix better).

Statewide, Hawaii is in the midst of a powerful Native Hawaiian moment of resurgent unity, in response to the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope. With upside down Hawaiian flags trailing from the back of pickup trucks all over the state, there is absolutely power and beauty in the grassroots movement of Hawaiian culture. There is also gravitas, mythology and history, as there is a line that runs from this protest straight through Kamehameha I and back to the oral tradition of pre-contact Hawaii before Captain Cook. As powerful as the unity has been, this movement has certainly sharpened the lines of the TMT debate, and there is currently a level of intensity in our media, politics and community that can divide as well as unite.

In Maui County, the County Council is divided, often at a 5-4 result, over many issues.

Most worrying is the council’s dithering over the Lahaina injection wells court case, which could travel all the way to an unfriendly Supreme Court and threaten the Clean Water Act, which protects 330 million people in the United States. The County Council, and Councilwoman Tasha Kama in particular, needs to make Kahekili Beach and the Clean Water Act, a priority, right now.

In West Maui, our community has been engaged in heated and personal debates about affordable housing. These are vital discussions and plans that must be made to safeguard West Maui’s future, but they are also taxing exchanges that can drive wedges between community members.

Each of these types of issues – international, national, state, county, and local – are amplified when we log into Facebook, Instagram, Google and YouTube. And just about all of us do, and more each day.

My daughter isn’t aware of any of this. She just turned four, and she likes to build forts, wear costumes, wrangle chickens, and now, swim on her own. She likes to play with her friends and enjoy one little treat after dinner. She is like a lot of little girls, and I am like a lot of dads. Her happiness is my happiness.

We’ll go down to the beach again tonight. We’ll make new friends, we’ll talk story, we’ll be present. There will be no phones, computers, or a barrage of news. She will run into the water and laugh and swim on her own, laughing so hard she will disappear underwater, then pop back up still laughing.

What unites us all more than wanting all of our kids to be free, happy, and loved?

Can what binds us be stronger than what pulls us apart? Our future depends on how we each answer.