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Saturday, June 12, 2010


The cultural influences in President Barack Obama's early life and how they may be affecting his approach to problems as an adult and as a leader.

 Pono is a Hawaiian word for the right way or the correct or best approach to a problem.  Barack Obama is culturally Hawaiian.  His recent behavior in relation to the gulf oil spill disaster is consistent with his cultural heritage.  I have been hearing many criticisms of his apparent absence of anger, on the radio.  I have seen numerous news and TV talk shows decrying his lack of aggression toward BP on this issue.

The 'cowboy mentality' which IS fairly characteristic of mainstream America is not present in Hawaii.  People do not tend to declare a position, to overtly criticize, to publicly denounce anyone or anything.  In fact, the recent movement in Hawaii for preserving the ancient culture is a divergence in style from the very culture it is representing and shows a shift toward integration with the larger American culture.  Demonstrations, protests, and activism are quite familiar to most of us.  But this is not usual in Hawaii.  Hawaiians try NOT to be reactive.  It is not polite to be too direct.  Belligerence is definitely disapproved of.  Stepping back instead of forward is more natural there.  The 'wait and see' attitude is usual.  When a problem comes up, the Hawaiian way is to observe, to evaluate and to wait and see what's right.  The idea is that the way to proceed will emerge and become clear, given some thoughtful consideration.  Doesn't this seem like what President Obama is doing?
This is natural to him.

  He did finally get provoked into repeating an aggressive reference and now he is being criticized for going too far in the other direction!  Of course, all presidents are subject to constant review; it seems to come with the job description.  Indeed, if memory serves me, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were often depicted in caricatures-the height of ridicule, some might say.

So, there is no reason why our current president should be an exception-it's the American way; we prize our right to speak out.
I wrote about this because it seemed like it might be interesting to present this behavior style that we see in him from a different perspective.  I don't hear much in the media about his Hawaiian background; to me it seems to be a semi-forgotten aspect of his personal history.  But, in fact, he spent a good part of his growing up being reared by his grandmother in Hawaii.  He went to school there as a child and grew up in that culture.  It seems to me that this influence, being pervasive during early development,--- a time when a person is most impressionable---, would be powerful.

"Ho'o Mana'o Nui"=Let life unfold as it will; don't push too hard
Easy bruddah!

Credit:  conversations with Bruce Pao on language and culture
Quote from Mabel Pao

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