Latter-day Saint Life

What the deeper meaning of ‘aloha’ taught Steve Young (and us) about love

Ethnic Senior Mother Walking With Her Adult Daughter
“Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.”
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In his new book, Steve Young discusses examples of the law of love, which he defines as loving as God loves, seeking another's healing, and expecting nothing in return. In this excerpt from the book, Steve discusses how some people seem more naturally inclined to live this law, while it takes a more conscious effort for others. But, ultimately, we can all learn to love more selflessly.

Just like Moses and the lower law, the transactional track of the law of love—one with a clear give-and-take outcome, either with God or our fellow men—is a developmental piece of the puzzle. It’s appropriate; it’s God-given. But do I even need to be transactional at all? Can I start and end on the nontransactional track, and enjoy the selfless, enormously ever-flowing, ever-giving finishing track? Can I just go there?

I say the answer is yes for some folks. I see human beings in and out of our faith that do this naturally, maybe without even realizing it. The transaction part of it doesn’t really make sense to them because they are already living the law of love. These people have already found this selfless nature that is so rewarding. Once you see it, you can just honor it.

My wife Barb is one of those people that started on the finishing track. It’s like any other talent that we see within children, arriving from another place. Some people have that personality trait of being long-suffering and gentle—being reflexively interested in others, intuitively seeing their needs, and doing something about it. That’s just who Barb is.

Others are born more transactional in their personalities; their state of being is much more self-interested. Whether it comes easily as one of your spiritual gifts or you have to work at it a little more, it’s all about the way you’re headed—whether your intent is to heal others or see what you can get for yourself.

Just as some people naturally live the law of love, it’s even embedded in some cultures. That doesn’t mean that everyone in that society lives it—there is no utopia on earth anywhere yet—but the concepts are part of the culture in some places. Businessman Paki Perkins explained how it works in Hawai’i:

The law of love doesn’t seem foreign; in fact, it actually seems very familiar to life in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The summer after I graduated from high school, we had a reunion of over a hundred family members in Koke’e, Hawai’i. Children were playing, others were picking flowers, making leis, eating, and just having a nice time in the mountains.

In the distance across the large green field in front of our cabin, a lone man walked toward our site looking disheveled. Many of us noticed him and watched carefully as he approached. He was a good-sized man carrying a well-worn backpack and a walking stick in one hand. Right then, Pupu [grandma or matriarch] came out of the cabin and walked toward the man. Next to him, Pupu looked tiny, less than five feet tall. She had a kitchen towel over her shoulder and a spatula in her hand. All watched intently as her large husband and two sons slowly made their way to her side. Pupu and the man looked at each other. Eyes met; smiles formed. Without a word being said, Pupu turned and walked back toward the cabin, and the stranger followed.

We all watched as Pupu showed the stranger into our cabin, ushered him to our dinner table, and asked the family to make him a plate. After they brought the plate to her, she went back into the kitchen, put more food on it, and brought it back to the man. Pupu’s husband and sons watched from the door as Pupu served the man and sat down next to him at the table.

No words were said while he ate. The family eventually went about their business, knowing there wasn’t any threat. When the man finished eating, Pupu made him another plate to take. He smiled, bowed his head toward Pupu, and left our campsite, never to be seen again.

Later in the day, sitting next to Pupu, I asked why she did that. She said simply, “You take care of people.” To the Hawai’ians of old, it was inherent and natural. They lived it. To feed a stranger passing by—that is aloha. Jesus had the same thoughts in mind when He taught, “If ye love me, feed my sheep” (see John 21:16).

Aloha can mean hello, goodbye, or love. When you dig into the deeper meaning of this precious word, you find: alo = presence, front, face + ha = breath, life. The word ha—breath, life, the essence, the atmosphere—is the first breath you take at birth. It’s the last thing you give back when you leave. In between the first breath and the last breath, you never own it. Aloha means to be connected and in the presence of divine breath. It’s the spirit of giving and receiving without thinking. Take a breath, hold it; okay, now give it back. You can’t take a breath without giving it back. We say, “I take a breath,” but in reality, you can’t take it anywhere.

This is the spirit of aloha: to give and not expect anything in return; to receive and not forget to give back. It says, Your air is my air; my air is your air; your best interest is my best interest. When I say aloha to you, it’s a commitment to you to make sure that I don’t damage the air between us, because in the process of doing that, I damage myself. My parents taught me that it means leaving people and places better than when you found them (or when they found you).

In 1986, Hawai’i lawmakers passed the “Aloha Spirit’’ law,1 recognizing the aloha spirit “as the working philosophy of native Hawai’ians . . . presented as a gift to the people of Hawai’i.”

Aunty Pilahi Paki wrote the law because she foresaw a world in deep strife that would look to Hawai’i for healing. Aloha would be its remedy. She quoted our last reigning monarch, beloved Queen Liliu’okalani: “Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.”2 My Pupu explained, “If you know God, you know the unknowable, because God is all-knowing. The power of aloha is to be connected to that which is greater than us.”

Now according to the law, all Hawai’ian citizens and government officials must conduct themselves with aloha, which is virtually impossible to enforce. But here is a story of this law upholding its intent.

In April 2012, the protocol officer for the Hawai’ian governor stood on the tarmac of the Honolulu Airport, awaiting the arrival of a dignitary from the People’s Republic of China. The plane landed but the VIP failed to emerge. After several awkward minutes, an aide appeared. She explained there would be no meeting because, much to the disappointment of Beijing, the governor had met with the Dalai Lama two months prior. (There are many conflicts between Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama and Tibetan people.)

Thinking quickly, the protocol officer responded in her very best Mandarin, “The governor of Hawai’i always meets with every world leader because Hawai’i is the Aloha State and our laws require us to extend aloha to everyone.” The aide was unimpressed, and there would be no meeting.

Later, the aide said that after researching the Aloha Spirit law, the aide understood that the governor was legally obligated to show aloha. She asked if the governor was still willing to meet. He was, and they met. Their successful meeting resulted in an annual holiday gift exchange between Beijing and Honolulu that endures today.

Being born and raised in Hawai’i, I have enjoyed a culture and heritage that is based on aloha, on love. Love of the people, love of the land, love of all around it. If we don’t find aloha, oftentimes it’s because we didn’t bring it with us. It’s understood that the more you put in, the more you receive. Each of us must ask ourselves: do we live with a spirit of aloha and the law of love? Imagine if you lived like that. How can you be anything but kind? Not just “kind of” kind, but the kindness that comes from within, by following the breath or spirit of our divine Creator. That’s the power of aloha, the power to transform lives, families, communities, businesses, and the world.3

To wrap it up, you can be on the preparatory path on some things and the finishing path on others, but at least you can see where you’re headed. Try to transition as soon as you can. Some people and some cultures have these finishing-path qualities intuitively, but these attributes are achievable for everyone.

► You may also like: Steve Young: Why the law of love means loving others without expectations or transactions

1 See Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, Åò 5–7.5.
2 Queen Lili’uokalani, 1917, quoted in Chapter 5 of Hawai’i Revised Statutes: Åò 5–7.5.
3 Paki Perkins, personal correspondence. Used by permission.

The Law of Love in Action

The law of love: loving as God loves, seeking another’s healing, expecting nothing in return. It’s a lot to ask. How can we apply such a law to life’s challenges—from the smallest daily offenses to seemingly insurmountable sources of pain, like abuse, infidelity, or war? Building on his best-selling book The Law of Love, Steve Young explores the depth and breadth of how others practice living the law of love. This volume brings together a wide variety of insights and firsthand experiences. Stories include a grandpa at a family reunion, a journalist visiting a prison before a big football game, a father with a temper, a bride diagnosed with terminal cancer the day before her wedding, a broadcaster comforting survivors at a crime scene, and more. In every situation of life, the law of love is undefeated.

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