Translating from Hawaiian to English can sometimes be difficult. The concepts for some words are so deep that you can’t understand the meaning by a simple definition. It must be lived and felt to be completely understood.
Pono is one of those words. While the commonly accepted definition is “Righteousness,” there is much more meaning than that. Since ancient times, the concept of Pono was a part of everyday Hawaiian life, and continues to be today.
It means more than doing the right thing in any situation. It refers to living your life based on bringing harmony to yourself and others, as well as your environment. If you are living a life that is based on pono, you live in a way that seeks to improve the world around yourself.
It’s not that we don’t do the same in the English-speaking world. But we have many different words that have a specific definition that all relate to Pono: Balance, Harmony, Integrity, Respect, Righteousness—they all allude to what the concept of Pono defines. The difference, however, is that in Hawaii, the idea of Pono is taught to children at a very young age.
A common question asked to children in school is, “Is it Pono?” Or to rephrase in English, “Do your actions reflect bringing more harmony and good into the world?” It is a guiding principle that precedes an action.
Doing something that is not Pono is very easy to identify. One small example that may seem insignificant, but has a drastic effect is littering. Littering leads to imbalance; by leaving garbage in a pristine environment (or even a city street), you are contributing to disorder. It brings a foreign substance into the environment that should not be there.
However, when you pick up a piece of trash, although it may feel insignificant amongst all the other pieces of trash around, you are doing your part to help make the world a bit more beautiful. Therefore, what you are doing is Pono. Imagine if everyone thought along these lines; our world would be a bit more beautiful than it is today.
Working towards a Pono life is not an idealistic “change the world overnight” type attitude. Instead it is simply a way to guide your decisions. If before every action you make, the idea of Pono crosses your mind, chances are that there will be things that you choose not to do. It’s mostly simple common sense, and at the end of the day, that’s what life should be. If you have to think long and hard about a decision, chances are it’s not Pono. Because most righteous actions in this world are the things that we know to be true without questioning.
What is it that you can do today to make your life more Pono? And what can you do to help others become more Pono?
By Steve Andrews