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The View from Outside

You can’t be critical of Molokai without knowing its people.

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about the social situation on Moloka‘i. Actually, that’s just one way to characterize it. Another would be that I had a heated exchange with a guy who showed his ignorance by expressing some deeply-held prejudices about Moloka‘i and its people. It wasn’t pretty.

I’ll be the first to admit that Moloka‘i isn’t perfect; none of us would claim that it is. There could be more jobs and less crime. The economy could be stronger. We could have more doctors and fewer residents who rely on drugs and alcohol to get through the day. Food and gas could be cheaper. There could be more ways for young people to use their time.

Yet we all know that we could say the same thing about every community in our state, and probably our nation. Yes, Moloka‘i has been hit hard. Everybody has.

The danger comes when people outside Moloka‘i try to take the acknowledged challenges and extend them into a criticism of the entire community and all of its residents.

You can’t know Moloka‘i until you have spent real time in the community, met the real people who choose to make it their home, seen how they live and work and play. Moloka‘i isn’t about high gas prices and closing businesses any more than Honolulu is about traffic and high rise condominiums. Every community is a reflection of complex personal interactions and common choices. And every part of our state—whatever the average income or style of the homes—reflects in varying degrees a willingness to share the sorrows as well as the joys that form the backdrop of our lives.

I have met many people on Moloka‘i who have the warmest hearts and most generous souls you will find anywhere. Almost everyone I have encountered there has made a commitment to making the island and our state a better place to raise children and support our families. And every person on Moloka‘i has earned the respect and support of our community and our government. No amount of pontificating can rob the island and its residents of their right to guide their own destiny.

In fairness, we should remember that the blade cuts both ways. Some of us find ourselves accusing O‘ahu residents of being Honolulu-centric, of not caring for the different values and lifestyles of those who choose to live on other islands. While I am sure that those views sometimes hold true, I have found in most cases that most individuals who truly care for Hawai‘i—including my colleagues in the legislature—make a sincere effort to consider the varied experiences and choices of our state’s residents.

Maybe my opinionated friend was having an unfortunate mental hiccup. It is possible that under other circumstances he would have chosen his words more wisely and expressed himself less provocatively. It is probably fairest for all of us to look beyond this single episode and forgive his unfounded blanket-condemnation of Moloka‘i.

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