Appreciation is a wonderful thing:
It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
French author, humanist, rationalist, and satirist (1694-1778)
I shared the following story of the Alaka‘i Nalu in my Ho‘ohana newsletter in its pre-web, pre-Talking Story days, on November 1st of 2003. I’m posting it again today because it is so appropriate for Thanksgiving. It remains my most commented-on Ho‘ohana message written.
However even more satisfying to me and to the Alaka‘i Nalu are the new stories that this one has generated. The simple, easy-to-start practice of “giving mahalos” has become the favorite management tool of many I coach, bringing the harmony and unity of Lōkahi to their teams. Their transformational stories are inspiring. Try it with your team or your family, and see what it will do for you.
There is much to be thankful for, and I love that November comes around to remind us to say “mahalo” to those who need to hear the words come from us. Each year November seems to come at the perfect time for me: August through October have been hectic, and I need the time to focus on the really basic stuff I should be grateful for before the Christmas holidays hit me square between the eyes.
It’s hard to be a pessimist if we are focused on gratitude instead. Hard to be stressed; the stressful stuff fails to be important. Hard to be angry. Hard to be sullen, even hard to be confused. Pretty cool how that works.
About a year before I’d left Hualalai Resort, I’d taken on the management of the Alaka’i Nalu, the "Leaders of the waves": they are the ones who take care of the ocean sports programs there. There was some pilikia (troubles) among the ranks at the time, and it was clear we had to ho’oponopono (make things right). So we started a practice of "sharing our mahalos" at the end of each weekly meeting.
For several weeks, the only real homework the Alaka’i Nalu had for the week was to catch someone else on the team doing a favor for them. They were to say thank you then and there, but they were also to share their mahalo at the next weekly meeting in front of the entire group, adding a few words on why the favor given meant something to them.
One of the first things I discovered was that they didn’t know how to graciously accept it when someone said thank you: it was hard for them to just say "You’re welcome" and leave it at that. Far easier to crack a joke or even look at someone else and say, "yeah brah, you should do some of that too sometimes." In those early weeks I’d ask them to just listen quietly and not respond at all, other than to nod their head in acknowledgement of the words being spoken.
There were more groundrules that would get added as we went, such as picking a different person each week to break down the buddy-to-buddy game playing. With each wisecrack I’d have to say, "Either you start being sincere, or I add another rule you gotta remember."
Then I learned to start modeling the behavior I wanted, ending the meeting with my own mahalos for each of them, "Mahea, thank you for starting early today: Hui Wa’a (our Friday paddle) was easier for all of us because you took the time to reassign last night’s late sign-ups. Daniel, thank you for taking care of those kids that got badly sunburned at King’s Pond on Tuesday: I got a call from their parents about how thoughtful and patient you were, and your actions add to the reputation of the entire team." … and on for each one in turn.
They caught on, and I’d have to say less and less each week. One week we went overtime on other business, and I nearly got a revolt when I tried to adjourn without giving them the time to speak they expected: sharing their mahalos had become genuine, generous, and thought-provoking. It became the best part of the meeting by far.
They loved it when someone new joined the group or I’d invited a guest – they wanted to show off! But here’s the thing: they didn’t want to show off that they did it, they wanted more people to hear about how terrific their peers were. It amazed me how articulate they were when a newcomer was in the room.
They also started to show me how perceptive they were – they caught everything. They learned more about each other because they were learning about what someone else appreciated – it differed for them individually (anyone who knows the Alaka’i Nalu knows they are a very unique group). Over time, the depth of the actions taken were incredible – it was trivial to have someone say thank you for something minor. They tried so hard: I was really proud of them.
Yup, just saying thank you can be pretty cool. Try it this month in a different way than you usually do, and I promise you’ll have a great month.
This one is from me to you: Mahalo nui loa for being part of my ‘Ohana and Ho’ohana network. You are helping me keep connected, active, and infused with energy in this new life I’m learning to craft for myself – and your being there means a lot to me.
Have a good Thanksgiving. I hope you will be surrounded by family, friends, and Aloha as you silently say thank you for those taste buds!
Gobble gobble … a hui hou,