Relate, Repeat, Reframe: A little inconvenience goes a long way toward change

I’m just back from spending a heavenly 4-day weekend on Maui, a place deeply connected to my family history, and an island I feel I know quite well. I’ve been blessed with many reasons to stay on the Valley Isle, often for quick visits, and occasionally for longer stays, with entire Kula summers and Kihei winters tucked within my fondest memories; Maui is definitely part of my sense of place.

However no place stays the same forever, and something about Maui had changed in a very unexpected way this visit. It seems a small thing on the face of it, and my husband and I were surprised at how big a change it became in our habits there — you’ll grin at first to hear what it is, and you might even wonder why I’d bother to blog about it, but do bear with me for the moral of the story. The change? On Maui you will never again hear the question, “Paper or plastic?” for on January 11th of this year, “no plastic” bag laws went into effect in Maui and Kauai Counties in Hawai‘i. Biodegradable plastic doesn’t make the cut either; the law states that “Businesses are prohibited from providing plastic bags to their customers at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods.”

Now this is a law I’m completely in favor of, and I wish we’d follow suit in the rest of Hawai‘i, and elsewhere. We’ve been using reusable bags at home, and I’ve even made bags of my own by repurposing old T-shirts (softer, and so much easier to wash!) however this past weekend was the first time we found ourselves in a place where volunteering to opt out of using plastic wasn’t enough — we had no choice. If you forget your own bag while on Maui, you may not be given any other option, for under the Maui ordinance, retailers and other business owners are not required to provide consumers with either paper or reusable bags, and the surprise for us, was that many simply don’t. You’re on your own: If you haven’t planned ahead, you have your two hands and whatever more you can stack or cradle within your arms (or in the stretched out hem of your shirt if desperate”).

As I said, this is something we’re good about at home — or so we thought. While on Maui, we realized just how much “or other goods” pertains to: We bring our reusable bags to Costco and the grocery store routinely, but we often forget about them with nearly everything else we buy.

I’d forgotten to pack a swim suit, and bought one as the summer sun burned brightly and the hotel pool beckoned, and after the boutique clerk rung me up and collected payment, she handed me my receipt and simply waited for me to scoop up my purchase from the counter myself and move on. I stood there waiting too, until she leaned forward and whispered, “Didn’t you bring a bag? Good thing swimwear fits in your purse, huh.” She discreetly caught the eye of a gentleman standing near the door, and gave him a slight head tilt which I instantly knew to mean, “This one will be okay; you watching?” He smiled at me as I tucked my purchase away, making sure the tags were out of sight, and my husband blurted out, “Really? Here too?”

There are no exceptions made for visitors. “No plastic” means no plastic, and often no bag at all. Businesses had fought the law, but six months later they seem to have embraced it wholeheartedly — it’s kind of cool expecting your customers to be prepared, and take the high road! It took us a while to learn our lesson, for in the next hour we were nervously stacking eight plate lunches we’d volunteered to pick up for my nephew’s baseball game, hoping they had gone light with the gravy. Paper bags did save us at the grocery store later (they were sold out of the reusable bags they now sell), but only as far as the car trunk: With all we bought they were pretty torn up and we had to retrieve laundry sacks from the hotel to get our bounty up to our room.

A little inconvenience can go a long way though. Our third and fourth day on Maui we had reusable bags with us everywhere we went, and I mean everywhere. Next time I go to Maui, Kauai, or anywhere for that matter, I’ll be packing my T-shirt bags — something I’ve never done before as the road warrior I am. In fact, I’ve already tucked a small size into the carry-on I always take.

And you know what? I fully expect that we’ll keep up with our newly improved habit now that we’re back home again, and even though we don’t have to: We get to be better, and we want to. We’re newly thrilled with the thought of setting a better example to lead more change on our own island. While walking from the airline ticket counter prior to our flight home yesterday, my husband turned to me and I expected him to ask which gate we were headed to, but what he said was, “I wonder if the garbage bags we use at home are biodegradable? We’ll have to check.” As we settled into our seats and buckled up he brought it up again, saying, “Okay, this will be our new challenge; how can we get away from using plastic for garbage too?”

Out with the old”

I was so proud of him, and couldn’t help smiling: This was our living, working, and managing with Aloha value alignment in progress, as two people with long-standing habits understanding they could change, and become better.

All of this has had me thinking anew about what I’ve learned about change over the years, and how we consistently talk about it in the change required with the culture-building connected to Managing with Aloha. We’ve well understood that people don’t resist change per se, they resist being changed. To logically and intellectually believe in something is not enough to effect change, no matter how emotionally convicted you might feel about it: There must be a relationship to someone or something (like a relationship to a need), that will get you to actually take action. Then, for the action to truly set and stick, there must be repetition, enough for a good habit to kick in where a less desirable one had existed before. A new reframing must result, and we must buy in to it completely, not partially, and not most of the time, but all of the time. There can be no acceptable exceptions.

I’ve believed in being eco-minded, green and good to the earth, and do hope we can keep plastic waste out of our streets, parks, landfills and oceans, but I still used plastic bags when it was convenient. Maui had to reframe the entire issue for me in a much more personal way, and it had to force my hand.

I am so glad it did. I do want to walk my talk, in every thing, and in every way. Don’t you?

A “wake-up call” isn’t enough

It takes courage to change, and forge a new future: Have you got that courage in you?

I was not at this presentation, and can only base this on Dan Nakaso’s article written for the Star Advertiser, but I am newly encouraged knowing that Richard C. Lim is our new director of DBEDT, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Perhaps that “T” should be dropped at the end.

Nakaso wrote: “Future of tourism called into question: The state economic director surprises business leaders with his stark outlook.”

“Lim, who has been running DBEDT for six months, outlined a gloomy economic picture for the islands and said tourism has essentially remained stagnant for the last 20 years and can no longer be relied on to move the economy into a prosperous future.”

He is absolutely right, and being kind in saying it’s only been this way for the last 20 years — try 30 or 40. The business model is broken; it’s dysfunctional, or in many cases, missing completely. Any business models which are in place for so-called Tourism Leadership are sadly irrelevant to our community challenges.

I’m a product of our hospitality industry, as is my values-based Managing with Aloha philosophy, and readily accept that writing this can be viewed as my biting the hand that fed me — but how well did that really happen? What is not mentioned in this article, is the sad fact that tourism has not improved our lot in life locally as its wage-earners either; I would much prefer to see our youth and all residents focus on industries which improve their standard of living individually too — and not just for the community infrastructure needs Lim mentions in the article recap.

Our state (and all communities for that matter) need not do for us, when we can prosper and thrive on our own because we work in more visionary industries.

Even if we blindly claim to be good at tourism, or Aloha-suited to it, it’s time we learned even more, and got good at endeavors which will serve us better, via the industries which rely on building our innovative talents with math and the sciences. Tourism has not sustained us well enough in exchange for all the resources we have put into it, especially when you count up our service-industry poor.

This part of the article absolutely floored me, especially reading who was quoted:

“Paul Brewbaker, principal of TZ Economics and chairman of the state Council on Revenues, told Lim that his ideas “provoked a lot of good thinking in this room. This is the first time I’ve heard any of this.”

Give me a break! If we assume he is speaking his truth, how has he come to hold the position he holds? Where have they been, and what on earth have they been doing in Hawai‘i economic circles if this is the first time he and others have “heard any of this?” Do they know how to read and evaluate all their charts and economic reports?

Will anything happen now that this speech has been delivered, or was it simply a way to while away some time for those in the room who are too NIMBY entitled and complacent? (stuck in the quagmire of “not in my back yard” thinking and will-not-try opposition).

Knowing all of which Lim speaks is one thing, and having the courage to do something about it is another when you have so many sacred cows grazing in your home pastures.

We can do better, I know we can. I pray we get the will to do so.

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