Aloha is our Rootstalk

Originally published for the print edition of Ke Ola Magazine: March/April 2013 Hawai‘i island issue.
Previously in this series: Why Values? And Why “Manage with Aloha?”

IMG_5670 by Rosa Say

I remember my year a decade ago quite vividly, for in 2003 I began to write Managing with Aloha. It was writing which would define me as a manager, and shape what I stood for as a human being. And yet… I clearly recall pushing my chair back several times, and pacing. I’d stare at the words I’d already written to ask myself, “Just who do you think you are? Who are you to be writing this?” My struggle in that 2003 inception, was with the core value which would be the rootstock of all the others I’d write about: Aloha.

Aloha intimidated me. It cut through me with an unsettling vulnerability which confused me, even though I felt I’d grown up with Aloha as love, and had our islands’ blessing of having it in my life as a constant presence. Up to that point of trying to write about it, Aloha had been everything good, and only good. Aloha was pervasive in how those closest to me would treat me. Aloha was beautiful grace. Aloha was immeasurable kindness. Aloha was unconditional acceptance. Aloha was exceedingly generous in its understanding as I grew up in Hawai‘i, and I relied on that generosity, so what was the problem? Aloha had never failed me, and it was love — wasn’t it?

In the end, I decided to share stories of my own life’s Aloha experience to stick with what I knew  as completely, and unquestionably true. I would coach myself, “Just tell your story…” as I’d pull my chair back in, and sit to keep writing. When I read those pages now, I see I didn’t actually define Aloha for my readers, only attempting to illustrate the way Aloha manifested itself for me — how it became real, and not just a romantic concept. I judge my writing differently now, thankful that my humility stepped in as it did, stopping me from defining Aloha any more explicitly. Aloha is something you have to define for yourself (yes, you) in the literal way its root words do: As ha, the spirit-driven breath of your life, and as alo, the manner you live within every breath’s truth and dignity (your alo is your presence).

You must dare to share it, that living from the inside out. I kept writing, and when I focused on management as I originally intended to, all struggle disappeared: Aloha was very clear. It had to be there, in every manager’s actual practice of their art, and in all the work which would result. I wrote, “As it lives and breathes within us, Aloha defines the epitome of sincere, gracious, and intuitively perfect customer service given from one person to another.” To manage others is a profound responsibility, and Aloha must be in each intention, and in each effort. There is no other way to manage, or to lead, if you are to serve.

If your Aloha Spirit confronted you, I imagine it would say, “Don’t underestimate me.” Any intimidation we sense, is actually a dare: “Be better.” Like all values, Aloha wants to be owned and claimed. It wants your signature as you convert value into action. So do I, for I know Aloha to be a guarantee of the good inside you, waiting for breakout, breakthrough moments, the ones which will define you and grow you. My own self-talk changed in that certainty — how could I have struggled, with offering you something which is so thoroughly good? My earlier fears of being presumptuous, and of grappling with my own authenticity have never returned.

Publishing my book would end a chapter in my life, starting a series of others undeniably rooted in Aloha’s foundation: My roots dug in. Aloha is a value which grows as you do, and leads you when you let it. Aloha is your rootstock too, much in the same way our kūpuna will talk about kalo, cultivated as the first-born son of Wakea (father sky) and Papa (mother earth). Your Aloha firmly grounds you in your ancestry and sense of place. Aloha extends its roots to gather nourishment for you whenever you need it, and it branches out so easily, sending nutrition to whatever other value you’ll choose for your life’s expression. Your Aloha rootstock is the keeper of your DNA, so that other values get defined through your Aloha identity and innate wisdom, ha and alo. You won’t grow like an unwanted weed: You’ll grow in the true seed of your Aloha Spirit. Aloha seeks to be shared, but it’s never ever depleted, for that ‘unconditional’ part of love creates the bounty of amazing in-spirit abundance.

What a great thing to bring to work, to managing others, and to the art and science of business. Don’t allow Aloha to intimidate you, as I once did. Take the dare: Aloha is you becoming better.
~ Rosa Say

IMG_5670 by Rosa Say

For more on Aloha, I invite you to visit my Aloha index archived on

Next issue: Ho‘ohana, the value of worthwhile work.