Save Mine: Plunder Yours

Awhile ago, I wrote how the words aloha and mahalo are “the most common Hawai‘ian words in the language. It’s a long, long drop to number 3. Wear your parachute.”

I have a candidate for no. 3. Both because of the increasing frequency of its use in English and because, like aloha and mahalo, it is at grave risk of becoming a “throwaway”.

The word is kokua. It’s a verb, and means “to give generous, self-sacrificial, non-self-aggrandizing help, support, assistance”. It appears most often in the phrase “Please kokua”, which means “Please, be a good neighbor/citizen” and do whatever civic-minded thing the person or organization that used the phrase is about to tell you to do. “Flush the toilet”, or “put your cell phone on ‘silent’ during the concert”, or “buy Girl Scout cookies”. That sort of thing.

It also shows up in the phrase “Kokua alert”, which is a call from the members of Group A to give generous, self-sacrificial assistance to the cause of beating the snot out of Group B.

Your Amoeba had the second usage rubbed in his face pseudopodia today (31 March 2009), when colleagues sent around an inflammatory Kokua Alert from environmentalists, calling on people to stop what they perceive as a predatory assault on their turf. Specifically, a possible attempt by the Hawai‘i State Legislature to suspend some environmental funding as part of their desperate attempt to balance the State’s books without throwing half of the State’s citizens out of work and murdering the rest with taxes.

Now, as an environmental scientist, I am, by profession and by predilection, sympathetic to those who call for the responsible management of our natural resources. I would be more sympathetic still if more of those who make such calls were willing to practice what they recommend. But let that be for now. Because, as a scientist, I have a more pressing problem. My kokua goes to those who have facts behind them. Not those who scream at me.

And the authors of the environmental Kokua Alert do a lot of screaming. I was particularly offended by this line:

Legislators are trying to raid every source they can to help balance the budget. But there must be better ways to cut spending and help balance the budget. [emphasis added]

Of course there is, honey. By leaving mine alone and taking his, dammit.

Only one small problem. Everyone else is playing that same game too. And most of them scream louder than you do. And if everybody screams so loud that the Legislature sees only death by cutting anything … well, it’s like how Bill Cosby imagined God, faced with all the gamblers in Vegas calling on the Deity for this roll, and that number, and the other favor, and responding in the only fair and appropriate manner:


Last I knew, we were facing a global economic catastrophe. Its coming should, I think, have been obvious to anyone who was paying the least attention, but it’s too late to carp about that now. Kokua, to me, under these circumstances, is neither grasping bonuses out of the meltdown nor roasting executives on suspicion of their having received a bonus. It is not about circling the wagons and shooting flaming arrows at everyone else’s circles.

Kokua is, I think, about telling special interests – all of them – to shut the hell up and put their energies towards deciphering, and implementing, what is best for the common good. The rational question, for me, is not why are you treading on my turf, but is the sacrifice of a portion of my turf reasonable, fair, and likely to help turn the tide?

I’m not interested in living in a world where everyone’s yelling Give me mine!, and, as a result, everyone gets busted.

  O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions expressed are mine, as a private citizen.


  1. Well said. I have been meaning to write something similar but could not have framed it as well as you have here. Our State budget is in a desperate situation. Both people and our natural environment will suffer and everyone has the same message “not me, not mine”…and by the way, don’t raise taxes either. This is a tough time we are going through and everyone, and every program is going to have to help carry at least some of the load. Thank you for expressing it so well, please consider rewriting and submitting it to the Honolulu newspapers as an oped. gh

  2. Well put OC. I so agree with you in that we have to start looking at what is for the good of everyone. Common greed needs to be put aside but the big question is how is that accomplished? It’s gone on for, well, since I can remember.

    Rabbit, rabbit

  3. Gary, many thanks, you are too gracious to a microscopic protozoon.

    Since you are in medias res, so to speak, let me ask … According to the Kokua Alert, the environmental account that bill 1741 proposes to tap attracts several millions of dollars in leveraged funds.

    1. Are those additional funds sound, or will they be compromised whatever the state legislature does with respect to its tax-revenue contributions to the parent funds and trusts?

    2. If the former is true, how does the potential loss in revenue to this portion of the state’s portfolio compare with potential losses from leveraged-funds sources elsewhere in government?

    3. If that potential loss is substantial, either with respect to government as a whole or when “environmental” activities are compared with other aspects of government, can the proposed action be considered “reasonable and fair”?

    As to the op-ed piece, see Thom’s comment, below. In today’s political climate, where, it appears, Parrot Principle too frequently trumps evidence and logic, would such an article be read? Or would it “happen to their own pet ideology”? For, as you know “reasonable and fair” can be code language for “biased and intolerant”. Ask anyone on the “evolution” side of the “evolution-creation” debate about this.

    Thom, I wish I could answer your question. Short of a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11. Rabbit stirfry. 😉

  4. You said it so well:

    “My kokua goes to those who have facts behind them. Not those who scream at me.”

    Screaming has become all too fashionable.

    Thanks for resisting the trend.

    -Ian Lind

  5. I love it when you sound like a card-carrying democrat!! hahahahaaaa… the post is well worth repeating.

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