This philosophy is ultimately about living a life of balance. As humans, we tend to sway back and forth on the pendulum of life, and pono is about making moves to course-correct when things sway to the dark side too much. It’s both an awareness of how things are going in your life, and an intention to address problems before they snowball into a larger issue. In that way, pono is actually a verb, one that’s all about acting and reacting to specific situations on a daily basis so that you can ultimately stay as grounded and even-keeled as possible. As Uncle Clifford Nae‘ole, a Maui-based cultural practitioner we interviewed and featured in the book, explains: “The virtue of pono is to practice every day, especially when things are going south.”
Of course, it can be difficult to tell when, exactly, you need to act. But Hawaiians believe that deep down, you always know, because you’ll feel it; the signs will be there if you let yourself hear them. “We believe that if you are pono ‘ole—if you are without pono—it throws you so off balance that things can go awry internally, physically, and mentally,” Uncle Clifford continues. “You may feel like there is something growing inside you, growing bigger every day, and it may burst.”
Part of living a pono life, then, is knowing that it’s your responsibility as a member of your family and society at large to address these issues when they do arise. It is not pono to let things slip under the rug when you know, deep down, that there’s an issue that will resurface at a later point.