Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian phrase for “making things right.” While I was serving on the Justice and Witness Board , Lynette and Richard Paglinawan led Ho’oponopono training at one of our meetings. As native Hawaiians they grew up with this practice of family peace-making and reconciliation, and they teach it to social workers and business people as well as families and other interested people from their positions on the faculty of the University of Hawaii.  

From the perspective of living together on a chain of small islands in the middle of a great ocean, the need for Ho’oponopono is obvious. Wood and fiber came from the mountains. Fish and fruit came from the sea and the shorelands. People needed to get along well enough to trade with one another within a small world. They needed to be fair to one another so that they could continue to trade products and skills and survive. They needed to listen to each other and resolve conflicts quickly so that they might thrive. For many generations the people of Hawaii lived together on those islands and their practices of peace-making showed their determination to survive and thrive.  

Even though conflicts did still grow to the point of alienation and separation, how far away could anyone go to stay apart? It was best to work things out so that people could continue to live together respectfully, even when that involved compromises and commitments to “never speak about that problem again” once people had reached a mutually agreeable resolution.  

Their methods include practices I have studied in other forms of family and group therapy, and rituals akin to baptism and communion, to cleanse people’s spirits from those mean attitudes that ruin relationships and to celebrate their roots and achievements in unity. A senior member of the family or a respected member of the community becomes the Kahuna, who serves in the position of a mature and unemotional fact-finder and the center of communication, leading the group through stating problems, one person at a time, times for quiet and reflection, apologies and expressions of forgiveness, releasing anger and resentment, and setting future tasks to accomplish before everything becomes right again.  

Hearing how this process has developed and worked for many generations, and still serves in the modern world of Hawaii, one does not have to think hard to realize that the whole world we live in is becoming the island, with people living in interdependence that require mutual efforts to resolve our differences. Where can we go to separate ourselves from the need to work together and to reconcile differences? Another planet? In the vast ocean of the cosmos this earth is our island as far as the eye can see.