Sharing Mana‘o

Values — Principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.

According to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “values,” stated above, the holding of values is universal and, at the same time, deeply personal. We may not agree on what they should be, and we may fall short of living up to them, but everyone has values, whether or not we consciously pursue them.

When the word is prefaced by another word, like “family,” “Christian,” “progressive” or “conservative,” hackles rise and tempers flare. In this age of social media and mass communication, every subset of values is subject to criticism and controversy.

Recently, I’ve given a lot of thought to “local values” and “nisei values.” Nisei is the term for second-generation Japanese-Americans, born here of immigrant parents. Practically all of the members of the famed 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team were nisei. Veterans of the 442nd, the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history, attributed their survival and success to the holding of nisei values.

Rooted in Japanese culture, some of these values may seem counterproductive to Western minds. As a sansei (third generation), I never questioned the values my nisei parents instilled in me. But my late husband, a Mainland-born Caucasian, sometimes challenged me to defend what he viewed as quaint, outdated or just plain wrong.

Shikata ga nai translates to “It cannot be helped” or “Nothing can be done about it.” While my parents rarely used the Japanese phrase, they often conveyed it in pidgin: “Cannot help” or “No can help, dass how it is.” Barry viewed the concept as self-defeating, indicative of a loser’s mentality. I tried to explain that it was like the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” His argument was that, with courage and wisdom, anything can be changed.

Barry also shook his head at other Japanese concepts like giri (sense of duty), on (debt of gratitude) and gaman (quiet endurance). He had spent most of the 1960s in San Francisco, immersed in the counterculture of political protest and psychedelic revolution. To him, the idea of quiet endurance was irresponsible and unacceptable.

Our most heated discussions involved what are best described as local values, ideals forged through the interaction and mingling of diverse cultures. Acceptance, tolerance, diplomacy — while he agreed that those were generally positive principles, Barry thought they had been taken too far, to the point of being weaknesses. Like my first husband, also a Mainland transplant, Barry often complained about the complacency of locals, the so-called “plantation mentality.”

Recently, I discovered a Facebook page dedicated to the promotion of local values. “We Are Maui Nui” includes photos and reminiscences of old-time Maui, cultural factoids, video clips and amusing memes. I like the Local Style Dos and Don’ts.

LOCAL STYLE DO: Be patient and drive with aloha. No rush, brah.

DON’T: Never honk, especially if it’s a kupuna!

In videos titled “Local Values,” folks discuss the meaning of the phrase. Kay Fukumoto describes the bento box as a reflection of our multicultural community, Gladys Baisa talks about good-natured humor being a key part of harmony within that community. I agree, ethnic foods and ethnic jokes are cornerstones of local values.

Maybe that’s why my husbands couldn’t relate. They both preferred pasta and potatoes to mixed plates, and neither of them appreciated haole jokes. Ah well, shikata ga nai.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o”

column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is