The Power of Aloha

Discovering the word for compassion in Hawaiian tradition…

I’ve written a few articles on compassion, and so for this one, I decided to do something a little different. I began by pulling up the word compassion on the internet to see what would pop up. My search produced a window with the definition of compassion, and then a “translate ‘compassion’ to” another language box appeared.

I started translating compassion into various languages starting with Afrikaans “medelye,” to Albanian “dhembshuri,” to German “barmherzigkeit,” Haitian Creole “konpasyon,” and then Hawaiian “aloha.” I stopped there because I was always under the impression that the expression “aloha” was an Hawaiian greeting and further research shows that indeed it is. But, I went on to discover that “aloha” means so much more.

Aloha has a deep cultural and spiritual significance…

            As it turns out “aloha” has several meanings to include: love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. But to native Hawaiians it has a “deeper cultural and spiritual significance.” To them it also means “to be in the presence of divinity or in the presence of (alo) the “divine breath of life” (Ha). Discovering the phrase “…the power of Aloha…” really piqued my curiosity.

When I searched that phrase, I found “The Power of Aloha: The Hawaiian Guide to Love, Health, and Wealth” by Kala H. Kos and John Selby.  With that, I accomplished what I was hoping to gain, i.e., a new insight into the word compassion.

“…the joyful sharing of life in the present moment…”

            Kos and Shelby present the traditional meaning of “aloha” as“the joyful sharing of life in the present moment.”  Reading that, brought to mind how many times I’ve spoken to groups about living in the present or practicing the art of presence. I don’t know if I could think of a better or more accurate way to describe the exchange that takes place between the visiting volunteer and the nursing home resident.

“…our hearts are singing together…”

Going even deeper, the meaning of “aloha” includes “our hearts are singing together.”  Thinking of the relationships and shared experiences that I have had over the years with the people living in nursing homes, I believe this phrase accurately describes what we felt in those moments. Our hearts were singing together.

“…to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life…”

Moreover, the richness of “aloha” does not end there. The root “ha” means “breath of life.” And so the meaning of “aloha” expands even further to mean: “…to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life.” Compassion, “aloha” is to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life. I’m pretty sure this has an impact on a nursing home’s star rating. Aloha.

Contact me for more information about how you, as a volunteer can become the “the breath of life” to someone living in a nursing home – or –

If you manage a nursing home volunteer program and want to explore this further, contact me to learn how I can be of help to you. Please e-mail me at paul@voluncheerleader.com

How do you recruit 800 volunteers?

art group in tawa

As you know, VolunCheerLeader  is on a quest to identify and highlight outstanding volunteer programs.  My journey is taking to me many different places to include Auckland, New Zealand.  Recently, while explaining my mission to someone they immediately piped up and said, “You have to meet Jill Woodward, CEO of Elizabeth Knox Nursing Home and Hospital.  After a series of emails, we scheduled a telephone call (Skype) and to no real surprise to me, the person who answered the call, Jill, was obviously full of passion, high energy and expert in her work.  I spent about an hour talking with her.  Later, I had the pleasure of meeting the Kristen O’Reilly, newly appointed to head Community Partnerships. Kristen was originally hired to develop the volunteer program for Knox.  Here are excerpts from my communications with them.  Read more…

“What about liability?”

One of the first questions I get from owner/operators of nursing homes concerning volunteers is, “What about liability?” 

volunteer reading to nursing home resident
My response: “What about it?”  How many people are working in nursing homes today who have never had a course in gerontology? How many people are on nursing home floors right now providing cares for which they received no training or the person before them “trained” them in “this is how I do it.”  How many lawsuits are currently being levied at long-term care facilities. Now before you send me your email about how many great people are working in nursing homes, save it.  I know this from first-hand experience.  In the 25 years or so of working with the long-term care community, maybe I’ve met five people who I thought were in the wrong job.

My point is that the answer to the liability question is “thorough vetting, quality training and treating and valuing volunteers as employees.” 

With that said, I know from experience that there are people in our communities that are willing to be thoroughly vetted and trained being motivated not by the need for income but rather their need to engage in a meaningful way by giving back to their communities while sharing a passion for serving older adults.  I would suggest that this person, this volunteer, will present less of liability problem than paid staff.  Now if you’re going to send me email about volunteers replacing paid staff, save it.

We’re now approaching 1.2 million vacancies in long-term care staffing.

The ship is sinking.  We need all hands on deck.  We need to take advantage of every resource that is available to us, to include what I call “trusted” volunteers.

Ok, go ahead send me your comments and emails anyway.

Really, I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Email me at: paul@community-360.org