The Power of Aloha

Discovering the word for compassion in Hawaiian tradition…

Two women singing together

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

Author: Paul Falkowski

Dr. Paul Falkowski is an advocate for  expanding the role of volunteers in long-term care settings. Using state-of-the-art training techniques, Dr. Falkowski has trained and placed hundreds of volunteers in nursing homes.  Paul has recently moved the training program online to make the training accessible to everyone. He has a passion for life and living, he values owning our responsibility to others and having the courage to do the right thing. His vision is discovering volunteers as a work-ready resource to enhance the quality of life for people living and working in nursing homes.

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