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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Change is up to you, not 'them'

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

There's the easy way to learn a lesson, and there's the hard way. The hard way often comes when you're out of options, when fate has kicked you in the pants so many times that you simply can't sit idle anymore.

Hawai'i is about to learn a hard lesson.

The fates have sent us powerful teachers: an economic crisis, the fear of illness, a shakeup at the top of our public school system. We are faced with uphill battles on so many fronts.

The hard thing to learn is that no one is going to help us.

By that, I mean that our recovery, our growth, our salvation from this time of uncertainty and dread must come from us, each one of us.

Too many times when trouble comes knocking on the door, we give our standard response: "No one here but us chickens!" We expect lawmakers, government officials, big business, all the entities we categorize under the term "them" to take care of things. Be it our paternalistic plantation roots, our faith in elected officials, the way we've come to see Dan Inouye as a demi-god — we trust them to do our thinking for us. We trust them to take action for us.

But right now, that's not going to work. If it is to be, it's not up to them, it's up to us chickens. There's only so much Uncle Dan can do.

In the fight against dengue fever, no one can keep you safe but you. You can read the news and wring your hands and worry about that phantom itch on your left kneecap or you can take it upon yourself to do something. Something constructive, like dump out the coffee cans filled with limu water by the anthuriums, put medakas in your koi pond or fix your patio screens. The plantation man isn't going to drive down your street fogging the place with DDT anymore. It's up to you to take care of your corner of the world.

If you are one of the 11,000 people who lost a job after the Sept. 11 attacks, you can spend your day on the sofa feeling sorry for yourself or you can go down to the Legislature today where our lawmakers are busy talking about what you need. Go there and tell them what you need. Go there and make them give it to you.

The public schools are in a fine mess, but us chickens can do more than LeMahieu, his special friend or the Board of Education can do. When it comes down to it, the most important work is done in the classroom. We can make sure every kid has a good breakfast, has working school supplies, and has access to clean and safe facilities. We can support teachers by asking them what supplies they need, offering our time to help them with projects.

Within each of us lies untapped potential to affect real change. Maybe we can't each catch a terrorist, but we can do so much to make our community strong. Once that lesson is learned, everything gets easier.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com