We asked for this

It’s been interesting to see the discourse going on in Hawaii about the statewide mask mandate. From being one of many states, as of this writing, Hawaii has become the only state in the United States that has a mask mandate with no announced end-date to the mandate.

For some, and they have a right to express this feeling, they want the mandate to stay, and when asked when they think it should be rescinded, they say “until the emergency is gone”, The Star-Advertiser stated in an editorial in late February that we should keep the mandate going for “the time being”.

On the other side, there is a growing chorus of “end it now” voices, coming from the Chamber of Commerce President Sherry Menor-McNamara, through a variety of businesses throughout the state, to individuals who are “mask-fatigued” for lack of a better term.

This chorus of dropping the mandate took on a new emphasis on Friday, February 25, when the Centers for Disease Control came out with its revised mask recommendations, moving the gauge on how to measure virus spread, opening up approximately 70% of the nation to feel okay relaxing mask mandates.

Of course, in Hawaii, news like this immediately got directed to the Governor of the State, David Ige, of which he came out immediately and said that he was in no rush to get rid of the mandates. Currently, the Governor’s mandate on COVID runs until March 25, which if it elapses, would put Hawaii as the last state in the union for relaxing its mandates.

So many have asked “why is he waiting when ‘the science’ now says that we can relax? This blogger has a theory, and it’s one in which while pointing a finger at the Governor, three are pointing right back at us – the people and “other leaders” of Hawaii.

The short answer is “because we asked for this”.

Gov. David Ige WGA
Governor David Ige, Hawaii
PC:“Gov. David Ige WGA” by State of Hawai’i is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

BACK IN LATE 2020, there was a growing chorus, then that the government of the State of Hawaii needed to put in place a statewide mask mandate. If you read the literature from that time, the call was that the state needed to put a statewide rule in place for individuals and businesses to “feel safe” and that there wouldn’t be a patchwork of rules based on each county. Then, as one may remember each county had its own rules on mask mandates, with some being confusing as to where, when, and how you should wear a mask.

So, in the middle of November 2020, addressing the accusations that he was dragging his feet, Governor Ige came out with a statewide mask mandate, taking away the ability for each county to impose its own rules. At the time, it was heralded as a “finally, some rules” after what seemed to be a lot of dodging by the Governor’s office to “pull the trigger”.

With the rule in place, another factor that is embedded in the culture of Hawaii also came into effect. Simply put, the Governor told the people of Hawaii “auright, dis what you want? I geev um, and das it!” (Translated: (paternalistic voice), okay, is this what you want, I will grant it but once you get it, that’s it, I am not going to talk about it with you again).

That might have been the rule for a while in his mind, but the fact that other circumstances came into play – the December 2020 wave, the Delta wave, the Omicron wave, and being unyielding “during the down times” to relax the mandate (he did relax it once, saying if your outside you don’t have to wear one), he’s been fortified with that attitude of “auright, I geev um” is still very much in play.

The Hawaiian Limpet, known as Ophii, is a cherished seafood item to eat in Hawaii. But its symbolism is that they adhere to the rocks no matter what, making them hard to remove. Its sometimes equated to the attitude of people in Hawaii – being as hard as removing an opihii from the rocks.
PC: “Limpets” by nubui is licensed under Creative Commons

THE ATTITUDE ITSELF can be quite unyielding, especially if you are forced into it. Here in Hawaii, with its more lackadaisical ways of making decisions, pressuring any one person to also yields an “I going show you” attitude. This attitude tells those who applied pressure that what they might be asking for now is not what they want in the future, but they ain’t moving once the initial decision is made.

The unyielding attitude of the Governor in saying that he doesn’t care what anyone says, he keeps it, is highly embedded into the culture. Phrases like the Japanese “gambate!”, the Hawaiian “Imua” or the famed 100th Batallion/442 Infantry of World War II “go for broke” all identify with this attitude, stuff which does play a factor into the current governor’s psyche.

While these attitudes help things that are entrenched to open up and change, it also has the detrimental effect of not being flexible enough to adapt to the circumstances of the day. What worked in November 2020 with the start of the mandate may not work as well 466 days later (as of this writing). Keeping to your guns is important, but as a leader, you have to look beyond the personal desire for consistency and address the needs of the people.

SO, WHERE WE STAND NOW as the people of Hawaii is the fact that we have a Governor that is not going to release the mandate, not without a lot of pressure put on him to do so. It also means that, perhaps, when we do ask for things from our government, in the future, to think really hard about who is in office to implement it, and whether they have understanding enough to adapt to circumstances as they emerge.

What the people of Hawaii did, in this case, is demand what we wanted, not demand that with circumstances changing we order our leadership to adapt And so we are left with rules that don’t make sense anymore, but will still be enforced because, we as the people of Hawaii, back in November 2020, asked him too.